Trigger warnings: where do they belong in the classroom?
FLickBy ANDY UNGER
Katie could barely remember anything from the class, besides a feeling like she had been punched in the gut and an overwhelming panic. The class material had “triggered” her, according to an interview. The material brought up memories of a traumatic situation strong enough to send her into a panic attack, harming her mentally and preventing her from learning what the coursework was supposed to teach.
A trigger warning is a brief statement which explains to others that whatever content follows, the warning might cause them to relive a traumatic experience. Lately, there have been a range of arguments for and against the use of trigger warnings in education. Are they useful? Are they a form of censorship?
Professors began using trigger warnings as a way to warn their students of potentially frightening or harmful content in their readings or lectures. However, some scholars and professors believe that such warnings are hurtful in and of themselves, since they ‘coddle’ the students and allow them to look away from some of the harsh realities in the world.
In my opinion, that is absolutely ridiculous. A survivor of abuse should absolutely be exposed to the things that they are afraid of in order to recover from their trauma. The difference is that they need to do so on their own terms. You would not tell someone with a broken leg to walk on that leg immediately after breaking it. You would allow them to let it heal and begin walking again on their own terms, when they felt capable of doing so.
The exact same holds true for mental trauma. For that reason, trigger warnings in the classroom make complete and total sense. They serve as a way to warn individuals of content that could potentially harm them mentally, just like walking on a broken leg would only serve to further injure the person walking.
Of course, some of the warnings that people request simply cannot be accommodated for. However, for matters such as rape, murder, or self-inflicted injuries it is not very difficult to add a note on the syllabus that the reading includes such topics.
This is not censorship, and never will be. This is not disallowing professors to teach controversial material. In fact, it could easily open a dialogue that allows for even more discussion of taboo topics.
In one specific case, a professor added trigger warnings to his syllabus, and included a note to the effect that students would be allowed to leave class during a potentially triggering discussion, but that no allowance would be made for any grade loss due to their absence.
This is a perfect example of how to add content warnings to a syllabus without detracting from the class.
In the end, trigger warnings are a way to help abuse survivors and other victims of trauma begin to cope on their own time. They are harmless, useful, and in some cases, necessary. If all it takes to help someone in need is a couple of lines of text, why wouldn’t you write them?