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Columbia Multicultural Advisors: Put Trigger Warning on Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Columbia Multicultural Advisors: Put Trigger Warning on Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Trigger Warning Warriors: “contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities”,_1727.jpg

I think we have the 2015 Phrase of the Year: Trigger Warning.

But now they’ve gone too far.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which is part of the core curriculum at Columbia College (Columbia University) is described as follows:

The Metamorphoses (Latin: Metamorphōseōn librī: “Books of Transformations”) is a Latin narrative poem by the Roman poet Ovid, considered his magnum opus. Comprising fifteen books and over 250 myths, the poem chronicles the history of the world from its creation to the deification of Julius Caesar within a loose mythico-historical framework.

Although meeting the criteria for an epic, the poem defies simple genre classification by its use of varying themes and tones. Ovid took inspiration from the genre of metamorphosis poetry, and some of the Metamorphoses derives from earlier treatment of the same myths; however, he diverged significantly from all of his models.

One of the most influential works in Western culture, the Metamorphoses has inspired such authors as Dante, Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Shakespeare. Numerous episodes from the poem have been depicted in acclaimed works of sculpture and painting by artists such as Titian. Although interest in Ovid faded after the Renaissance, towards the end of the twentieth century there was a resurgence of attention to his work; today, the Metamorphoses continues to inspire and be retold through various media. The work has been the subject of numerous translations into English, the first by William Caxton in 1480.

Not all is well with The Metamorphoses at Columbia University.

In an Op-Ed in The Columbia Spectator, Our identities matter in Core classrooms, four members of the Columbia Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board complain that the study of classic works of Western civilization in general, and The Metamorphoses specifically, are “triggering,” insensitive, and make some students feel “unsafe”:

During the week spent on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” the class was instructed to read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, both of which include vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault. As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text. As a result, the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class. When she approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored.

Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.

Columbia University Office of Multicultural Affairs Logo

The solution? First, a rewrite of the Core curriculum:

The MAAB, an extension of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, is an advocacy group dedicated to ensuring that Columbia’s campus is welcoming and safe for students of all backgrounds. This year, we explored possible interventions in Core classrooms, where transgressions concerning student identities are common. Beyond the texts themselves, class discussions can disregard the impacts that the Western canon has had and continues to have on marginalized groups….

Students need to feel safe in the classroom, and that requires a learning environment that recognizes the multiplicity of their identities….

Then, Trigger Warnings:

The MAAB has been meeting with administration and faculty in the Center for the Core Curriculum to determine how to create such a space. The Board has recommended three measures: First, we proposed that the center issue a letter to faculty about potential trigger warnings and suggestions for how to support triggered students.

And of course, the mandatory re-education training:

Finally, the center should create a training program for all professors, including faculty and graduate instructors, which will enable them to constructively facilitate conversations that embrace all identities, share best practices, and think critically about how the Core Curriculum is framed for their students.

The reaction to the Op-Ed mostly has been mockery and disgust:

The comment section to the Op-Ed is quite good, including this comment from the person who tweeted above:

Catherine Fitzpatrick posted on May 2, 11:38pm

This is extraordinary psychosis and the campus administrators and professors who enable this mass hysteria should not only a deep sense of shame, they should get a lot more pushback than they do from the media, parents and even governments. Of course the White House emphasis on dealing with campus rape without due process or the rule of law, instead of having the police deal with it, under fear of losing funding, is part of what drives this cultism.

I also can’t help wondering if the reading was the story about the Prophet and Ayesha and the Battle of Karbala that suddenly, it might be blessed as beautiful and not a trigger at all but a blow for freedom against the oppressive White Man.

And this comment obviously intended to melt the precious little snowflakes:

Gullah posted on May 1, 4:15pm

Oh Precious! Precious? My precious little snowflake, speaking as a black man who has been around the block more than a few times, all of you need to grow up and get over it. You’re not the center of the universe, none of us has a right to not be offended in a democracy and if you can’t handle it repair to your padded room with your lollipops, Valium and whatever other pacifier makes you happy or better still make an appointment with a shrink. We are all always going to be offended by something. Using ‘feeling safe’, ‘respect’, and ’trigger-warnings’ are just treads in a rope to lynch free speech.

And this one:

Alum cc’12 posted on May 2, 10:01am

Wow — I could not disagree more with this article and everything it stands for and suggests and demands. Life doesn’t come with built in trigger warnings, and great literature channels life’s complexity, including its distasteful aspects, and even its horror. If your professor refused to entertain your comments about the disturbing sexual ethic of Metamorphoses because she was so swept up with its imagery, then she’s not doing her job as a facilitator and you have a valid complaint. But it seems to me that you find the entire idea of reading Ovid or other ‘canonical’ texts distasteful, and are offended by the very concept of a western canon.

Well, you can have that view. But just in case no one has told you this yet: it’s simplistic, it’s myopic, and it’s intellectually lazy. The cultures that produced most of the texts we read in lit hum dont share your cultural sensibilities. In fact, their values systems are foreign to the extreme.

Sometimes we focus too much on universalizing, but putting yourself into the mind of an Ancient Greek or a medieval European monk might as well be entering the brain of an alien. Old white men? Try explaining that concept to Vergil or Augustine or whoever — your method of filtering your experience through lenses of privilege and marginalization would seem as kooky to them as Aquinas and his hierarchies of divine law and creation probably seemed to you (if you did the reading). Sifting through All this is the thought exercise the core, at its best, is supposed to structure.

I think it’s great to suggest texts that are nuanced and sophisticated enough to add to the core, and to represent alternative viewpoints. But the underlying idea that classic texts can do violence in the classroom simply because of their content, and that the instructor’s job is thus to shelter rather than expose? That’s some pretty twisted dystopian thinking right there.

While the commenters are all over the Op-Ed, the commenters don’t have their very own university-funded bureaucracy.

The Trigger Warning Warriors have just such a power center, so they likely consider themselves immune to criticism. In fact, in their minds criticism of their Trigger Warning and re-education demands likely reinforces their view that the Western classics are oppressive.

Where does all this Trigger Warning crap stop?

I hope I didn’t trigger the Trigger Warning Warriors by using the term “crap” to describe their hurt feelings, the precious little snowflakes (there, I did it again).

[Featured Image via WikiMedia Commons]


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Maybe part of the admission process should include a battery of questions or tests to determine if you are sane or well-adjusted enough to deal with ideas.

Until you are, going to a “UNIVERSITY”…where ALLL ideas are supposed to be exposed and examined…may not be a good fit.

Perhaps the market can provide you a “learning environment” where only your particular kink can be indulged, while the rest of humanity just wires around you.

So, Columbia University is acknowledging that they are no longer competent to do the basic job of teaching their core curriculum.

And the conclusion we should draw from that is?

    gibbie in reply to clintack. | May 3, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    Oops. Hit the “thumbs down” while reaching for the “Reply”. The lack of physical separation between them offends me. I demand you fix it. 🙂

    What I was going to say:

    At least Columbia still has a core curriculum in western civilization – a condition which I am sure the left is trying to remedy. Few of the Ivies do. I believe the vast majority of university students graduate without knowing the meaning of the phrase, “western civilization”. I did.

    BTW, I wonder how many among the LI commentariat can define what is meant by “western civilization”. If not, don’t feel too bad – you probably attended a government bureaucracy public school and a modern institution of higher learning.

Another Ed | May 3, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Whilst riding the short bus to and from Columbia University, please refrain from licking the windows.

Holy. Cow.

I just forwarded this link to my TWELVE YEAR OLD with the comment, “I believe that you read this last summer. Would you like Mommy to arrange therapy for you?” What on earth is happening to our young people? And how do we fix such deeply entrenched stupidity? Really, I have no clue other than for sentient humans to simply disengage from institutionalized education. But that response does not exactly bode well for the future of our culture and nation.

stevewhitemd | May 3, 2015 at 1:37 pm

If the snowflakes can’t handle Ovid and other classical literature then they’re not fit for a fist-class university. Far better to send them to single-sex finishing schools where they can be safely ensconced until Mummy can get them married off to a Wall Street mogul.

This is how you stop this nonsense. Pull together a list of some of the shows and music they grew up with, and that they are watching now, or have watched recently. Perhaps an on-campus survey of their favorite Netflix programs. Reddit runs such survey questions relatively often, such as “What shows are worth binge-watching?”

Ask them the principled difference between what they are reading in the Classical literature, and their own entertainment, insofar as “triggering” content is concerned.

These kids have all seen “Orange is the New Black” and “Breaking Bad,” and very likely “Hit and Miss,” along with “Game of Thrones.” They were raised on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Bones.” They have made misogynistic thugs into millionaires for singing all kinds of ugly deeds.

Separately, because the players are almost exclusively boys, there are the video games, one of which featured the winner ripping the spinal column out of the loser. Never mind the language and trash talk the players use amongst themselves when they think no adults are around.

Words on a page are going to trigger them? Nope. Not buying it.

Trigger warnings are for parents.

It stops when they have succeeded in destroying the university. There will be no point in sending your child to Columbia for an education if the administration has made actually giving an education against the rules of the university.

I guess the man-made global warming scam wasn’t generating self-victimization fast enough.

“…and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear in the sky.”

Midwest Rhino | May 3, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Somehow “democracy” turned into catering to, then becoming subservient to, the 1% that screams loudest about being offended and oppressed. Title IX needs some revision.

It’s almost like these people aren’t really offended at all, but just found a magic wand of guilt that transforms all sound western tradition into Orwell’s “illegal oldspeak”. Zany leftist dogma becomes Newspeak, the official university language.

The proles will be forced into compliance in due time … according to their plan … it would seem. Maybe these juveniles should have been spanked as kids after all, and not given the candy every time they made a scene at the grocery checkout. Now they’re dumb obnoxious brats holding up trigger signs to interrupt the free speech of those they can’t debate.

Where are the people (parents) who are paying the bills to educate these little snots? Where are the donors who give their money to institutions that have ceased to educate? Where is the tenured faculty who object to this crap and why are they not speaking out? This has to be a minority speaking. It cannot possibly be a majority who wishes to impose this idiocy in the learning process.

    gibbie in reply to gasper. | May 3, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    Their parents are just as bad. I see them at reunions.

    This is a multi-generational phenomenon.

    MrMichael in reply to gasper. | May 4, 2015 at 12:34 am

    The Parents aren’t paying for this education like in the past… it’s predominantly loans and grants. There IS no oversight by the person paying for this… it’s the Student or some Governmental Agency.

    As for tenured professors… in the Liberal Arts wing, they are leading the charge for the trigger warnings.

DINORightMarie | May 3, 2015 at 2:26 pm

When – and where – did this trigger-warning phenomenon begin?

And – is it PC rebranded, or part of the social justice tactic, perhaps?

The bulk of required reading in most high schools – even many prep schools – no longer contains the Classics. Not in English Lit, AP English, IB English…….nowhere are these students being taught Western cultural foundations. For this to be moved into our colleges, the few that still have such classes in the Classics, that is. Snowflakes, indeed.

Decline and fall of Western civilization accelerates.

jhkrischel | May 3, 2015 at 3:36 pm

There should simply be a trigger warning on the application for admissions to the university:

WARNING! You may be exposed to ideas and arguments contrary to your closely held beliefs, and expressions that are offensive to your core identity. If such things are beyond your capacity to handle, you should *NOT* attend university, and instead spend your cash on the required therapeutic treatment to get over your mental issues.

Ann in L.A. | May 3, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Nick Gillespie nailed it when he called this the creation of human veal.

SoCA Conservative Mom | May 3, 2015 at 5:31 pm

“As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work.” Sounds like she suffers from PTSD and should seek counseling.

I took 1 and only 1 course in Women’s Studies while in college, that was more than enough. The entire curriculum should have had a trigger warning. The irony is that everything, the movies, books, short stories, etc. were all written by women and contained graphic depictions of rape, sadism, abuse, pretty much every despicable thing that can be done to a woman was represented. That must be the difference, it’s ok when the work of fiction was produced by a woman. /sarc

we need another world war with no college deferral draft.
only way to get rid of these little pu#$ies.

The irony in this is how millennials – a generation of protracted adolescents — will suffer a younger generation of adult infants.

Juba Doobai! | May 3, 2015 at 10:04 pm

Wait until these morons have to read Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel Clarissa!

So one day, as Plato told me over a glass of ruby red Greek wine, he goes back into the claustrophobic cave where he once had the courage to flee. He excitedly tells his former neighbors-the self-shackled cave dwellers-that there is brilliant light outside. Everything can be seen clearly. Truth and beauty await you outside the cave.

He tells them that the large fire at the back of the cave is casting the shadowy flickering images on the walls of their cave. This is what is scaring them. He tells them that their understanding of life, their vision is veiled and distorted. “Come and see”, he tells them.

Most of the cave dwellers respond apathetically. Some had tried to read the shapes on the wall and to discern there meaning but to no avail. (The images are the cave dwellers themselves as distorted silhouettes projected onto the walls by the firelight. They cannot figure this out. Besides, they tell themselves, “Truth is what our cave dwelling friends let us get away with saying.”)

After Plato’s pleading the cave dwellers tell him that they do want anyone to stop the picture show. They know what to expect day after day. They look forward to the same known foggy reality.

Plato, my friend, was then denounced as part of a lunatic fringe element for his Ideas. He was ridiculed and banished from the cave. If the cave dwellers had been not shackled they would have killed the ‘prophet’ of a new and illuminated world.
The end.

Char Char Binks | May 4, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Do they need to give a trigger warning before they tell the students whom the university is named after?

Well, I figure that Chaucer is next!

When, that April with her showers shoot,
Columbia gives Chaucer the boot!

Squeeky Fromm
Girl Reporter

Such weenies should be given the ridicule they deserve.

So, after 2000 years, we suddenly need trigger warnings because the delicate little sensitivities create, for them, an unsafe environment. Do, these little delicates even stop to consider what is so different about them that they need warnings no one else has needed in the intervening 2000 years. They should as why they are so weak and why the administration is so unencumbered by common sense.

Is somebody there every day to make sure they’re wearing a clean diaper? Nothing says “Trigger” more than a poo-poo diaper…