A DePauwlitics Column:


Having both been on the debate team for three years, we hold near and dear to our hearts the tenet that listening to all sides of an argument is crucial in evaluating each sides’ merits. In fact, as debaters not only are we forced to listen, but actually argue in support of issues with which we strongly disagree.  For this reason, the buzz surrounding the September cover story in The Atlantic by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt titled “The Coddling of the American Mind” has caught our attention. In a nutshell, the 8,000 word piece (we encourage you to read it in its entirety) advocates against trigger warnings, the culture of offense and censorship of ideas.

To investigate these issues, Lukianoff and Haidt use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as a psychological lens. CBT is an established and effective method of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and many other mental illnesses. The treatment is believed to elicit rational thought by curbing one’s subjective feelings and beliefs, often forcing them to face their fears and anxieties. By helping eliminate this clouded mode of thinking, CBT is intended to lead to better mental health and, as a consequence, more effective critical thinking. 

Lukianoff and Haidt believe that the Generation X-ers have created a culture of offense and emotional reasoning on college campuses today. This culture of offense gives the offended a license to shut down productive discussion and prioritize subjective feelings over rhetorical reasoning. Lukianoff and Haidt posit this culture does not see one’s taking offense as merely a personal response, but rather as an accusation that a speaker or author has committed an objective, moral wrongdoing. This belief, they argue, is similar to the clouded thinking of patients with mental illness, such as anxiety, as both lines of reasoning are based in subjective feelings and beliefs. Therefore, the combination of an increase in trigger warnings and a strengthened culture of offense engenders implicit and explicit censorship that limits our free speech. More importantly, however, such censorships coddle students’ sensitivities, shielding them from controversial topics and preserving the traumatic potency of their triggers, thereby damaging their mental health and their ability to think critically.

We find this discussion timely given the annual “DePauw v. Wabash Banned Book Drive” currently taking place, coinciding with national Banned Book Week. While ostensibly neither DePauw nor Wabash has fallen victim to explicit, textual censorship (however, we can’t see scrapped drafts of syllabi, so who knows?), we believe it would be naive to assume that implicit censorship doesn’t exist on our campus.

Take our on-going discussion regarding campus climate, for example. We specifically recall someone that felt it necessary to turn to the infamous Yik Yak to express their agreement with the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown shooting case last fall (full disclosure: we believe the grand jury got it wrong, but that’s beside the point). Indeed, this individual did so anonymously with the intent of avoiding public denunciation. This is a contorted example of self-censorship; a means to express oneself while still being shielded from accusations of insensitivity, hostility or even hatred. The Michael Brown case is a difficult and often uncomfortable subject to discuss; no doubt about it. But its gravity trumps its controversial nature, and only through open discussion can we incite positive, widespread social change. So if we as a student body want to foster a more inclusive climate, we must engage all perspectives, regardless of their stance and reputation. (Importantly, let us qualify that this does not include derogatory, personal attacks.) 

However, this Yik Yak example is not indicative of our overall campus climate. While we maintain the culture of offense has parasitic potential, our campus has not reached the same level of hostility towards potentially offensive speech as other institutions. We are proud of that.  But maybe you disagree, and that’s great. We’d love to hear from you. 


-Terlep is a senior political science major from Naperville, Illinois; Piggins is a senior economics major from Saugatuck, Michigan. 

-DePauwlitics airs on WGRE every Wednesday from 4-5 p.m.