LETTERS

  /  

September 13, 2016

Letter: Faculty Respond To Ellison With A Letter Of Their Own

"Contention [in discourse] has to be based on a commitment to learning from a wealth of histories and experiences—to more discussion, not less; to openness, not closure."

Dear Students of the Class of 2020:

As you have undoubtedly noticed, you and your new institution have been in the media spotlight lately. We want to take this opportunity to voice our own welcome as members of the faculty. You will find the University of Chicago to be a diverse place full of strong-minded people. We encourage you to become one of them.

Those of us who have signed this letter have a variety of opinions about requests for trigger warnings and safe spaces. We may also disagree as to whether free speech is ever legitimately interrupted by concrete pressures of the political. That is as it should be. But let there be no mistake: such requests often touch on substantive, ongoing issues of bias, intolerance, and trauma that affect our intellectual exchanges. To start a conversation by declaring that such requests are not worth making is an affront to the basic principles of liberal education and participatory democracy.

Foremost, we are committed to our students and to the free exchange of ideas. As teachers, we understand ourselves to be engaged in a collaborative experiment in the classroom. For that to work, mutual respect is indeed indispensable—all the more so since the practice of academic freedom can sometimes be contentious, difficult, perhaps even painful. But the crucial point is that such contention has to be based on a commitment to learning from a wealth of histories and experiences—to more discussion, not less; to openness, not closure.    

The history of “safe spaces” goes back to gay, civil rights, and feminist efforts of the mid–20th century to create places protected from quite real forces of violence and intimidation. They also served as incubators of new ideas away from the censure of the very authorities threatened by these movements. It would be naïve to think that the University of Chicago is immune from social problems. Yet the administration confusingly disconnects “safe spaces” it supports (see the list of mentoring services on the College’s own website) from “intellectual safe spaces” that it does not, as if issues of power and vulnerability stop at the classroom door.

The best spaces for independent thought and action may be those you create yourselves. For example, graduate student instructors at the University of Chicago have just won the right to organize as a labor union. We applaud their contributions to this national effort. Please see the statement of the University of Chicago chapter of the American Association of University Professors for further evidence of widespread faculty support of student activism and student rights.

The right to speak up and to make demands is at the very heart of academic freedom and freedom of expression generally. We deplore any atmosphere of harassment and threat. For just that reason, we encourage the Class of 2020 to speak up loudly and fearlessly.

Sincerely,

A. Holly Shissler

Aden Kumler

Adom Getachew

Adrienne Brown

Agnes Lugo-Ortiz

Alida M. Bouris​

Alireza Doostdar

Alison James

 

Alison Siegler​

Allyson Nadia Field

Amy Hermalink​

Amy Dru Stanley

Andreas Glaeser

Andrei Pop​

Andrew Drucker

Angie Heo

Anna S. Mueller

Anton Ford

Bart Schultz

Benjamin Morgan

Beth-Anne Jacob

Boris Maslov

Bożena Shallcross

Bruce Lincoln

C. M . Naim (emeritus)

Cathy Cohen

Chad Broughton

Christian K. Wedemeyer

Christopher Taylor

Claudia Flores

Clifton Ragsdale

Colleen Grogan

Constantine V. Nakassis

Cornell H. Fleischer

Craig Futterman​

Daisy Delogu

Dan Arnold

Daniel Brudney

Daniel Morgan

Danielle M. Roper

Darryl Li

David Wray

Demetra Kasimis

Denis R. Hirschfeldt

E. Summerson Carr

Elaine Hadley

Emily Lynn Osborn

Eric Lombard

Erica Zunkel​

Erin R. Pineda

Eugene Raikhel

Faith Hillis

Forrest Stuart​

Frances Ferguson

François Richard

Gary Herrigel

Ghenwa Hayek

Gina Fedock

Gina M. Samuels

Heather Keenleyside

Howard Stein (emeritus)

Hoyt J. Long

Hussein Ali Agrama

Itamar Francez

Jacob Eyferth

Jacqueline Najuma Stewart

James A. Hopson

James Hopson (emeritus)

James Ketelaar

James Lastra

Jane Dailey

Janice Knight

Jason Bridges

Jason Grunebaum

Jeff Leslie​

Jennifer Cole

Jennifer Mosley

Jennifer Pitts

Jennifer Wild

Jesse Hall

Jessica S. Baker

Jessica Darrow

Johanna Ransmeier

John D. Kelly

John E. Woods

John H. Muse​

John P. McCormick

Joseph Masco

Judith P. Miller​

Judy Hoffman

Julia Henly

Julie Orlemanski

Julie Saville

Julie Y. Chu

Karlos Arregi

Kathleen Belew

Kaushik Sunder Rajan

Kay Heikkinen​

Kenneth Pomeranz

Kenneth W Warren

Kimberly Kay Hoang

Kristen Schilt

Kyeong-Hee Choi

Larissa Brewer-García

Larry Rothfield

Laura Gandolfi

Lauren Berlant

Leora Auslander

Linda J. Waite

Linda Zerilli

Lisa Wedeen

Loren Kruger

Manuela Carneiro da Cunha (emeritus)

Marci Ybarra

Mareike Winchell​

Maria Woltjen

Mario Santana

Mark E. Courtney

Mark J. Heyrman

Mark Miller

Mark Philip Bradley

Malynne  Sternstein

Marshall Sahlins (emeritus)

Matthew M. Briones

Micere Keels

Michael C. Dawson

Michael Dietler

Michael K. Bourdaghs

Michael Rossi

Moishe Postone

Monica E. Peek

Na’ama Rokem

Nancy Munn (emeritus)

Norma Field (emeritus)

P. Sean Brotherton

Paola Iovene

Patchen Markell

Patrick Jagoda

Patrick R. Crowley

Ramón A. Gutiérrez

Randolph Stone​

Richard Strier (emeritus)

Robert Bird

Robert L. Kendrick

Russell Tuttle

Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky

Samuel Refetoff

Sarah Hammerschlag​

Seth Brodsky

Shannon Lee Dawdy

Shipra S. Parikh

Sonali Thakkar

Srikanth Reddy

Stephan Palmié

Susan Gal

Susan Gzesh

Tara Zahra

Thomas C. Holt

Timothy Harrison

Travis A. Jackson

Tyler Williams

Ulrike Stark

Victoria Saramago​

W. J. T. MItchell

Whitney Cox

Willemien Otten

William Mazzarella

William Schweiker

William Sites

William Wimsatt (emeritus)

Xiaorong Jajah Wu​

Yanilda González

Yoonsun Choi

Zachary Samalin

 

Editor's Note: The online edition of this article will be continually updated as more faculty members sign the letter.

RELATED COVERAGE

University to Freshmen: Don’t Expect Safe Spaces or Trigger Warnings

By Pete Grieve

“We do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces.'”

  /  

August 24, 2016

MOST READ