Content Warnings at Princeton: Student Journalists Warn Readers That Reading Things Could Upset Them

As I continue to try to understand the mindset of woke Ivy League student journalists in the 21st Century, I am struck by the fact that even when they manage to print op-ed pieces by their non-woke peers, they feel obligated to flag such material as somehow “unsafe.”

Take some wording above a perfectly reasonable opinion piece in the campus newspaper of Princeton University, The Daily Princetonian, addressing recent brouhahas over academic freedom.

The February 3, 2022 article is entitled, It’s not just about Wax and Shapiro ’99: We can’t stand idly by while academic freedom gets thrown under the bus. It deals with the recent controversy over some tweets by the legal scholar Ilya Shapiro and also discusses the cases of the law professor Amy Wax and the Princeton philosopher, Peter Singer. Singer’s views on abortion, infanticide and the disabled are quite horrifying and have been extensively discussed by him over decades. But in the interest of academic freedom Princeton keeps him on, whereas the law school at Georgetown University placed Shapiro on administrative leave before he even got there to appease the woke mob over a tweet or two. The article is heartfelt and well argued. You can read it for yourself.

What is disturbing and worrying for those who care the future of journalism and freedom of thought in this country is the heading above the article. It reads:

Content Warning: The following column contains mentions of racism, ableism, and violence.

It is weird that students at one of the finest universities in the world feel obligated to infantilize the readers of their campus newspaper. What is the point of such a warning, save to try to stigmatize the author for the sin of speaking up for academic freedom? Do the editors of The Daily Princetonian print such warnings above articles about, say, Black Lives Matter (such articles, one would presume, would mention racism).

And what could be more violent than abortion, given that the intended result of one is the taking of an innocent life? And yet there is no content warning for this December 16, 2021 Daily Princetonian article, Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis Johnson '93 talks future of Roe v. Wade at PSRJ event. I gather that the members of Princeton Students for Reproductive Justice (PSRJ) are immune from any feeling on the part of the Daily Princetonian editors that the crushing of human skulls and other forms of dismemberment are in any way violent and that, therefore, articles about “reproductive justice” do not require content warnings.

And one might ask, too, what is the purpose of running a student newspaper if one feels it is the duty of journalists to act as content nannies and warn readers that the content of opinion pieces might upset them?

And remember, many Princeton students go on to become people of great influence in media, government, law, publishing, etc. What kind of democracy can we expect from the content warning cadres poised for professional success in years to come? It’s a wonder that they even published the piece about academic freedom. Maybe they just needed something to warn students not to read. A truly strange attitude for those privileged to attend a university where robust intellectual inquiry once reigned—and still does in some quarters there.

Finally, what are the aims and practical effects of such content warnings? Do the editors of The Daily Princetonian reason thus, “We have grudgingly printed a piece by a student who cares about free speech. We must now ensure that discussing such ideas as race and bioethics from a non-woke perspective is made to seem to be the work of racists and ableists and somehow unsavory.” Oh, now that’ll make for a lively intellectual atmosphere at Princeton.

Why are these censorious young people working on a newspaper in the first place? What do they think it is for? Clearly, information provision is not one of their chief interests.

And remember—this throttling of discourse is not happening only at Princeton. Content warnings are all the rage, from NPR to Spotify. Because, after all, you are too stupid or too mentally fragile to decide what you should read.

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