By Nahema Marchal
June 23, 2016
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What would salty-mouthed Crocodile Dundee have to say about this?
The Institute of Public Affairs’s 2016 Free Speech on Campus Audit — the antipodal equivalent of our Foundation For Individual Rights in Education — found that four out of five Australian universities have policies or have taken actions that explicitly curtail free speech in the name of shutting down “problematic” perspectives.
At the University of New South Wales, for example, students have been asked to take heed of the term “settlement” and instead use words like “colonized” or “invaded” when referring to Australia — even though the former British prison colony is officially recognized as a settlement under international law.
Other campuses have barred the use of gender-specific words like “sportsmanlike,” while many major universities as well as the National Union of Students now demand that material that could cause emotional distress have an explicit content warning.
So-called “triggering” content at Australian universities now ranges from references to colonialism, Islamophobia, sexual violence, body image, child abuse, mental illness, and weapons — to the more mundane (e.g: insects, food, needles, vomit and blood).
One university even banned the use of sarcasm.
But some dissident professors Down Under are starting to sound the alarm.
Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a professor of Gender Studies at the University of Merlbourne who’s been issuing trigger warnings in class her entire career, told Australian paper The Age she worries students have lost the plot. Many of them now frequently heckle professors to correct their language in the middle of lectures.
“These students have grown up participating in politics through Tumblr and Instagram, and I feel that expressing ideas through sound bites and policing of other language, which is rampant online, has suddenly been translated into the classroom,” she said.
Dr. Bianca Fileborn, a research officer at La Trobe University who also uses trigger warnings, complained that they do not always stop people from being offensive — in fact, they do quite the opposite. “I think self-care is important and creating a safe and inclusive spaces is important,” she told The Age. “But I suspect that we probably need to be doing more to think about what is actually effective in creating safe spaces.”