The clamor for “trigger warnings” has, predictably, spread to the Classics. This isn’t particularly surprising: From Herodotus to Livy to Tacitus, the body of literature that used to be called the Canon is chock-full of violence, sadism, and what would now be considered racism.
And so, it’s entirely predictable that a group of freshman at Columbia University have asked that Ovid’s Metamorphoses – which, hearteningly, all Columbia students are required to read -- come with a trigger warning. “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,” write the four undergrads in a piece in Columbia’s student newspaper. As such, they ask for “warnings and suggestions for how to support triggered students.” The writers continue with their demands:
[T]here should be a mechanism for students to communicate their concerns to professors anonymously, as well as a mediation mechanism for students who have identity-based disagreements with professors. 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.
For making these requests, the students are being flayed “special snowflakes” and “delicate female flowers.” (Neither of those were meant as compliments, by the way.)
Well, maybe. But you know what the Columbia Four didn’t ask for? That the book be removed from the curriculum, or that they be excused from reading it. In so doing, these four Columbia students are distinct from a) the Harvard Law students who asked to skip their exams after the fracas in Ferguson, b) the students at Reed College who are demanding radical changes to the freshman humanities course which defines freshman year at the school, and c) Ira Magaziner, the Clinton confidante who led the successful charge in the 1960s to junk academic rigor at Brown University.
So, to some, the demand for a trigger warnings at Columbia may seem infantile. But give the aggrieved students this: By agreeing to even read Ovid, they’re willing to be met halfway. In the current climate, that’s nothing short of commendable.