Trigger warnings cripple value of education

By Opinions Editor

Trigger warnings, a variant on the psychological term “trauma trigger,” are a practice most commonly utilized online—whether in blogs, forums or even articles—to warn readers that the content they are about to scroll through may trigger traumatic memories from their past. Trigger warnings are meant to help those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder maneuver the Internet and its constant barrage of emotionally “triggering” content.

Trigger warnings have their place and purpose, but that place and purpose does not belong in a college setting. 

Trigger warnings only serve to dilute the issues that students should be exploring in-depth and in context. College is not the place for picking and choosing curricula to students’ comfort levels. College is the place to discuss and learn about the brutal histories and current state of the world. It is not the place to avoid reality, even if that reality may affect them in adverse ways.

Demanding that a college rework curricula or preface every lesson with warnings in order to cater to the varying psychological stresses students may have is unfair to those who have come to college in order to learn about the issues that cannot be easily explored outside of academia.

Colleges provide learning environments conducive to discussing the dark, twisted corners of history, culture and current events. Trigger warnings only undermine these discussions and lessons by making both students and faculty hyperaware of other’s sensitivities. These warnings effectively cripple any sort of constructive learning experience that could have been gleaned by engaging with each other and the course material in a critical and thoughtful manner. 

According to an April 14, 2014, Inside Higher Ed report, Oberlin College came under fire for recommending a trigger warning policy in classes. The initial policy encouraged professors to cut unnecessary and possibly triggering material from their syllabuses and to “be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.”

The policy has since been amended after academic freedom came into question, but the issues the policy brought up are worth consideration—just not in the way the college meant. Racism, classism and so on should not be avoided or tiptoed around as the college suggested, but discussed in detail, as that is what college provides for the atrocities of humanity that can induce PTSD episodes—context. 

Avoiding subject matter or even being aware of the need to be sensitive of subject matter is censorship in effect. There is no need for classes to entertain every sick facet of the human condition in lessons about the Holocaust, slavery or rape culture, but scrubbing curricula of disturbing content minimizes its magnitude and significance. 

Though PTSD is a frightening reality for thousands of people, many of whom are students, others should not have to alter their education or censor themselves in order to accommodate the discomfort of a single student. 

In registering for classes, students should recognize a course that may contain content that could negatively affect their state of mind. It is not the college or professor’s responsibility to tailor a curriculum to the mental state of each individual student—it is impossible. Students should take it upon themselves to exercise care in choosing classes. Researching the content of a syllabus and whether the topic is triggering be left to the student. 

It should go without saying that students should research the content of a syllabus either way, but for those who know that certain material can be triggering, it is their duty to themselves to take the necessary action to avoid such things. 

Students must advocate for themselves when it comes to their mental health and well-being, particularly in the classroom, but their advocacy should not directly affect the learning of their peers. 

Haphazardly demanding trigger warnings across the board is foolish and detrimental to academia and the learning experience as a whole. Professors cannot and should not be expected to cover all bases. If a course is required for a student and contains possibly triggering material, the student should address the issue head-on with the administration and professor—perhaps alternate material or classes can be provided. 

Nonetheless, glossing over the horrors of the world in the name of making people feel more comfortable is antithetical to learning which in practice encourages empathy and understanding. 

Learning allows people to move beyond the ignorance and ugliness of the past and present to create a future that does not repeat mistakes. Learning creates perspective and sparks conversation that can create change. Without learning—even though aspects of it may be disturbing—society would remain stagnant and incapable of growth.