Shut Up About Trigger Warnings...

Comments

1
Scott Simon on NPR had an informative interview with Sebastian Junger about PTSD, which is hugely over (self) diagnosed in this society.

From the interview:

"SIMON: That term PTSD - you don't like it. And yet, you use it. But tell us why it makes you uncomfortable.

"JUNGER: Well, it has its use. It's an important word. It describes the long-term reactions to trauma that some people get. Around 20 percent of people exposed to deep trauma wind up struggling with their reaction for many months or years. Keep in mind - only 10 percent of U.S. military is engaged in any kind of combat at all.

"But roughly half the U.S. military has applied for some form of disability based on PTSD. So there's 40 percent in there who really weren't traumatized, who come home and are - feel deeply alienating and out of place. The only language they have for it is PTSD. I actually don't think that's what is. And by definition, it can't be.

"What they're experiencing is the very real trauma of reintegration into modern society. People who serve two years in the Peace Corps have the same problem. The depression rates after people come home from the Peace Corps is astronomically high."

2
The left needs to be calling out bullshitters for so many different subjects but it's not going to happen. You get yelled down as a bigot or anti-this or anti-that if you don't fit into the precise paradigm - watch a recent guest episode of The Young Turks. The same people who are screaming and stomping over their triggers are the same who refuse to listen to any other point of view about it.

It's the same personalities who decided it was time to scream into the mic at that Sanders' rally (and if you think that was cool and okay but trigger warnings aren't then I give up)
3
@2 The Young Turks...dear god that's a rich pile of shit these days. The last decent person was Dave Rubin and he long since went on his own. And naturally Rubin is written off as a right-winger now because he didn't properly subscribe to narrative driven left wing tea-baggerism.
4
Oh blah, as if that Dean's stupid letter was anything other than a plea to wingnut millionairs to keep the checks a-comin.
5
Well said Dan.
6
What if we stop calling them "trigger warnings"? How about "content:" Is that allowed? I shared a video the other day that by its name was just some shit about Trump. In the video, however, was lots of footage of lunch counter protests and black people getting the shit kicked out of them. Maybe my black friends don't want to watch that shit. Sure, maybe they're not "triggered" (tho you can find some disagreement to that somewhere I'm sure), but maybe it'll fuck up their day. Maybe they're used to watching whatever videos I post. Maybe they get to decide when they want to see acts of violence while sitting on their couch or whatever. So I put a warning "Hey, this video has lots of racists being racist in it." I didn't call it "trigger warning" but the idea is the same. So what's the problem, that we're telling people the content of articles or videos or classes or whatever in a quick and easy way, or that it's been given a name that is disagreeable?
7
@6 What's the problem?

Here...

"...that demands for trigger warnings have been made by lots of "regular students who might feel 'uncomfortable' with certain concepts," as Sydney put it this morning. Students who make unreasonable demands for trigger warnings—and then hide behind people who may actually need and benefit from them when they're called out—discredit the whole concept of trigger warnings and thereby make college campuses less safe for people who might actually need and benefit from them."

This was brought to the fore by a recent news article describing a warning letter the administration of the University of Chicago sent to all incoming freshman not to expect "trigger warnings" as the University does not require the faculty to use them. The position of the UofC differs somewhat from Savage. Dan is focused on the harm demands for trigger warnings from Special Snowflakes does to people who have real PTSD while the UofC is focused on compulsory speech (requiring trigger warnings - they do NOT oppose them).
8
@1

I wonder about this sometimes. I'm totally unqualified to have official opinions on this matter, but it does seem that the representation of people who feel alienated in society, have trouble fitting in, are misfits, etc is higher in organizations like Peace Corps or the military. I mean, young people who don't know what path to take and perhaps don't have the skills/education to take the sorts of paths that would give them stability and respect, join organizations like those which provide them with a sense of purpose, comradery, respect, and basics like housing/routines/structure- all nearly instantly. Then they come home and are right back where they started. This would be disorienting and depressing, but I wonder if the cause and effect are mixed up. I used to work with homeless populations, a huge percentage of them who were vets. Then later I worked as a GED instructor to kids (mostly poor and in struggling neighborhoods with dysfunctional families) who had dropped out of school and were now going back (in their late teens and early 20s) and many of them joined the military after getting their GED. It made me wonder about cause and effect here. Like, the military postponed their instability but didn't cause it or do anything to help it long-term. So PTSD might be labeling a different phenomenon in this case.
9
Aren't there a million ways to know what is coming in a lecture or movie or class schedule or anything else on campus these days? How can any student be surprised about what would be talked about in any function they are attending? 10 mins of Internet research should eliminate any surprises. Why are trigger warnings even a thing? For lazy students?
10
"PTSD" is not so much a result of trauma in people's lives as a reflection of the health of the societies they live in.

JUNGER: Yes. The idea for the book started with my background in anthropology. I studied anthropology in college. I did my fieldwork on the Navajo reservation. And at one point a year or two ago, I had this idea. I was like, I bet the Navajo, the Apache, the Comanche, the Cheyenne, the Sioux, the Kiowa - very, very warlike societies. I bet they weren't getting PTSD. I bet they weren't coming home to their community and feeling alienated and out of place and unconnected. I bet the transition was fine.

And so I had this idea. Maybe the rate of long-term trauma that combatants experience - maybe that's a function not of the trauma - not of what happens on the battlefield - but the kind of society you come home to. And if you come home to a cohesive tribal society, maybe you recover quite quickly from trauma.

So I looked at Israel. Now, most of the Israeli population serves in the military. They don't all see combat, but they've all been in the military. When the fight - when the combat takes place in that kind of societal context, it makes much greater moral sense. When you have to fly 10,000 miles to fight in another country, and everyone back home is continuing as if everything the same, the moral context is sort of more suspect.

When you're defending - literally defending your house, there is very little trauma because it's so clearly something that has to be done. So the PTSD rate in Israel is something like 1 percent. In the U.S. military, it's around 20 percent. Very similar kinds of military, similar kind of society, similar kind of fight - but a different societal context. And that seems to make the whole difference.
11
I'm on board with some kind of content thing. It's like that website that tells you if the dog dies at the end of the movie. I might want to know that going in (or choose not to see that movie if that's what happens). I can't exactly watch a trailer about a written work (or most linked videos), so something up front that gives a description of what I'm about to get into it is helpful.
12
"systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming the disorder." I'm reminded of Chris Kyle & Chad Littlefield who took that idea and ran with it all the way to the gun range to help their buddy Eddie Ray Routh . . . who killed them.
13
I didn't know avoidance of triggers, at least in a short period of time after the trauma, had a negative impact on sufferers. I would expect people in treatment for PTSD would be told this, because it isn't completely intuitive. However, even if most people benefit from exposure to their triggers, it may still be beneficial for them to be warned of what is coming so they can brace themselves. More research, please!
14
I personally appreciate trigger warnings as someone with a very mild PTSD. Generally I don't need them, but there are some days when I see one and know it isn't something I can handle that day. It's nice to be able to take that moment and be able to say "no thank you" instead of having your entire day ruined.

That said, I know I have some triggers that are absurd to expect people to make warnings for. One example is a fairly well known but not super popular song. I recently went to a wedding and it was played. I spent the length of the song focusing on my breathing and zoning out. It wasn't an enjoyable moment for me but I got through it. Then the other day, I heard a terrible cover of it on the radio and it didn't bother me. To me, it actually would have been more upsetting in that moment to have attention drawn to the song as a possible trigger than hearing the actual song was. (On a side note, Darius Rucker should go back to doing 90's alt pop instead of country.)
15
@12 Chris Kyle is in no way a trained mental health professional.
16
Dan, you are once again (and always) my hero. Now, can you make Sully come back from his self-imposed exile???
17
Pointing out the semantic meaning of "Trigger Warning" is pointless. It doesn't matter what trigger warning "really" means (unless you accept that Gamer Gate is "really" about ethics in gaming journalism) - there are legion of professors who are self-reporting that trigger warnings are being abused by student at a vastly higher clip to simply avoid or nullify coursework that doesn't reinforce their existing beliefs. The thing about Trigger Warnings is that these students aren't just asking for a warning - they're asking for accommodation, for the professor to assign alternate work without the subject matter. Additionally, under the logic of the pro-trigger-warning camp, the trigger warning itself is just as triggering as the possibly offending content (even if the offending content doesn't actually exist in the first place).

I'm close to going on a long rant about how trigger warnings are really about the changing dynamic between university and student, and the emerging role of students and parents are Consumers/Purchasers of education, rather than the master/apprentice model which has existed for the past ~300 years; and Trigger Warnings are simply a proxy war in determining who has true control over the educational experience. But that's for another day.
18
Trigger warnings aren't always about wanting to AVOID a subject; often they're about wanting to BE PREPARED before dealing with a topic one knows is triggering. They're so people can put their emotional armor on, rather than being blindsided.
19
You should see the shitstorm that's ensued among my fellow alumni and Maroons. The usual crop of special snowflakes are throwing a fit and claiming that the administration now supports harassment, and resorting to the usual tribalism ("your opinion doesn't count, you're white/male/straight/cis", to paraphrase) to dismiss any dissenting views or reasoned discussion. (Meanwhile some polling suggests that the student body as a whole is moderately supportive of the administration's position.)
These snowflakes include the genderqueer person who threw a hissy fit about Dan Savage talking about the word "tranny", who has since explicitly claimed that cyberbullying is okay if it's targeting someone it thinks is an asshole.
20
I am the only one who thinks that "systematic exposure" and randomly encountering something you weren't expecting to have to deal with are not the same thing? I have no problem facing the things I have been through, but healing is something that takes time and can't be forced, no matter how bad someone wants to get over it. Not everyone wants to unexpectedly have to deal with their symptoms for the rest of what was a good day. I would also like to point out that universities aren't the only ones who use trigger or content warnings, many websites and authors do as a courtesy to their readers. Obviously, in a university setting, one should expect to encounter other belief systems and points of view you may not agree with, but people should be able to determine for themselves whether they want to read graphic accounts of violence, etc. I'm with whoever said that we need to call bullshit on disingenuous asshats who ruin things for the people who genuinely need them.
21
Dear fuck this argument makes me angry. Mostly because almost everyone who throws their hat in the ring has zero personal experience on this topic.

When I was 12 and quite freshly traumatised I had an incredibly triggering experience in a secondary school class and here's the thing, there is no way I could have learned anything from that class. I was literally in so much mental agony that it took all my focus not to bolt out of the room. The worst part was trying to figure out if the teacher was maliciously targeting me or being stupid (because he knew what had recently happened to me) - the paranoia level at that point runs high. If you tell these rat fucks that they're SUPPOSED to be "exposing" traumatised kids? Way to escalate that paranoia and maybe see a lot of kids drop out of school entirely, good score.

[On that note, teachers ARE NOT MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS, they are not responsible for delivering exposure therapies. You get this beautiful hypocrisy where if the teacher triggers you, oh, they're not responsible for your trauma care, it's really your fault for even being there, but on the other hand now triggering-sorry-"exposure" is good for us suddenly teachers are skilled mental health professionals who are delivering the best possible care to us. We get it.]

Now here's the positive;
A few years down the line, a different teacher once took me aside after a class, and told me about what the next week's class would be about. She spelled it out in broad strokes and said that it would be okay if I didn't come to the class. I went to the class. Because I'd had time to prepare and was in control of the decision, I was able to come to the class. (As a sidenote; it was a psychology class. Yes, my psychology teacher was the one who decided a warning would be beneficial before exposing me, but it's okay, I'm sure she didn't know as much about psychology as the other guy, or Dan Savage. Good score.)

IS THIS SO HARD TO UNDERSTAND? yeah this is where the capslock rage comes in: THE WARNING IS AN AID TO ACCESSIBILITY. If you want a bunch of paranoid fucks who would rather drop out than deal with your "exposure", great, don't warn. But if you DO provide a warning - you're providing an accessibility tool for people to use to let them access education. And you're providing it at zero cost. There is no meaningful downside to warning. All it does is give fucked over kids an opportunity to prepare themselves to meet something on their own terms.

Even better, IT DOESN'T MATTER IF SOMEONE IS BULLSHITTING. That's like saying we should remove all accessibility ramps because some wheelchair/scooter users are also capable of climbing stairs. If your desire to punish these bullshitters is so great that you won't do this one, tiny thing to help me & mine to access education? Please get out of educating people.

God, this makes me so angry, because I've been there and I cannot tell you how indescribably horrible it was and there you go making shit up about it.
22
One evening, on the first class of a graduate level course on addiction counseling, the professor showed the movie "Requiem for a Dream" in its entirety. There was no chance for us to know it was coming, we hadn't seen the syllabus until 45 minutes before. There's explicit drug use and coerced sex.

Maybe someone who was in recovery from heroin addiction or maybe had terrible associations with coerced sex would have benefited from being told to watch the movie in the intervening week before the next class session, so they could engage the material on their own terms.

It's not about avoiding the course content. It's being able to prepare for it. Why is that such a big deal--why is that a bad thing to offer students?
23
20 & 21: Thank you.
24
Junger is being offensively cute with his stats as quoted @1. 10% is the number of military people occupied under the broadest definition of "combat arms." One doesn't need to be in combat arms to experience something traumatic in the military. And the increased used of IEDs in Iraq meant that one didn't have to be anywhere near guys shooting at each other to be exposed to combat, i.e. people trying to kill you.

On a lighter note, University of Chicago doesn't need trigger warnings because they have so many impressive gargoyles to ward off the evil spirits. They were just too embarrassed to explain that plainly in the letter.
25
When I teach about sexual assault and domestic violence, I explain ahead of time what we will be talking about and why it's necessary, even though it can be tough. I remind students to practice good self care and remind them about resources like the counseling center.

I have PTSD myself, but my triggers aren't things that people commonly warn about. That's okay. Sometimes I can handle it easily. I need to leave the room or work on really staying mindful and breathing.

But with things that are SO likely to be upsetting to everyone--regardless of their own experiences--and so likely to actually trigger a trauma response in a survivor, why not just make sure you've set the stage and prepared people? I agree with those who said it is not about avoidance. It's about being prepared and giving people a chance to practice self care around the material.
27
[On that note, teachers ARE NOT MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS, they are not responsible for delivering exposure therapies.]

Yes, you're right. And yet, you're basically asking them to play the role of mental health professionals in determining what requires trigger warnings in their curriculum. You don't want to give them the responsibility of determining what doesn't get a trigger warning, but yet you expect them to know what might trigger you. And from what I've read people can be pretty much triggered by anything. You're essentially adding a gigantic headache to overworked, underpaid professors' already thankless jobs.

There are now proposed trigger warnings in some universities that cover every possible trauma, and the great thing is more can be rolled out as more students are triggered. What if a professor doesn't anticipate a given piece of content will trigger someone? Who's liable for the emotional damage? Is there now cause to reprimand or terminate the professor? Does the university get sued? Does the student get a free credit? How do we police and enforce an amorphous, ever-growing list of possible offenses?

Now here's the thing. I'm perfectly okay with a professor taking time out to warn a student about something that's potentially triggering to them. If they want to be a good teacher and help out, great, but it should not be institutionalized because it will make universities even more dysfunctional that they already are. It will give students a consumer rights level of power over their education, and will open the door for easy As, lawsuits and administrative headaches you can't even begin to believe.

And if they're institutionalized, you've opened the door to censorship of a kind. Whose going to determine what gets a trigger warning and what doesn't? Is it going to be you, some kind of student committee, a panel of mental health professionals, or more likely, a cadre of politicized students with a ax to grind? Is it really going to be just about the most extreme, traumatic subjects, or will anything deemed racist, sexist, ableist, imperialist, etc, (or just about those things) be included as well? I've seen all of these proposed. First off, I don't trust anyone to make that kind of subjective review of literature--the idea of a committee poring over pages and pages of potentially triggering content to "rate" content seems absurd, but it seems this is the only a university could create a "objective" and consistent list. And second, I think it's a free ticket for students to close their minds to anything they find threatening. Taken to its logical extreme, you might end up imposing an MPAA or PMRC ratings system on books and topics. Personally, I think a big archive of potentially offensive content ratings to warn people with trauma would be great on an entirely voluntary basis, but it should never institutionalized.

And don't think for a second that there aren't right wing Christians and conservatives champing at the bit to impose exactly the same kind of regime on the student body, with trigger warnings for anti-Christian or "sexually deviant" content. This kind of thing tends to cut both ways, and one day you might find stuff you like (content you think people should be exposed to) on the trigger warning list.

I don't want to minimize your suffering, and I think what the professor did was great (and more should be encouraged to do that), but a lot of what I see students proposing is horrific and just as bad as the right's attacks on free speech in other cultural spaces. It also sounds like another eight hours of work a week for a adjunct.
28
21: [On that note, teachers ARE NOT MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS, they are not responsible for delivering exposure therapies.]

Yes, you're right. And yet, you're basically asking them to play the role of mental health professionals in determining what requires trigger warnings in their curriculum. You don't want to give them the responsibility of determining what doesn't get a trigger warning, but yet you expect them to know what might trigger you. And from what I've read people can be pretty much triggered by anything. You're essentially adding a gigantic headache to overworked, underpaid professors' already thankless jobs.

There are now proposed trigger warnings in some universities that cover every possible trauma, and the great thing is more can be rolled out as more students are triggered. What if a professor doesn't anticipate a given piece of content will trigger someone? Who's liable for the emotional damage? Is there now cause to reprimand or terminate the professor? Does the university get sued? Does the student get a free credit? How do we police and enforce an amorphous, ever-growing list of possible offenses?

Now here's the thing. I'm perfectly okay with a professor taking time out to warn a student about something that's potentially triggering to them. If they want to be a good teacher and help out, great, but it should not be institutionalized because it will make universities even more dysfunctional that they already are. It will give students a consumer rights level of power over their education, and will open the door for easy As, lawsuits and administrative headaches you can't even begin to believe.

And if they're institutionalized, you've opened the door to censorship of a kind. Whose going to determine what gets a trigger warning and what doesn't? Is it going to be you, some kind of student committee, a panel of mental health professionals, or more likely, a cadre of politicized students with a ax to grind? Is it really going to be just about the most extreme, traumatic subjects, or will anything deemed racist, sexist, ableist, imperialist, etc, (or just about those things) be included as well? I've seen all of these proposed. First off, I don't trust anyone to make that kind of subjective review of literature--the idea of a committee poring over pages and pages of potentially triggering content to "rate" content seems absurd, but it seems this is the only a university could create a "objective" and consistent list. And second, I think it's a free ticket for students to close their minds to anything they find threatening. Taken to its logical extreme, you might end up imposing an MPAA or PMRC ratings system on books and topics. Personally, I think a big archive of potentially offensive content ratings to warn people with trauma would be great on an entirely voluntary basis, but it should never institutionalized.

And don't think for a second that there aren't right wing Christians and conservatives champing at the bit to impose exactly the same kind of regime on the student body, with trigger warnings for anti-Christian or "sexually deviant" content. This kind of thing tends to cut both ways, and one day you might find stuff you like (content you think people should be exposed to) on the trigger warning list.

I don't want to minimize your suffering, and I think what the professor did was great (and more should be encouraged to do that), but a lot of what I see students proposing is horrific and just as bad as the right's attacks on free speech in other cultural spaces. It also sounds like another eight hours of work a week for a adjunct.
29
@21: When I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, it gradually became known to me that I had an anxiety disorder. And by "gradually became known" I mean I spent a quarter in a nightmarish haze of guilt and panic, took incompletes in all my classes, and was institutionalized for a week at the end, and that's how I learned it wasn't just normal stress and that I actually have a mental illness to manage.
For about a year afterwards, I was in pretty messy shape. (I'm talking full-on "What About Bob?" here.) I couldn't deal with sunlight at all if I missed a dose and it was extremely stressful to me even with medication, I struggled to even get to class, and every slightest difficulty with the material threatened to send me into a spiral of avoidance and self-doubt. I wasn't in any shape to go to school. I didn't demand that the school tailor the curriculum so as not to upset me; I took a quarter off, focused on therapy and developing coping skills, and then came back once I was in a fit state to learn.

Someone in a similar position, a trauma survivor whose wounds (physical or psychological) are still fresh, shouldn't be in school. I don't mean that as an attack; I'm looking out for their well-being! If you can't deal with a simple word or phrase, if you don't yet have the focus to manage the upwelling of fear, you shouldn't be putting on yourself the stress of a college (especially UChicago) education. You should be putting your health first until you're ready and able to come back. It's unfair to you to try and do both at once, and it's unfair to the school to make them compromise your education for the sake of therapeutic qualities.

Unfortunately, it's easy to become complacent in one's brokenness or victimhood, to say "I can't handle things on my own, I need this this and this". I fight against the easy route every single day; I MAKE myself push through the fear and pain and doubt and actually get up and go to class and my job. And that's how I know I'm managing my illness instead of giving in to it. That's how I know that I've made it, that I can get on with living my life instead of living in fear. Wear your scars proudly, but don't keep your wounds fresh, no matter how comfortable the bandages.
30
I hate the term "trigger warning." I think it should only be applied to situations where there's a diagnosis of PTSD. And (as a professor) I will of course respect it if a doctor has judged that one of my students should be excused from something for medical reasons. Just because I've read something that says trauma victims shouldn't avoid things doesn't mean I can overrule a physician's advice.

I too mostly call bullshit on any call for a "trigger warning" that doesn't have the medical reason attached to it IF it's a call to let students out of doing an assignment or engaging with the content of the course. However, most often students don't want a trigger warning--they just want a warning. I'm not going to show "Birth of a Nation" (the 1916 movie, that is) without telling my students they're about to experience some serious racist shit for the next couple of hours. I'm not going to assign a text with explicit incestuous rape in it without telling students to be ready for it. That's not because I want to coddle my students, or let them avoid difficult issues. I teach difficult issues all the time. It's because I think they'll learn better if they know a bit about what they're getting into. Maybe occasionally shock and surprise are a good state to be in for a learning experience, but mostly not.

What I'm saying is that we need to know what we're talking about when we're talking about trigger warnings. If it's students who want to avoid dealing with challenging material by claiming they can't handle it due to the trauma, and they have no medical reason to make that claim, I wouldn't cater to it. But if students are saying they will learn better--will be better able to deal with the challenging material--if they know something about it ahead of time, well, that seems pretty reasonable to me.
31
@21 - exactly this: "there is no way I could have learned anything from that class. I was literally in so much mental agony that it took all my focus not to bolt out of the room."

If you are an educator, you should care about this. Do you want your students to learn things? Or do you only care about them conforming to your concept of how a human being should function in our society (i.e. following your rules, "proving" they can handle difficult content, whatever)?

As a college instructor (anthropology), it seems that many concerns about trigger warnings are misplaced. A trigger warning should really only be as others have described - a brief "heads up" about possibly upsetting content (instructors have found ways of determining this for their classes by issuing basic "getting to know you" questionnaires with name, year, student id, preferred pronouns, related concerns). This is not a new concept in my field - it is not uncommon to give a heads up about dissected bodies or particularly upsetting diseases, for example.

It should certainly not be an excuse to miss content without a valid medical excuse like any other excused absence. If it is, then that is a problem of the professor or administrator not upholding their own excused absence policies, not the trigger warnings.

If it is a policy being imposed on professors rather than professors instituting it, then that is a problem with the excessive bureaucratization of teaching, not the trigger warnings.

"Trigger warnings" have been used in instruction for years, just without a catchy name. once they were attached to trendy phrase from popular feminist discourse, it seems to have engendered significantly more ire. Interesting.
32
Thanks @31 30 22 21 (not exclusively). There is a big difference in hearing from someone with direct experience, even when I don't agree with everything. Versus hearing from people who have heard what other people said about what somebody heard about what somebody said about it.

To me there's just no real argument against simple cheap ways to help students be able to engage with the material instead of disengaging. Educators should educate. And no, diagnosable PTSD is not the point, it's any situation where prepared works better than unprepared.

Does there exist a student who's gotten torqued up into demanding they never be asked to think about sexual violence? Maybe? Let's hear what you've seen personally, not what you heard about.
33
I propose that whenever anybody either gives a trigger / content / whatever warning, or they are asked to and decide not, that they post the material under #warned or #notwarned (look I don't make hashtags).

You'll see some people giving warnings you can understand, and some you can't. You see people whose students are unreasonable to them, and people who are unreasonable to their students.
34
M? Fees - I think what's drawing much of the ire is the massive increase in what's deemed "triggering" by a strident minority. It reminds me a little of the flap over what's "homophobic", a word so over-applied that the over-application has created a sense of virtue among some neutral people over being given the label, and the opportunity for genuine haters to whine about how persecuted they are by the big, bad scarlet H. Trigger Culture seems to be growing explosively - which is just what one would assume reasonable people don't want.
35
We also need to call out the conservatives who throw up their own trigger warnings at being exposed to any idea that does not come from THEIR version of the Bible. Remember the student who complained about being forced to read about "anti-Christian" lesbianism in Funhouse? As a former Political Science instructor (about 12 years ago), I remember all the grief I got when I discussed religion as a social phenomenon. How dare I suggest that God might not exist or that other religions might be equally valid?

And what about all those supposedly anti-PC conservatives who can't have their beliefs bruised by learning about evolution in a biology class???
36
As someone who has seen and experienced traumatic events from a very early age, with a veteran dad, working with the disabled, and experiencing a violent inner city upbringing, it really doesn't help to avoid triggers. Survivors can learn to step away from that immersive, drowning feeling, and the best way is thru a meditative, centering martial arts practice. If women, especially poor women, were educated in martial arts from an early age as part of a state curriculum, men would no longer feel like the general threat they are.

As far as malingerers, people who pretend symptoms are ill in another, if less crucial, way. Military personnel who never see combat still see the worst of the worst, and from an imperialistic perspective; that can't feel good, even if the causes are complex, chaotic, and beyond most people's comprehension.

People who think cultural attitudes hinge on policy are definitely overlooking the bigger picture, and that is definitely an enforcement problem, on top of a community health problem. If we expected peace officers to uphold the same standards of martial artists, their' respect base would not be founded on machines, on their' guns (and ultimately on the racist, misogynistic, soulless gun industry), it could be based on actual integrity. Empowered, spiritually whole people become too prosperous, too humanistic, less profitable, that is the problem.

But short of dropping all the guns, money and lawyers into a volcano, we can only continue to teach our children well, and encourage each other to best our demons. The demons will always be right on our shoulders, but they are much worse in the physical world, where we must stay in fighting condition to win. Indomitable spirit, strong body, free mind. Freedom and Peace.
37
Trigger warnings are not about avoidance. The exact opposite is the case for the actual concept (before exploitative assholes decided to use it as a wedge to demand others cater to their personal sensibilities). Trigger warnings exist so that people with problematic psychological triggers can prepare themselves for the exposure and avoid a flashback or anxiety attack that will make them unable to engage with the material in question. The whole point is to enable exposure and engagement with triggering material. Further, these kinds of content notes are not novel nor a high bar to clear; indeed, every course syllabus should already be giving an overview of the material that is going to be covered by a given lecture or reading assignment. In my Women's Studies and Sociology classes a decade ago that dealt with heavy topics like sexual violence, domestic violence, racial violence (state violence, mob violence like lynchings, and individual interpersonal violence), our professors were already giving warnings about the nature of the content (though we weren't calling them "trigger warnings"), and it wasn't an issue. There was no mass movement to include trigger warnings becasue they were already there, and no backlash against either the core concept of describing the material so that students can prepare themselves to engage with it nor the bullshit concept that people should be able to get credit for a class while avoiding content covered by that class that makes them uncomfortable, because that wasn't a thing (and I suspect it would not have become one had the small subset of professors who get off on subjecting their students to disturbing material without warning not made such a fuss about having to tell people what they would be covering in lectures and readings).
Students who make unreasonable demands for trigger warnings—and then hide behind people who may actually need them when called out—discredit the whole concept of trigger warnings and thereby make college campuses less safe for those people who actually need and might benefit from them.

The left should be calling the bullshitters out, not pretending they don't exist.


Very much this. Also, articles on the subject (like too many of those linked) need to stop validating the bullshitters by misrepresenting "trigger warnings" as being their bullshit concept to enable avoidance instead of the original concept to enable engagement.
38
And, yes, as someone who subscribes to descritptive linguistics, I understand that the "real" meaning of "trigger warning" is whatever it is used and understood to mean. We can play semantic games relabeling things all we want - have at it. I don't really care what you want to call descriptions of content that will be covered in a class, I'm just loathe to let the cultural authoritarians of the putative Left always define the terms and framing of any discussion, hence my desire to not cede terms that originally had utility.
39
Thank you, Dan.

There are natural push-pull issues that arise in society. Sometimes we lurch and we veer, and equilibrium--consensus--eludes us.

What should keep us on the proper course is first principles. The mission of the university is not to cosset and protect young adults, it is to educate them. The likelihood of challenges at university--intellectual, emotional, psychological--should be expect to be high. The expectation ought to be that there will be difficulties and challenges, since that is the reality of the world after university.

Overprotect, and you inevitably under-educate. And therefore fail in your educational mission. So I urge university students to embrace being challenged, because otherwise the challenges of life itself will be more likely to overwhelm you than if you had faced a facsimile of those challenges while in school.
40
I agree with Dan about 75% of the time, but when he gets something wrong? JESUS. He really gets it wrong.

A note about exposure therapy: I agree it can be very helpful when -- and this is key -- the person suffering PTSD is in charge of his/her own exposure.

People who are not mental health professionals or don't have or have never had PTSD need to SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT HOW WE SHOULD TREAT PEOPLE WITH PTSD.
41
@8 What is your source for this assertion?

I was in the Peace Corps, and the vast majority of volunteers were type-A overachievers (and almost all Peace Corps volunteers are college graduates). The few misfits or weirdos got weeded out during training.

42
@15 . . . and neither is Sebastian Junger, who was quoted!
43
I would also like to add that "not cosseting students" and "expect to deal with challenging material" =/= free rein for professors to be assholes. Like the one who cut me off when I tried to explain my absence by saying, "If you choose not to come to class that's your business." I missed class because I was at the police station pressing battery charges against my stepfather. The same professor didn't allow me to make up what I missed that day, the only day he actually demonstrated stuff we needed to know, and at the end of the semester I was so stressed out I was vomiting. I never asked to be excused from anything, but having this one other professor who knew I was having a challenging time at home, in addition to the stresses of school and took time to be encouraging made all the difference. And anyone that thinks I should have dropped out because I needed SOMEONE to treat me decently can (fill in the blank.)
44
Venomlash, I have a lot of respect for you, and often agree with your points of view. But here, you are wrong.

As many have told you, it's not about avoiding the material. It's giving students a heads-up that some heavy material will be discussed in class or assigned to read/watch/listen to. That's it; that's all. It's not a get-out-of-curriculum-free card. Students still have to engage with the material. They just get to do so on their own terms. Why be opposed to that?
45
@44: And I'm saying that if someone is so vulnerable, so precariously balanced, that they are endangered by the contents of (to give an example) the Metamorphoses, a college campus is not a place for them to be. Better for them to be in a therapeutic environment (whether that's inpatient or outpatient) until they've healed somewhat from the initial trauma. I'm saying that we shouldn't be choosing between throwing trauma victims into a metaphorical vipers' nest with or without advance warning. Bottom line is, the issues around PTSD are being approached from an inclusivity perspective instead of a health-focused one.

I can tolerate bright lights now, and large empty spaces, and looming deadlines, and even the simple knowledge that I'm fairly far away from my house. Imagine going to school (and a damned grueling one at that) without those abilities, and you'll see what I'm getting at.
46
I'm saying that you don't get to make that choice for them. They do. People with PTSD (or other related disorders) don't need round the clock care. They don't need to be in treatment 6 hours a day, and then maunder the rest of the day at home, trying to find some distractions. Mostly, they want to live a normal life--work, school, friends, etc.--and have a decent chance to avoid the few things that will bring on the overwhelming feelings.

Friends want to go see a war movie? The Iraq vet might sit that one out. Job opportunity at a crisis helpline? The domestic violence victim might just keep looking. But when a recovering addict gets sprung 'Requiem for a Dream' on him the first night of class, with no way to prepare, guess what? He's gonna be triggered. He's going to have a tough time getting out of it what the professor wants him to get out of it. What good does that do anyone? Seriously, what good came out of that situation?
47
@46: I don't get to make that kind of decision for trauma survivors, but schools sure as hell do. When I came back to finish my degree, I had to document that I was seeking treatment, keeping up with my therapy, and generally keeping my condition managed. (And I'm in favor of that!) Again, disturbing topics in class readings aren't catastrophic to people who are actually managing their PTSD (or other anxiety disorders), and the ones who aren't shouldn't even be in school if it's that bad. Recovery is all about building coping mechanisms so that one bad day, one stressful moment, one memory of terror, doesn't throw you off-kilter.
A good friend of mine in my current program is a veteran with PTSD. He's mentioned that he doesn't like the sound of gunfire, for obvious reasons. But he's able to deal with it because he's spent the time and effort in therapy to develop those coping mechanisms (and also because he has a gigantic cuddly dog looking out for him). Say, I ought to ask him what he thinks of this whole UChicago brouhaha...
48
As someone who has suffered greatly from an anxiety/panic disorder, I still believe the onus should be on the student, not the professor who is not a mental health professional. You have the syllabus, you have the textbook, you can check ahead (in my day we were required to read ahead), and if you still can't take topics raised in texts or class discussions, the responsibility on still on the student to get on the appropriate medication or therapy, as it will be in the wider world for which college is preparing you. You can't expect the whole class to dance to your pipes because you have a condition.

I am not saying professors have carte blanche to be assholes, of course. Basic decency and sensititvity should be a given.
50
Update: I asked my friend the veteran, and he told me that he's all for the University's position. I believe his exact words describing people in opposition to it were that they had "sand in their vaginas". Rather crude, but...
51
@48: The whole point is that the Trigger/Content Warnings are there in the syllabus. That's it, just a note that this week's reading will cover X heavy topic, and discussed in the next class session. That's all. No need for dancing to pipes or any other archaic instrument.
52
@clashfan, my feeling is that the syllabus or textbook should describe course content without infantilizing students with the rating system you propose. It is impossible for a professor untrained in psychiatry, or even a trained one, to possibly make a blanket guess as to what could be triggers without infantilizing whole classes of people, say rape victims, women, or abused minorities, as having fragile minds. And how shall we limit the speech of the student's classmates? Shall we force them to not raise any points or ask any questions in class that could possibly be triggering for someone?

If the student's mental health is not robust enough to even read the syllabus or textbook ahead and decide what could be a problematic class to them, it should be incumbent either on them or on the institution to make suitable accommodations that don't limit the freedom of speech of the professor and other students. Even my state college pays for services like note takers for disabled students, but at minimum, the student could ask a classmate to screen content.
53
@clashfan, also, our society tends to teach rape and abuse survivors, vets, etc., that they should be fragile. Trigger warnings are part of this "teaching fragility" culture and probably contribute to learned helplessness. There is a widespread expectation that if you are a survivor of a traumatic experience and don't have serious psychological damage from it, there must be something wrong with you. The fact that you say you are fine is just more proof that you aren't, according to this culture.
54
"my feeling is that the syllabus or textbook should describe course content without infantilizing students with the rating system you propose"

First, I didn't propose a rating system. All I said--what I am saying--is that it's not a terrible idea for professors to put a note in the syllabus that a particular reading and/or class discussion covers pretty intense material. That's it. It doesn't take a particularly empathetic person to guess that the topics of rape, sexual abuse, incest, intense violence (including racist attacks such as graphic depictions of lynchings), and some wartime experiences might fall under that umbrella.

I'm not in favor of forcing professors to do this. I'm not in favor of blanket policies around it. I'm opposed to vilifying the concept, the people who benefit from it, and the professors who choose to do it.
55
I would love to see actual research into how actual trauma survivors / people with PTSD actually use or do not use trigger warnings. I would love to see actual research into actual college students with clinically diagnosed PTSD (or PTS) and how they use or don't use trigger warnings and how they function at school.

That's what's missing from this discussion.

Also, one note about exposure therapy. According to my (recognized expert in trauma informed therapy) therapist, exposure therapy is only useful if the patient has some ability to self-regulate. In other words, it's not the first treatment a trauma survivor needs. And as several people have pointed out, trigger warnings aren't actually about avoiding exposure, but about having some control and choice over exposure.