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Trigger Warnings (An Itchy Finger)

By Appdaddy Oct 20, 2014 1386 Words
Although trigger warnings are on the rise, many people are fighting the tides of change that are closing in on universities here in the US. Trigger warnings can be described in short, as a preemptive disclaimer. These warnings are a common prelude to articles discussing, sexual assault, war, mental illness, race, etc., on the internet. A trigger warning would indicate explicit material as something graphic enough to ignite a reaction that could be as severe as post traumatic stress disorder. Trigger warnings have a become a rising issue in Universities, since adopted from internet blogs. Although many people find them tantamount, others see it as a decline in a more broad curriculum that would surely push the boundaries of controversial subjects; thereby, strengthening a students education.

The problem here is that professors and universities are unwilling to change their policies where they are clearly needed. Trigger warnings are only as fair as movie ratings for ages of maturity. And they make just as much sense as food coming with a label in case of allergies. Being triggered is just like having an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction is an involuntary reaction to a substance which can vary from slight discomfort to serious endangerment. If you were to change ‘substance’ to ‘content’ and you have a definition someone being triggered. The reaction is psychological rather than physical, but it is just as serious and just as involuntary.

This is why trigger warnings are needed. Do you tell someone with an allergy ‘just deal’ with the exposure to the allergen? Do you say they’re overreacting when they want food to be labeled so they can avoid what they’re allergic to? Do you say that they should just avoid all public food if they’re going to complain about being allergic to some of it? No, You don’t. Instead you label food and put on warnings so they can see that there is an ingredient in it they are allergic to. It is still their responsibility to avoid that content, but they need to know that it’s there in order to do that, and they need to know it before they react to it.

And for all of you people who say you just need to face your problems head on via exposure? Yes, it’s true that gradual exposure in a safe environment is one way to treat phobias and sometimes PTSD. However, that is something that should be addressed by a qualified professional. Some allergies can be treated with gradual exposure too. Like a series of shots that let the persons body know that the allergen isn’t actually a threat. Animal allergies are a type that can sometimes be treated this way(such as in my case. And that especially doesn’t mean it’s okay to drop a cat on someones lap and say “Don’t worry! This will cure you!” Especially when you don’t even know if they’ve started that series of shots or not, much less finished it. Yes, it is an individual’s responsibility to avoid triggering content; however, just as an allergic person needs a label so that they can effectively avoid allergens, PTSD/phobia/anxiety sufferers need a warning so that they can avoid their triggers.

A trigger warning should be placed within the syllabus of the class, so that students may feel open to talking with their professor and come up with an alternate assignment that fits the course curriculum. A warning like this at the beginning of the class will make students feel more comfortable in their classroom. It will also give them the clarity of mind they need to focus on passing their class rather than being distracted by negative thoughts and emotions that would involuntarily be brought onto them as a reminder of their past. These memories are more powerful than one could imagine and might very well end up distracting a student throughout the duration of the assignment. A student might even be unable to complete their assignment due to their terrifying memories and as a result fail. They may even be unwilling to share their reasoning with their professor out of fear of humiliation and that in academics is of course, unacceptable.

Trigger warnings should be vocalized by the professor at the beginning of a potentially triggering assignment. A vocalized warning during the introduction would encourage students to be open with their professors about themselves and why they feel triggered and uncomfortable about a particular assignment. Since a trigger can be as common as an allergic reaction, you can surmise that a small percentage of the class would react to an assignment in this particular way. Students may be more inclined to give their reason to their professors if they weren’t singled out; therefore, benefiting the class as a whole. A professor should come out at the beginning of an assignment and address the class by stating something like “This assignment will involve graphic images or extensive discussions on blank. These discussions might make you feel uncomfortable if you or a loved one has been involved in such matters. If you would like to talk to me about completing an alternate assignment on (alternatives here) rather than the upcoming assignment, then you are welcome to see me after class, today. Your progress will not be affected by changing topics but the alternative assignments will be just as, if not more extensive to complete.” A statement made with those key traits in mind will both weed out the students trying to abuse a policy as noble as trigger warnings, and give students who really need the assistance an opportunity to step forward without feeling singled out.

A huge benefit to a trigger warning like that is that it doesn’t ruin the contents of the material either. It’s just a label, the same as you’d put on a peanuts, or gluten for allergies. It’s the same courtesy worth providing to the students. Not providing the accommodations would make a student feel anxious or trapped. In the New York Times, Bailey Loverin, a sophomore at Santa Barbra, said “People suddenly feel a very real threat to their safety - even if it is perceived. They are stuck in a classroom where they can’t get out, or if they do try to leave, it is suddenly going to go very public.” Students should never feel forced to re-experience a traumatic feeling in their classes. A classroom doesn’t have to be a sanctuary of safe thoughts in order to at least provide a courtesy as simple as a content warning.

And it’s not because the younger generation is fragile either. New York Times, Meredith Raimondo, Oberlin’s associate dean of the college of Arts and Sciences, said “I quite object to the argument of ‘Kid’s today need to toughen up.’ That absolutely misses the reality of what we’re dealing with. We have students coming to us with serious issues, and we need to deal with that respectfully and seriously.” Being respectful and serious is the least you can do when settling a matter between people who feel strongly about an issue as important as trigger warnings.

These content labels are a simple clarification in communication and education. They need to be seriously addressed and acted upon with care and compassion. Sometimes, people lack empathy and through that fail to respond with compassion to another persons suffering. You don’t have to feel another person’s feeling in order to acknowledge a person is suffering. It would be wise to announce trigger warnings before starting assignments so a student or students may come up and talk about how the assignment makes them feel. Sharing what their thoughts are about what makes them uncomfortable is vital to a professors experience and learning. The more a professor experiences from the open forum of students telling him how they feel, the more he’ll realize how much the students aren’t “kid’s” but actually very thoughtful human beings that has been damaged by a terrible experience. And maybe those “kids” can avoid further damage if they aren’t reminded in their classrooms about it. The only thing they are missing is a warning label “in case of an allergies”, on the proverbial package.

Works Cited

Medina, Jennifer “Warning. The Literary
Canon Could Make Students Squirm.”
The New York Times 17th May, 2014. Web
3rd July, 2014.

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