The liberal arts college commonly proclaims that it fosters the inquisitive, integrative, and open mind. Like some of my peers, I chose to study at one of these colleges—in my case Lafayette College—out of a conviction that this kind of school would provide me with the best environment in which I could be introduced to a wide circle of knowledge. I expected an age-old tradition of classical liberal education, to be challenged by my professors to expand the dimensions of my thought, and to subject myself to intellectual discipline as I probed the writings of the great thinkers. However, to my dismay, I felt like a disappointed customer. The producer who claimed to possess the desired product had subtly deformed its nature so that its original features were hardly recognizable.
I realized this during a conversation I had with my Introduction to Psychology professor about trigger warnings and safe spaces a few weeks after the November protests at the University of Missouri.
When relating the psychological principles discussed in class to the treatment of psychological disorders, it seemed quite clear that techniques in behavioral and cognitive therapy implied that the rationale behind trigger warnings and safe spaces was contrary to the principles modern psychology holds. When I asked my professor about this, I was surprised to find that she wholly agreed, since she herself had given my class a trigger warning earlier. I asked how faculty and administrators could possibly be ignorant of psychology’s bearing on these two issues. She replied that she doubted they were ignorant on the matter, but thought that they rather simply refused to stand up to the students on these issues. Instead, they are doing away with ideas which psychological thought proved not only irrational but also ineffective.
Any college unwilling to stand up to irrational ideas, regardless of how desirable they might be, can no longer be said to be in the service of fostering inquisitive, integrative, and open minds in its students. Most modern liberal arts colleges have set aside the cultivation of the mind and instead taken up the task of inculcating students with “modern” and “socially just” values. The task for all of us—whether faculty, administrators, or students—should be to have courage, compassion, and to remain unified in the fight for the freedom and diversity of thought on our campuses.
Ion Plamadeala was born in Moldova, but has lived for most of his life in Knoxville, Tennessee. Ion attends Lafayette College, where he studies Philosophy. His main interests include moral, political, and legal philosophy. His other non-philosophical pursuits include history, literature, theology, and art.
Image by Bart via Flickr.