A More Literal Trigger Warning

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Greg Lukianoff’s free speech outfit, recently flagged a small but significant story out of Oregon:

[On November 18], the University of Oregon’s student government denied funding to a student group’s poker night event for a second time amid concerns the event’s pro-gun message and prizes “would make students feel uncomfortable.” [...] Last night’s vote was the second time ASUO turned down YAL’s request for $950 in funding to cover the cost of pizza and rental fees for its November 20 “Liberty Poker Night.” YAL insisted no ASUO money would go toward covering the controversial prizes awarded to the winners, including three firearms donated by local gun dealers, which YAL says would be transferred to the winners after the event, off-campus, and in accordance with state and federal law.

Jim Elliott, our long-time emailer, is incredulous:

The first question one might ask the Associated Students of the University of Oregon around their worry that some of them will feel “unsafe” on a campus that chooses to impinge upon other students’ right to express an interest in the preservation of gun rights would be, “Why do you still live in Oregon?”

Oregon, after all, preserves a right to bear arms in Article 1, Section 27 of the state constitution. It is an open-carry state, a “shall-issue” permit state, and neither the city of Eugene nor Lane County restrict where you can openly carry your firearm. One must ask if they never leave campus (where carrying is prohibited, though Oregon law does allow it), and how they tolerated growing up in such a wild, murder-happy, anarchic state. Except if my math is right, their firearm-homicide rate is around 1 per 91,348 (using 2013 numbers, which is what came up first on Google).

A university is a place of intellectual conflict. University is where ideas go to be born, to struggle for supremacy, and to die glorious deaths in the hallowed field of battle known as “having your essay graded by a TA because your professor really wishes he was writing another book instead.” Historically, attendance at a university was a rare and glorious thing, a privilege heralding the intellectual achievement of an entire family. University is where you went to demonstrate your intellectual puissance, your ability to take up ideas you disagreed with. And by understanding those ideas more thoroughly than their proponents, you can discard them to the middens of failed thought.

Now it just appears to be residential day care for tweens, where classes are just what you do to fill the time in between keggers and morning-after walks of shame.

I wonder of these students recognize their own hypocrisy? There’s nothing new, sadly, about university students silencing ideas they disagree with through oppressing others’ speech. The student government worries that someone, somewhere, will feel “unsafe”—that amorphous trump card meant to silence dissent and disagreement. And yet, in so doing, they make active members of their community less secure, less an equal part of their community: YAL’s event was intended to discuss a university policy—its carry ban—and why they feel it should be done away with. The student government is saying, in effect, that members of the community do not, based on their beliefs, have a right to appeal the decisions of the community, of the university government—unless it’s about something the student government approves of.

That’s not intellectual discourse. That’s not a commitment to community. That’s intimidation—ironically, the very definition of creating an unsafe learning environment.

Disagree? Drop me an email.