There’s no predicting what might cause an individual extreme stress. My mom used to cringe at — she didn’t just not like them, she panicked at the sight. You don’t realize how often pictures of or things that look like appear in magazines, ads, and movies until you know someone with a phobia.
So should she be warned every time she’s entering a space that might contain or pictures of ?
Last week, trigger warning notices were posted on the entrances to the Student Union Building, and another notice booth sat outside of the room full of the potentially disconcerting content.
It was an art gallery. The theme of the display was .
I would have expected those two words to naturally act as a euphemism for trigger warning — the purpose of art is to move, shake, and challenge people and systems.
I can appreciate the care that may have gone into the idea. Someone had the wherewithal to foresee a potentially bad situation if someone walked into the gallery unprepared for art.
But are trigger warnings helpful? There’s a lot of research that says they’re not, that they’re actually damaging. Of course, there are also studies that say trigger warnings are now very necessary. In all likelihood at times they can be both harmful and helpful. It just depends on when and where.
According to an article in The Telegraph, some professors at multiple law schools (notably, Harvard and Oxford) are no longer teaching law for offenses because, as described by a professor contributing to The New Yorker, it’s “not worth the risk of complaints of discomfort by students,” and there is ongoing discussion about completely removing law from the syllabus.
What an awful situation to be in. How can we honor the victims of if the laws aren’t taught and their situations aren’t made known? Should we not, instead of hiding from trouble, be equipping each other for the trouble we might face later on in our lives?
Perhaps it comes down to a question of fundamentals: what is the purpose of the university in today’s world? If it’s simply to pump out degrees, then the path of least resistance makes the most sense. If it’s to empower and equip students for a lifetime of positive influence, well, being remoulded and shaped might get uncomfortable at times.
It’s well known that this is a common conversation on university campuses. And it looks like it’s continuing to grow in popularity. So maybe it’s true, “It is not truth that matters, but victory”.
It’s not that I think a courtesy warning is unnecessary, it actually sounds like good practice for certain topics. Where I see the danger is in systemic censorship. Yes, if a portion of a class is made uncomfortable by a portion of the course content, it would be unreasonable to test them on it. Then it would be unfair to deliver different exams for different people. Eventually the simplest solution would be to leave out , then , then .
When we no longer learn about and it’s , are we not likely to repeat the same ? How do we get educated on ?
Classrooms are inherently safe spaces. This is an unpopular idea in some circles but it’s true. I don’t believe there’s a professor or instructor at UFV who won’t allow certain topics to be discussed. Everything is welcome. What makes a safe space isn’t the removal of (for which there is ultimately a near endless list), it’s the inclusion of it.
The underlying danger is that this movement will sterilize ideas, art, and culture. This isn’t promoting respect, it’s instituting intolerance.
Announcing beforehand, what could turn out to be be a traumatic theme in a book, a painting, or a movie unfairly categorizes the piece before it’s aesthetic can be examined. I don’t think that Michelangelo intended for the prevailing idea to be taken away from David was that his exposed might make some of us uncomfortable.
It seems that the entire thing is driven by a fear of discomfort. But strong and uncomfortable emotions are some of the most natural things about being human. The idea of making universities safe, and regulating content might make sense if we believe that discomfort is a sin; who decided that discomfort was a bad thing? Pleasure exists because pain contrasts it.
Trigger warnings are a genuine and probably caring gesture. It’ll be upsetting, to say the least, if our biggest silencer is self-induced. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call the movement a cultural hegemony, where an extremely small portion of society exercises dominance by regulating content. Like gatekeepers who decide who can and cannot pass.
Universities and institutions of higher learning should not and cannot curtail their content to be comfortable. Honestly, I find it concerning that warnings need to be posted on the door of an art gallery. It means we’re failing as a culture on more fronts than one.
This planet won’t always be a comfortable place, so why don’t we aim to fix the problem instead of hiding the symptoms?
There’s nothing stopping us but ourselves from re-entering a dark age of thought. And if we do, it will be exactly this kind of ignorance for rationality. Universities are the place where all ideas should be welcomed.
If we’re going to use trigger warnings, and it looks like we are, it’s important to keep in mind the inherent dangers. Every bad idea starts off as a good one.
Further reading / referenced articles
- The Trapdoor of Trigger Words – What the science of trauma can tell us about an endless campus debate – Slate
- Hazards Ahead: The Problem With Trigger Warnings, According to the Research – Pacific Standard
- A trigger warning on art? A daft idea – but a back-handed compliment – The Guardian
- 9 Feminist Arguments Against Using Trigger Warnings in Academia – Mic
- NCAC Report: What’s All This About Trigger Warnings? – NCAC
- The Coddling of the American Mind – The Atlantic
- Trigger warnings: more harm than good? – The Telegraph
- Choose Not to Warn: Trigger Warnings and Content Notes from Fan Culture to Feminist Pedagogy – Journal of Feminist Studies