The good news for my generation is that we finally make up a controlling portion of the working population. The bad news is, that there probably aren’t enough blankies and nap rooms to accomodate all of us as we graduate into the real world. At least, as some of us graduate into the real world. Others of us have too many things to do to take time out of our day to cuddle stuffed animals and gripe to each other about the cultural appropriation and microagressions typically associated with the Patriarchy.
Thankfully, college students have no such demands on their time, which is why a cadre of Columbia University students are able to, collectively, pen an op-ed calling on their institution of higher learning to take a second look at the foundational works of Western literature and the building blocks of modern thought in order to preserve their adorable, innocent and easily-triggered minds from the mere threat that they might have to welcome in an opposing viewpoint or critically consider historical cultures in addition to their own coddled experience.
During the week spent on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” the class was instructed to read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, both of which include vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault. As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text. As a result, the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class. When she approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored.
Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.
While I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in that classroom, we do not, unfortunately, know the entire interaction that took place. However, I think we can guess that the professor responded with all of the concern that the complaint readily deserved, including but not limited to an exaggerated eyeroll and a comment about how closed-minded Social Justice Warriors (or SJWs, for short), unwilling to take into consideration the actual historical significance of the work they are reading, are ruining the world of education for all of us. There’s no indication in the account, either, whether a hole to the Roman netherworld (as envisioned by Ovid in his compilation of narrative stories about the Roman gods, and the student was actually threatened by Hades himself. In such a case, we could probably assume that the student’s terror at merely having to read words on the page was justified. But I suspect the outside chance of such a happening being as it is, we’re dealing with someone who has been less effectively instructed in literature in the humanities than she has in her status as a special little snowflake.
Columbia obviously has a few choices. They could allow the students to dictate the curriculum, as the op-ed also, later, suggests, in a somewhat comical manner (turns out, the professor of the class does not think a modern writer, producing works in the 20th and 21st century counts as part of the ancient foundations of literature and humanities), they could create a “safe space” on campus as some other campuses have done, which could comfortably house those students “triggered” by the Great Books because of personal experience (including, with Greek and Roman mythology, those students who have family members who have been turned into swans, accidentally or forcibly impregnanted by immortals, or, for that matter, subject to any of the whims of cloth-diapered flying babies), they could force the oppressive professor to apologize as other campuses have done, or they could ignore the matter and allow these students to graduate into reality, knowing that, at the very least, they’ll owe the salary they definitely do not make on a Fluidity of Gender Studies degree to their alma mater in perpetuity.
Of course, there’s always “turn about is fair play.” How many campus conservatives can start suggesting they’re triggered by the works of Karl Marx and Galbreth? How many men are offended by having to read Sylvia Plath or abide by the unrealistic standards set for suitors in the works of Jane Austen? Or, maybe worse, they could just start comparing modern SJWs to the Moral Majority of ages past. That would certainly trigger something.
The bad news is, they still probably vote.