“Parental Advisory: Explicit Content.” It’s a phrase that has embedded itself deep down in the consciousness of modern music audiences, loudly asserting itself in that black-and-white rectangle of moralism on the bottom right-hand corner of all your favorite albums. These days, that little box garners about as much attention as the signature at the bottom of a painting, but its early years sparked a fair share of heated debate regarding freedom of expression, the role of censorship in art and good ol’ family values. Our story begins in 1985, when one Mary “Tipper” Gore purchased Prince’s Purple Rain for her 11 year-old daughter, only to be taken aback by explicit references to sex and female masturbation on the song “Darling Nikki” (“I met her in a hotel lobby/Masturbating with a magazine”). Bewildered by her failure to protect young Karenna from the Purple One’s ode to consensual S&M, Gore (married, at the time, to future Vice President Al Gore) took it upon herself to co-found the Parents Music Resource Center, which aimed to lobby for industry regulations that would increase parents’ control over their children’s access to music. Founded almost entirely by women, the 22-person group became known colloquially and in the media as the “Washington wives” — a reference to the fact that their spouses included 10 U.S. Senators, 6 U.S. Representatives and a Cabinet Secretary. Sexist nicknames aside, this undeniable clout brought instant attention to the cause, resulting in a Senate hearing for the PMRC just five months after its formation.
According to my revision history on Google docs, I’ve written and rewritten this column twelve times. At this point, hitting command + A followed by the delete key is deeply embedded in my muscle memory, and sometimes my fingers nervously twitch in those exact strokes. If I were in a TV show, the camera would show a wastebasket full of crumpled-up papers, then it would follow a trail of more crumpled papers until my desk space appeared in the frame, peppered with (you guessed it) even more crumpled up papers. I would be sitting at the desk with my head in my hands, my hair just messy enough to show that I had been working all day, but neat enough that I’d still reel in sufficient Nielsen ratings. I’ve been obnoxiously referring to this as my “inaugural column” to my friends, who, in turn, immediately stop talking to me.
“If you, as a faculty member, are complained against, the hearing that you go to will be the preponderance of evidence standard,” Stetson said. “If the faculty member raises one of these appeal grounds … then the appeal will require you to show your complaint by clear and convincing evidence, so there’s a higher evidentiary bar to clear when you appeal on these grounds.”
Arbitrarily, the entire premise of college is to expand one’s knowledge of the world and gain new perspective, both of which can be inhibited without open, uncensored dialogue about controversial topics. While such topics can be difficult to digest for many individuals, certain provoking topics such as sexual assault, cancer and war are the brutal realities of the world in which we live. Although it is not innately effortless to immerse oneself in discussion related to such matters, it is vital that students participate to broaden their educations and perspectives. Thus, while professors should be mindful of the ways they expose students to controversial materials (and perhaps caution students of universally graphic material), they should not be required to administer trigger warnings or options to “opt out” of “triggering” topics. College is not the time nor the place to evade disconcerting topics; allowing students to disengage with materials on the basis that they are not rationally capable of handling such discussions is inimical.
The familiar green screen and white lettering precede each movie trailer. Before the main attraction can scroll across the screen, the designated rating and following justification first greet the audience. While many viewers choose to ignore the warning, few question its significance. And this makes sense; a second-long movie rating is hardly an inconvenience, yet it presents conscientious viewers with the opportunity to avoid potentially disturbing or inappropriate content. The movie rating is considerate and unobtrusive, constructive and nondescript.
By now, Cornell’s most recent Fox News incident is old news. Jesse Watters and his camera crew came, recorded some ambush interviews of students and cut and pasted a segment together to support their foregone conclusion: that Cornell as an institution is a hotbed of some sort of thought-crushing “liberal indoctrination.”
Many people will also remember Cornell’s last brush with right-wing pseudo-journalism, when an undercover “reporter” from Project Veritas (an organization with less journalistic credibility than Fox News) pulled off his own feat of ambush journalism to make it appear that Cornell would welcome a group which materially supported ISIS. And now Project Veritas has released yet another video, this time portraying Cornell as anti-Constitution. The video follows the same tactics used to obtain the ISIS video: a reporter poses as a student and puts a university employee in an awkward and unrealistic situation; a “gotcha” video is then recorded. Much has been made, especially in the wake of the Fox News incident, of the issues of journalism and what rights the press should have on campus: the journalistic practices were bad, the journalistic practices were bad but the university was wrong for trying to stop the interviews, the university was in the right for following their previously established policy on unannounced campus interviews, etc.
On Sept. 11, 2014, Hannah Dancy’s ’17 chemistry professor demonstrated the chemical reaction that occurred in explosions during the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers. Dancy, who is from Manhattan, said she felt uncomfortable with the in-class demonstration and said she thought “people in that room who might have lost someone” might have felt even worse. “My mom and dad watched the towers fall,” she said. “My mom still has really bad [post-traumatic stress disorder] from it.
A lot of discussion has taken place recently about the merits of “trigger warnings” in academic environments. We can see that students, professors and administrators are all now part of an important conversation which deals with trauma and its role in the classroom. Some are fans of trigger warnings. Others, like President Elizabeth Garrett (to reporters at the Cornell Club), say that “there shouldn’t be any limits on the substance of freedom of speech at a university.”
And on a tangential note, any casual observer of the Cornellian social media scene will also see that a related division of opinions has happened on the oh-so-exciting “Overheard” group. The typical incident usually goes like this: A makes a joke in poor taste.