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Why I Object to “Trigger Warnings”

There is a movement that has been created by students at certain colleges, a movement to clean the environment of ideas, words, and subjects that could cause discomfort or offense. In a nut shell, students and professors are restricted from writing, speaking, teaching, and thinking about themes that could be offensive to certain peers. This has been a problem that has grown through the years, becoming a much larger annoyance for many. It has changed the way professors teach and has changed the way students learn. And it’s basically shielding adult college students from what is happening in the real world. This movement is, basically, poorly preparing students for the professional life of adulthood, making them create a wrong opinion when talking to others.

Trigger warnings are warnings for students in a class that could be “triggered” by what is said in the work they are learning. Professors have been newly taught to use trigger warnings in their teaching methods, supposedly to protect their students. But, what it’s really doing is stopping professors from teaching actual facts, and making them avoid controversial ideas. Some professors are even scared to say anything to their students. Teaching this way is not helpful, because students are there to learn, not to be coddled. Lesley University professor Liv Cummins finds herself, “questioning whether or not [she] should show something [she] thinks has a lot of educational value if [she] thinks it will be potentially upsetting to students, who may later complain or not be able to see the value to their learning.” She is not the only one to think this way.  Professors at a lot of universities find it hard to get around these trigger warnings.  It’s almost they are holding back from teaching their students in order to not “trigger” them or cause them emotional upset.

I sat down and talked to a Lesley University student, Julia De Mars, and got her thoughts on the topic. Julia is a creative writing major and finds that “people don’t understand that once they get out into the real world and they try to sell their things, you won’t sell anything tiptoeing around certain things.”  I 100%  agree with Julia; rather than keeping students safe, these “trigger warnings” are preventing us from adapting to the real world.

This movement is boxing students into a politically correct corner, making them feel like everyone who is with the movement is bullying them to think only one way.  This is frustrating for students with different points of view, who want to express themselves. “I thought when coming here I could be free and find myself in all things, especially my passion,” says Julia.  “However I feel like I cannot really progress here with the intense mass ideology of the student population that whatever is slightly disagreeable to them is automatically wrong and should never be said again or they will feel unsafe.” She continues by saying it makes her feel “unsafe in [her] work.” This isn’t what education should be about. Everyone can’t have one opinion; we are all individuals who think differently. We may share the same opinions on topics, but we shouldn’t be forced to think one way, or keep quiet for fear we will offend someone.

In my experience with “trigger warnings”, it feels as though someone has been holding my hand since day one of my elementary school days. All through middle school, high school, and now college my hand is still being held. What happens when I graduate and enter the real world? It’s not going to be pretty when I realize what is happening. We can’t be shielded by what’s happening in the world. In most of my creative writing classes students are putting up “trigger warnings” to their writing with swear words or mentions of blood. If you honestly can’t handle that type of creative writing get up and leave the room, don’t get angry and argue with the writer.

That being said, I am not completely opposed to trigger warnings.  I do believe there are times when it is appropriate to use them. Teachings or readings that involve sexual violence, assault, physical violence, or anything of that sort could have a warning. But, the warning should be more of letting the reader or student know what they are getting into, not something where they shouldn’t have to read it. Something like, “please be advised what we will be reading does have a bit of violence, so be prepared for what is about to be read out loud.” It’s that simple; and doing it that way prepares the students for what is about to happen.  It also lets the professor teach without having to be nervous.  And if a student does feel uncomfortable about a certain subject, they can get up and leave the room, not call out the professor and argue that this is inappropriate to talk about in their class.

It seems that “trigger warnings” have grown more popular on many campuses.  But I believe they have gotten way out of hand. We are adults and should act like adults, not like children who need to have our eyes covered from scary things that are mentioned in class. It’s time to realize that there won’t be any warnings when we go out into the real world to live our life.

8 Responses »

    Thanks for the article. After reading it I had three thoughts pop into my head immediately and hope they don’t get censored off the comment section.
    First was the post An important message from the President and Provost I received yesterday at 6:10 p.m.
    Lesley Faculty, Staff & Students, “As a university, we are continuously in pursuit of creating a learning environment that supports all students, is academically rigorous and employs highly effective and inclusive pedagogical practices. While we most certainly embrace difficult dialogue on critical social issues, true learning is compromised when students encounter language or classroom dynamics that are rooted in the historical legacies of oppression tied to their social identities. One clear example is the use of the n-word in class discussions. While we would expect that the intention or rationale behind using such a word is otherwise, even if reading a passage from a book, the impact of using terms like this on our students, our community, and the learning environment is deeply harmful.”…..The email continues and Im sure everyone on campus received this email.

    The second thing that popped into my mind was, “if we take our Q’s from the new leader of this great country that over half the country elected than word choice is at best an afterthought.”

    The third thing that popped into my head was, “do as I say not as I do.” Meaning we can’t-do what our elders have done we have to forge ahead and make inroads in society. As far as creative writing is concerned, “if you choose to be offensive then you are limiting your readers to those who appreciate being offended. If you watch every word, you write than your beholden to a reader who appreciates that. As a young writer, you might want to take a course called “How to make money writing.” I just finished it, and for me, I would like to be able to sell my writing to the masses, and word choice is very important to me.”

  2. Hi Brittley,

    I think you are misunderstanding the purpose of trigger warnings. As you said:

    “The warning should be more of letting the reader or student know what they are getting into, not something where they shouldn’t have to read it. Something like, “please be advised what we will be reading does have a bit of violence, so be prepared for what is about to be read out loud.” It’s that simple; and doing it that way prepares the students for what is about to happen. It also lets the professor teach without having to be nervous. And if a student does feel uncomfortable about a certain subject, they can get up and leave the room, not call out the professor and argue that this is inappropriate to talk about in their class.”

    This is the point of trigger warnings. I’m not sure what Lesley class or other class you have taken that told you otherwise, but I strongly recommend doing some research on trigger warnings and reconsidering your position.

    Thank you.

  3. Thank you, Brittley, for this well written and compelling post. I found your insights on this important topic refreshing and hope they will encourage open and respectful expression of the entire range of human experience, on campus and in the “real” world.

  4. Warnings for brief mention of sexual assault, abuse, and suicide.

    Hi Brittley,
    Someone has already provided some information above on the actual definition of a trigger or content warning. I am concerned with your feelings towards being triggered, as they seem largely uniformed. Being trigger does not mean to be merely offended, upset, or uncomfortable. It means to cause great emotional distress, as relating to previous trauma. These warnings are used to ensure the safety of people (survivors of sexual assault, physical assault, traumatic events, abuse and discrimination) who want to learn unhindered. Personally, I cannot focus in an environment that reminds me of things such as suicide, rape, incest or domestic violence. Unfortunately these are all topics that have been broached in my courses without much warning. I am unsure as to what definition you have been given regarding trigger warnings in the past, but after having read this article it seems you have been severely misinformed. I just want to remind you that you are not the only one attending this university, and that while you are entitled to your opinion, the student body is entitled to their wellness and their right to learn. Before critiquing our slow-going process of sensitivity, perhaps criticize our school’s lack of accessibility or accomadations for those with varying levels of ability. Critique our use of racial slurs in our classrooms. Critique our mice and cockroach infestations. Critique our flagrant transphobia, racism and ableism, but don’t critique the one small thing that is keeping students safe within the lecture hall.

  5. Dear Brittley,
    I imagine that as a creative writing major who hopes to be published, gain readership and many other things after graduation- censorship may feel very contradictory to developing an identity and defining who their audience will be while still a student. As a lecturer in a possibly non- mental health field, I imagine it to be very hard to find oneself balancing between active hand-holding versus pushing young minds kicking and screaming into the “real world” before they are ready to leave the Lesley bubble. It messes up a neatly planned syllabus and curriculum. It makes the more resilient student feel that their time is being wasted. However, I believe that the oversight being made is that when authentically applied- it saves lives- real lives.

    My bone of contention with your article, is that it feels misleading to call “trigger warnings” part of any movement that is currently taking over the higher education system and ruining courses of study and lesson plans on campuses all over America. After such an poignant staging on campus a couple weeks ago by Active Minds on Doble campus, I am surprised by a degree of lacking consideration you showed by the restrictions placed on “sexual assault, violence, physical assault, or anything of that sort” as the only true triggers deserving of warnings.

    Mental health at Lesley University is not being considered enough when the University talks about inclusion policies even though it impacts 100% of the student population. There is no perfect “trigger warning” or safety net for University life. There are very few protections for service users, and even less services offered for those with mental health issues due to the demand for resources. So in the “real world” on campus, the individual learns they have to take responsibility for themselves and- indeed while stepping out of class when one is triggered is a choice- it does not promote inclusion.

    I do not believe in censorship- but trigger warnings are NOT censorship, and it sounds more like a lack of training on the part of lecturers on how to direct these conflicts (and to be fair not every lecturer – even in mental health courses- has this skill); and awareness campaigns for students regarding their fellow classmates. Yet every writer also must learn to take responsibility for what they put out there to be consumed. If one is not challenged, what other way do you know what you are creating has an impact on the world- negative or positive? In the end, Lesley University has a degree of responsibility to mold students and extend protections to the vulnerable, the provocative, the ignorant and the ambivalent.

  6. Is this in reference to the use of racial slurs in the classroom as well?

  7. I’ve experienced plenty of traumatic events in my life, but I got through college (in the 1990s) without a single trigger warning. The choice to use them should be left up to the individual professor.

  8. Trigger warnings are another part of this ridiculous movement to encourage people to claim victim status. This, political correctness, outrage culture, “social justice”, etc. is really doing more harm than good.

    People should be taught to be strong, to persevere, to overcome, to work hard at achieving what they desire and not that an overly emotional (triggered) reaction is justified and as if there’s no other way to react. It sends a very dangerous message to vulnerable people, that things they don’t like shouldn’t exist, rather than telling them the truth that they will have to deal with things in life that they don’t approve of and better get used to it.

    The ironic thing is the people that believe in this crap think they’re being the compassionate ones when really they’re doing more harm than good

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