Is university supposed to be comfortable or uncomfortable?

How one lecture led to me question my opinion

A student sitting in lecture.

I emerged from a class on Monday morning enthralled by everything I’d just learned about Christianity. 

In somewhat of a humorous tone, my professor had facilitated a discussion on a few religious Christian beliefs and rituals that I hadn’t been aware of prior. A friend next to me whispered, “Is it bad that I’m not paying any attention?” and I responded, “Yes. This is so interesting.”

I assumed most of my classmates would share my interest, but when I left the class, I saw a look of frustration on a classmate's face nearby. 

She explained to me her discomfort in the class was due to her own Christian upbringing and continued faith. She didn’t like sitting in a class that picked apart a religion she felt so faithful to; she especially didn’t like the satirical tone the discussion had inevitably taken on.

In my initial opinion, it wasn’t discriminating; in fact, most of my classmates had been to Catholic institutions themselves and were enjoying nostalgic laughter at their own schooling experiences. Having no Christian upbringing myself, I listened closely to take advantage of the rich amount of material I was being offered. 

As soon as my friend confided in me, my opinion changed. I knew if I’d been in her position, I also would’ve felt small and uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, it was only two years prior that I sat in the back of a tutorial and had my own religious upbringing questioned and interrogated as my face turned beet red. 

Immediately, I felt for my friend, even regretting how much I’d enjoyed this particular class.

As I walked away from her, I realized I’d just sat through one of my most interesting classes of the year, leading me to an internal debate. 

Is it a problem that one of my most interesting classes was one that made my friend uncomfortable, or is this a “gold star” in my professor’s career? 

I thought about Jordan Peterson coming to speak and Principal Daniel Woolf’s response that University was supposed to make us uncomfortable and challenge our views. 

Is university supposed to be comfortable or uncomfortable? I’m not sure. For many of us, it’s the first time the principles we’ve been raised on are being brought under microscopic inspection. 

If we leave with them intact, was university successful, leaving us happy and confident in our beliefs and values? Or was university unsuccessful, leaving us sheltered and naive?

There seems to be an effort on university campuses to make every group —  religious, gendered, ethnic or otherwise — feel welcome and comfortable. 

Any professor confronted for making a student uncomfortable is likely to apologize for having transgressed. 

However, there also seems to be a push for getting everyone out of their comfort zones as a means of education and enlightenment. Are these two notions mutually exclusive? It seems to me that they are; thinking back, I’ve never sat in on a captivating, boundary-pushing class that wasn’t sure to make someone nearby a bit uneasy. By that same thought, I’ve never sat in on a class where everyone left content and refrained from checking Facebook at least twice. 

But perhaps there’s a way to merge the two and find a middle ground on which one feels comfortable questioning their own views. 

How can we give those who are made uncomfortable a platform to voice their concerns in return? Can straying from your comfort zone and feeling welcome both be fulfilled at university? Is one of these pillars more important than the other? And, most curiously, do they oppose each other or somehow lead to the same goal? I’m still waiting to find out.


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