The Coddling Campus

“I believe that our current cohorts of students have been raised in a social environment where protection from potential harm has been the order of the day. While this is certainly a good thing – particularly when considering the adverse psychological effects of experiencing physical, emotional or sexual abuse (Springer et al., 2003) – this protectionist trend may have permeated into a sense of entitlement to be free from any form of discomfort.

“At the most fundamental level, it has been observed that this entitlement, coupled with the enactment of policies to prevent being confronted by events, information or any other stimuli that have the potential to trigger an adverse emotional response, is directly at odds with recommended practices to build psychological resilience and prevent mental ill health (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2015). Using a classical conditioning paradigm, the use of gradual exposure to potentially triggering stimuli forms a part of trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy and is a recommended treatment option for post-traumatic stress disorder in the NICE clinical guidance.

“What this means is that by ‘coddling’ those calling for safe spaces, we risk making their sensitivity to such stimuli worse. While these effects may not emerge in the short-term (if university campuses are sanitised of such triggering stimuli, then emotional distress will not be triggered by these issues), this ‘vindictive protectiveness’ (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2015) prevents students from developing the requisite level of psychological resilience to be able to confront such triggers when they emerge into the wider world.

“Over time, repeated and reinforced emotional appraisals of individuals from different ideological standpoints become automatic and intuitive – consistent with Gawronski and Bodenhausen’s (2011) associative-propositional model of attitudes. As our social networks become increasingly ideologically pure, our encounters with those who may have different viewpoints becomes more restricted. Thus when these contrary opinions are encountered, they are met by automatic negative appraisals – both in terms of the content of these opinions and of the individuals expressing them. Such emotional states then spread via ‘contagion’ (see del Vicario et al., 2016).”