Three years ago, in a class on ancient world literature, I asked my students to share their thoughts on the new trend of applying “trigger warnings” to certain literary texts. We were working our way through Ovid’s dizzying Metamorphoses, and a group of students at Columbia University had recently asked for that work to be labeled with a “trigger warning” because of its depictions of rape. I saw this as an opportunity to relate our course content—which often seemed marooned in the past—to contemporary issues. The discussion did not go well. Almost immediately, one of the stronger students in the class, a bright and assertive young woman, made the following declaration: “Unless you’ve experienced sexual assault, you are in a position of privilege, and you have no right to speak about this issue.” After a moment of cumbersome silence, a handful of students tried to re-enter the conversation, each prefacing his or her remark with an appeal to anecdotal experience: “Well, I have been assaulted . . .” or “I haven’t been assaulted, but I … Continue reading Dignity or Victimhood?
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