I am a firm believer that the movie “Blazing Saddles” should be shown at every college freshman orientation across the country.
Not so that every student can learn the words to “Camptown Lady” or be able to answer the age old question of “where the white women at”, but learn two of life’s most important lessons, learn to have a sense of humor and nobody is safe; and that’s how it should be.
I bring this up due to some recent news out of my hometown at the University of Chicago. The school sent its incoming freshmen a letter saying it will not sacrifice political and intellectual dialogue to spare students from political discomfort.
The U of C is informing incoming freshmen if they enrolled at the institution expecting to have a “safe space” where they can retreat from ideas that might upset their world point of view then they might want to enroll somewhere else. The school is also telling freshmen that they can forget about what are known as “trigger warnings” which is basically putting labels on speech warning students the following content might upset their delicate sensibilities. Safe spaces and trigger warnings have been popping up across college campuses like mushrooms and luckily schools like the U of C, and Purdue for that matter, have said enough is enough.
And they are absolutely correct. As part of the learning process a college campus should be a place for the free exchange and rigorous debate about the big issues of the day. It should not be a place where you go to get your worldview reaffirmed. Creating safe spaces and trigger warnings don’t help students in the long run. If anything it will have the opposite effect when they go into the real world which does not have a warning label attached to it.
Academia should encourage students to seek out and engage those who have different opinions and beliefs. Not only will that encourage more dialogue and open discussion, but it will also help in that area known as “critical thinking”. And as I have told my college students over the past 13 years, if they don’t study and learn other points of view, they are putting themselves at a major disadvantage down the road.
Also by embracing differing points of view, you learn not to take yourself and opinions so seriously that you can never be challenged. That is just a house of cards that’s waiting to collapse on itself when real life kicks in.
This is why I started this column by saying every college should include students watching “Blazing Saddles”. If there was ever a film that goes for the jugular when it comes to safe spaces and trigger warnings, while teaching you to laugh at yourself, that would be it. And while we’re at it, they may also want to throw in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” where the moral of the story is no matter how bad things get, always look on the bright side of life.