Trigger Warnings in a College Environment
A recent article in the New York Times
brought to my attention an attempt to bring the trigger warning system to the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. For those unfamiliar with trigger warnings, they are basically warning tags people put on content popularized by the growing social justice movements on websites such as Tumblr. The premise is that content dealing with difficult subject matter could "trigger" a reader to recall a traumatic experience faced in the past, such as a rape or the death of a loved one. Students at UC Santa Barbara have called for such trigger warnings on the syllabuses of classes that may contain any potential triggers.
The article delves into both sides of the debate on trigger warnings on a college campus. Some of the professors expressed opposition and said "trigger warnings suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace." On the other side of the debate, student Bailey Loverin said,“We're not talking about someone turning away from something they don't want to see. People suddenly feel a very real threat to their safety – even if it is perceived. They are stuck in a classroom where they can't get out, or if they do try to leave, it is suddenly going to be very public.”
I personally align myself with the professors in this debate. The inclusion of trigger warnings on all courses could lead to just that: people turning away from realities they are uncomfortable with. Should people avoid anything with a particular warning, they would only be doing their own education a disservice. For example, if someone had "suicide" as a trigger and avoided any class with content including suicide, they'd essentially be closing the door to a huge subset of literature. My senior year English class in high school had more books that featured suicide than books that didn't. Most high level literature is provocative in some form in order to make an impact. Provocative literature is often not something meant to be read for pleasure but something meant to give readers a new perspective. I absolutely hated William Faulkner's, "The Sound and the Fury" when I read it. It was a frustrating, depressing, disturbing and difficult read. It is also one of the novels I regard most highly now. Dealing with adversity is something people will have to do very often outside a college campus and in the real world. Why should a college train people to avoid what they don't want to deal with?
Of course I don't want people such as rape victims to outright suffer their entire time in college, but I believe there are other, better options for them. Visits to a mental health counselor would be able to help the victim and deal with the situation on a case by case basis. If the counselor deems a person unable to take a course because of recent traumatic experiences, the counselor would be able to recommend certain courses for the student without the triggers or make arrangements for exceptions.
What are your opinions on trigger warnings for college?