Higher Education & Trigger Warnings


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Yesterday (for me, but a week and a bit later as you read), I was part of a very interesting FB conversation. It started with a question from Creston Davis, professor and co-founder of  the Graduate School my son is affiliated with. Which by the way, is a seriously kickass school that is breaking paradigms left and right. I had the chance to meet both founders earlier this year and I am thoroughly impressed with what they’re doing.  Also, serendipity at its best. They are based in Grand Rapids, MI which is only 1.5 hrs from Lansingland and Dandelion Soup. Um, Squirrel….. Ah yes, the question:

Are the so-called “Trigger Warnings” yet another way to censor professors? Could they be considered the equivalent of cultural censorship controlled by a privileged demographic only looking to received a non-challenging education? What say you?

Professor Davis included a link to this article from The New York Times: Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm in the status. I was most interested in reading -and pitching in, the discussion because I figured it would be very intellectually rewarding.  Which it was. But also a bit saddening.

As someone else posted before I had the chance to comment, there was a very distinct lack of compassion and empathy from a number of commentators. Such luck of compassion is especially frightening considering that those people there are scholars. PhD candidates, PhDs and Post Docs in Social Sciences. Philosophers, sociologists and the likes*.

As you can imagine, the discussion was mostly polarized with a lot of absolutely-no Trigger-warning-policy-should-ever-be-in-place” on one side and a few yes-we-absolutely-need-a-Trigger-Warning-policy on the other. I say mostly  because some people – me included, were more of the middle of the road kind of approach.

Also, it was good to see some comments from either people with PTSD – like me, or people who have friends/loved ones with PTSD and have seen what being triggered can do to you. It is always good to have the insight of people who actually know what it is to be triggered. It brings balance to the discussion as it makes real instead of merely academic.

My first comment was as follows:

I can in no way be considered part of the privilege group. So for what it’s worth I think it is a fine line. As with pretty much everything else in life, extremes are unhealthy and the solution must be somewhere in the middle. The lack of compassion and empathy-as mentioned before by someone else, for people in general but especially for those of us with PTSD is appalling. 
John Doe, you say and I quote “the call for trigger warnings seem to be totally out of proportion to the problems people actually suffer. It underpins an ideology where everyone is a delicate flower whose needs must be catered to any cost.” 
I would respectfully like to ask you, what do you know about the problems we actually suffer? I am not a delicate flower. I have been to hell and back and I stand strong. I’ve seen many terrible things. I moved to another country leaving everything I knew and loved behind managing to reimagine my life. And I tell you, the problems I actually suffer when I am triggered, are no small thing. So no, I don’t think that the call for trigger warnings are out of proportion to the problems I suffered when I’m triggered. It is not about babying us. Stories must be told. History must be learned. But a little compassion and a little common sense goes a long way in making the lives of those who have suffer a bit easier to bear.

Then, Rachel Cyr chipped in with this:

There is also a way in which we tend to conflate agonism with trauma–which I know is not what you are talking about Claudia. I realize you are citing very serious cases that should never be taken lightly. I cannot help add that agonism is painful, difficult, but productive. I have had debates as an undergrad that left me literally wondering who I was–I kind of felt ‘traumatized’ at the time to the extent that I was preoccupied with my own woundedness–but they challenged me and forced me to grow beyond my preconceptions some of which, I came to realize, were steeped in a colonial mindset. That agonism is good, and I am glad I was “triggered”. Speech, ideas, are agonistic. Take out of the agonism, you take out the politics and change the content and function of certain pedagogical interventions. Of course, we should always be mindful of trauma but I am not sure these trigger warnings actually respond to the research on dealing with traumatized individuals as they do administrative bodies that would avoid agonism by telling us “this coffee you are about to enjoy may be extremely hot”

I definitely see the benefits of that process even if – or maybe precisely because, it is painful and/or difficult. Challenging one’s thinking and letting go of unhelpful beliefs is not easy, of course. But still, it is, or should be in any case, a welcome challenge.

In summary, I do see the dangers of such policies. They could lead to censorship.  And I do agree that censorship is detrimental and must be avoided at all costs. I also understand and agree, that implementing a policy where professors are required to add trigger warnings to their syllabuses can easily become a way to  control what they teach. Then there is the risk of giving too much power to university administrators over the faculty, making it easy to potentially fire a professor based solely in complains from  a disgruntled student. As professor Davies puts it, “Trigger Warnings could easily be used to disempower faculty and compromise learning about differences, race, sexuality, trans-gender, war, rape-culture etc.”

Furthermore, the demand for Trigger Warnings can also serve to open the proverbial can of worms in regards the potential for some students to refuse to participate in lectures/classes/courses based on the idea that what is taught conflicts with their personal views and therefore avoiding to ever have said views challenged.

Unfortunately, we have to admit there is always the risk that some people will make use of well intended ideas for their personal agendas. It is part of the human condition.

I think Scholar Rachel Renée makes a powerful point here:

 I feel like “desires with endless comfort” are being conflated with “desires to not be so uncomfortable you want to go home and cry after class because you feel so alienated by an instructor/class.” This near obsession with erasing rhetoric/politics from academics – somehow conceived of as “freedom” – is beyond me. Also, a student being uncomfortable with talk about racism for instance is different than being triggered by talk about, for instance, police brutality after having been inflicted by it. I’m happy to have frank discussions about very difficult subjects – more so than most. Pretty sure bringing up my own experiences with rape in class would leave many experienced instructors baffled. I still can’t tell if the exigence is more about admin using this against teachers or teachers who somehow think giving a nod of respect to victims of rape, violence, war, humiliation, dehumanizing, racism, sexism, and the like is inappropriate. Tipping your hat to those in your syllabi who actually have experienced that shit legitimizes such voices right from the start. It says: “I know you’re here among us.” I think it can help students with such legitimate emotional issues (e.g. PTSD) understand their liability to be triggered as not a scholarly deficit. It’s just a nice gesture.

It also looks like what scholars are uncomfortable the most, other than the restriction on what they teach, is the use of the words trigger and warning. Some admit that they do give students a heads up about a difficult subject, only that they don’t use “trigger warning” when they do.

To which I say, it is all about empathy and compassion. To me, it really doesn’t matter if you don’t use the phrase “trigger warning” as long as you find a way to help those students that do need the heads up, brace themselves.

And as I mentioned before, I think there seem to be two very different demographics to keep in mind. One is that of people with PTSD and another, of people who can’t be bothered to think. For the former, trigger warnings could be considered a blessing. For the latter, well, all sort of problematic scenarios can arise from implementing a trigger warning policy.

 So, since this is Mental Health Awareness month, I am bringing this issue for discussion here at Canvas. I know that as people who deal with triggers and what they do to us on daily basis, we have a different outlook than people who have never had to deal with them. What do you think about adding trigger warnings to college/university syllabi?

Finally, please let me say it again. I do see the other side of the argument, that is, higher education should be all about making all that young grey matter question the status quo and breaking paradigms. I strongly believe that minds must be stimulated and even forced (for lack of a better word) to think by themselves. To question everything. To challenge old beliefs. TFSM knows there is a lot that needs changing.

Living in a happy little naive bubble doesn’t benefit anyone. We cannot ignore there is an ugly world out there. That people do terrible things to each other. We need to talk about those things. Younger minds need to be educated. But at what cost? Should one of those costs be perhaps the eventual triggering of a PTSD episode every now and then? Is that collateral damage an acceptable price to pay for higher learning?  Is there a good compromise for the issue at hand?

I honestly don’t know.


* Or perhaps it is because I liken philosophers with humanists, which in turn I equate to kindness and benevolence toward one’s fellow man. Which is faulty. Hmmm


All quoted comments are reproduced with permission of the author

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26 thoughts on “Higher Education & Trigger Warnings

  1. Great article! I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately (not trigger warnings in association to teaching but to the entertainment industry) and I have to say that while I think censorship is not the answer, I do think giving the population dealing with difficult issues like PTSD or bipolar disorder a “heads up” to help them avoid an episode is a plus.

    As far as education goes, there was a time in high school where I was experiencing extreme bipolar depression that led to a series of suicide attempts. At the time my English teacher was having me read Chopin’s “the Awakening”, a novel where the leading female character (spoiler alert) drowns herself at the end of the novel. Obviously this situation wasn’t ideal for me, and the content did not do anything to “challenge” my ideas or beliefs but solidified the ideas that mental illness had already sparked in my mind. Could reading another book have helped me avoid those suicide attempts? Quite possibly, but after experiencing that I think in that situation it is my responsibility to inform my teacher of my needs to find out which content for the year might be inappropriate for me. I agree students should be challenged, but schools make accommodations for students with physical disabilities, is it really such a stretch to be able to accommodate students with mental illness? Especially if they could do so one on one (not in front if the class) and potentially help avoid further suicide and violence associated by triggered episodes?

    What I HAVE had a big problem with lately is having my PTSD triggered by movies and television shows, which now seem to be employing rape as a plot point much more frequently than they used to. It is one thing to hear people bring up the topic but entirely different when I am watching it simulated without any warning. I agree with you that PTSD being triggered is no walk in the park, and for someone like me who also has bipolar disorder these situations can trigger big episodes on both accounts for me. I say do whatever you want with the content, but at least give me the benefit of warning me that the show or movie rating involves sexual assault. The fact that they can just say “sexual content” or “violence” doesn’t help whatsoever in this situation.

    I realize this can be a polarizing subject, but I think we are just entering a time where we (as a country) have the opportunity to begin setting up a system that empowers mental health and bolsters something of a series of “general rights” that could potentially greatly improve things for a population that has been somewhat ignored for a long time. It gives me hope that people are beginning to have these discussions, thanks again for posting this!

    • Sarah, I just have to remark that pretty much everything in your comment is so spot-on insightful and in line with what I believe (I won’t ask you to endure my comment, as it is obscenely long).

      I cannot imagine what reading The Awakening must have done to you at that time. It’s one I haven’t gotten to, but I know a little bit about. You are one strong lady.

      As I said, it’s all so spot-on, but I think my favorite parts are:

      “after experiencing that I think in that situation it is my responsibility to inform my teacher of my needs to find out which content for the year might be inappropriate for me.”, and very much your words about television, “I say do whatever you want with the content, but at least give me the benefit of warning me that the show or movie rating involves sexual assault. The fact that they can just say “sexual content” or “violence” doesn’t help whatsoever in this situation.” I can’t watch TV anymore, personally, I’m just the strange old lady who watches Turner Classic Movies exclusively, and is completely clued out of current entertainment.

      One more thing, an important thing. It’s so nice to see you popping your head in around here. I know your own life has been so rough lately (understatement), so you coming and adding your voice is wonderful.

      Be well.

    • Hi there. I am sorry I am so late in replying but as luck would have it, I ended up being triggered that very same day and it’s taken me this long to be back to an acceptable state. Go figure 😉

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I very much agree with you. I think the best we can do is to keep the conversation going so we can hear from everybody’s point of view.. Awareness and more awareness is the key 🙂

  2. Okay, first things first, I have to to get this out of the way: I strongly object to the word “censorship”, that is to using it in this context. Merriam-Webster says to censor is “to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable ; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable ”.

    Censorship is an act of forbidding content to be taught, not giving warning that something could be triggering before teaching it. If this was really a matter of true censorship, I would be on the side of those fighting it no matter what it triggered in me or in others.

    I read the original Times article and I thought it was excellent, particularly this piece:

    “Any kind of blanket trigger policy is inimical to academic freedom,” said Lisa Hajjar, a sociology professor at the university here, who often uses graphic depictions of torture in her courses about war. “Any student can request some sort of individual accommodation, but to say we need some kind of one-size-fits-all approach is totally wrong. The presumption there is that students should not be forced to deal with something that makes them uncomfortable is absurd or even dangerous.”

    I think, in reading the piece in the Times and what you have shared here, we’re muddying the waters and not properly differentiating between things that may make students uncomfortable, even horrify them, and things that could actually induce flashbacks, fear, reliving an event, dissociation, and other PTSD symptoms. These fall into two completely different categories.

    There is a wonderful film, based on a true story (or a conglomeration of stories) called Judgement At Nuremberg. It is about a trial held for four officials who sent people off to concentration camps and ordered other atrocities. Within this film there is actual footage of when one concentration camp was liberated, and to say that it is horrific and painful to watch is an enormous understatement. I remember seeing similar images when we studied the Holocaust in school, and being similarly horrified, unable to wrap my head around these atrocities (I was probably in my early teens when serious study began).

    But you know what, that’s the point. I do need to be sickened and shocked and horrified by these images. I owe to all of the people who were murdered, tortured, and brutalized to carry within me some concept of what they endured, so that it will never happen again. And so do students at universities owe this to those who suffered and died. These students are all grown enough to go and fight and die for their country in a war, if they are old enough for that, they are old enough to see the truth. If they are “grown up” enough to party and drink and live on their own, they are old enough to acknowledge bombings and bread lines and Jim Crow laws. . .

    I know it isn’t specifically a question of age. But there are unspeakable atrocities being perpetrated every day in this world, and hopefully when these young students come to understand that fact, they will contribute to standing up and trying to stop these things from happening.

    I do also believe fully, 100% that if there is a topic on the syllabus a student is concerned may trigger them, they need to go to their professor, discuss the issue, and resolve it in a way that will not trigger horrible PTSD — or, something I wonder was not mentioned once (at least from what I read in your summary nor the original article) — and will not risk triggering urges to self-harm or attempt suicide. In many ways, those topics and their triggers are far more dangerous.

    I think if there may be an issue, getting the school counselor/psychologist actively involved in the process is critical. I also think students should be willing to try to push their comfort levels, because books being removed from a syllabus due to potentially triggering someone absolutely falls into the realm of censorship.

    Bottom line, these are issues that need to be decided on a one-on-one, case by case basis. There are so many topics and, (so importantly), vital books, articles, reading material that are going to push the boundaries of all students, whether they are suffering from PTSD or not. And these are good books, important books, books that cause you to reevaluate your belief system and the world around you. No one should ever be forced to explore something that can hurt them so deeply, destroy them, practically (and you know I know what I’m talking about from personal experience), but at the same time they should not be walking out on something important, something that is taught for a reason, without first taking the opportunity to see if they might not be able to work through it or even explore the option of a “toned-down” version with the help of a teacher, a therapist, and obviously friends and family. Aside from the importance of what they are studying, there is also the tremendous value of being able to control and conquer something they thought would be beyond them. Think how healthy and empowering that is.

    I think this has turned out sounding more “pro-make people suck it up and deal with it” than I intended, but I am a firm believer that people everywhere need to be aware of the horrible things that exist so they are motivated to stand up and stop them, to help to fix them.

    I also know this “comment” has become more than post length itself, but I want to close with something I feel relates.

    When I was taking Anatomy and Physiology, we had a cadaver. On Tuesdays, at the end of our regular lab we would do the “cadaver lab”, examining an actual human instead of simply the fetal pigs they gave us — which, incidentally, was horrible and somewhat traumatic for me (the pigs), but it was a far cry from triggering.

    We were given instructions the first time we went into the cadaver lab, told to grab someone and let them know if we were not alright, alert the instructor and have somebody get us the hell out of there. Incidentally, it was a community college, and the only one in the Denver Merto Area to be lucky enough to have an actual cadaver — students sometimes came from other schools just to examine it.

    Additionally, that piece of the lab was optional. Our professor asked us all first if any of us had recently lost a loved one, because they were not to be permitted in to see a body if they were actively grieving like that. I thought it was terribly interesting and wanted the opportunity to participate (as I said in my email, I was pre-med). Ten minutes in and my lab partner was escorting me out. I don’t remember exactly everything, I was just dizzy and sick from the smells, though the cadaver itself didn’t disturb me — but I never went back for another lab.

    I guess the point of that story is I kind of feel that’s the model we should be working from with students. Know what is ahead of you, prepare a plan, speak with your instructor to learn how graphic things are going to get. This is a case where knowledge really is power, and honestly I don’t really think the phrase “Trigger Warning” belongs on an academic syllabus. With PTSD, you can very frequently look at a class and read a topic and then ask, “Wait, wait professor. Can we please talk about this subject so we can create a safety plan for me?”

    I really think most teachers would be willing. I’ve had some nasty instructors in my life, but I don’t for a moment think any would have wanted to send me into a state of post-traumatic shock.

    Great post for discussion, Claudia. Hopefully we won’t be as polarized as it seemed to be on fb, and we can engage in logical, respectful debate and discussion. Regardless, I’m grateful to you for getting me thinking. Between you and Cate, my brain feels as though it is waking from a 100 year slumber! Keep it up!

    Sorry this comment is several thousand words — but no, I’m not really sorry either, because it all needed to be said for me and for the subject matter, and for whatever reason I couldn’t edit it down or make it a post in its own right on my blog. Thank you for being you, because I haven’t been able to write at all lately and suddenly it’s all just spilled out thanks to your words. There is hope for me yet. 🙂

    Love you, dearest Claudia!

    Oh! And I meant to say, reading Sarah’s response before mine, speaking about the entertainment industry, how can people go to such violent, horrible films and be fine and then have issues with what they are taught in the classroom? Sure, one is “fantasy”, but still, it doesn’t wash. I can’t even go to the movies anymore, except with the little kids, because most of the films do trigger me, even if it’s just in a minor way.

    • I am sorry I am so late in replying but as luck would have it, I ended up being triggered that very same day and it’s taken me this long to be back to an acceptable state for replying my own post about triggers. Go figure.

      I also think that the best thing to deal with it is somewhere in the middle where students at risks talk to their professors to learn how graphic things are going to get and for professors to make sure their syllabuses are well explained.

      However, I don’t know how many students will feel comfortable disclosing to their professors their PTSD and the possible triggers. Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t have been able to back when I was in school.

      But as I have mentioned before, awareness is the key and that is why it is so important that we keep the conversation going

  3. It seems like a trauma survivor, in some ways, fights for both protection bubbles and adrenaline rushes. During my forties I struggled with agoraphobia, paranoia, flashbacks, etc. while taking classes. It wore me out, and I was hospitalized halfway through my second semester of my first year–for a month. I knew I was sleep-deprived, screwed up with my meds, but if my advisor had asked about triggers, I would have turned to my therapist and asked for a summary because I didn’t know, with certainty, what pushed my buttons. I thought I knew… and there’s a fascination in this that’s hard not to test. The problem is with not knowing what, exactly, trips a trigger. It may be subject matter, but which parts? Sometimes, hearing random noise during a lecture can pop the safety bubble, but it can be difficult to understand this was the most triggering part of the lecture… especially when the trigger is expected to come from the lecture, not noise, or smells, or other sensory interferences.

    Triggers are whole-body interruptions, not intellectual reactions, and no, one person can anticipate how to create idyllic learning moments for all. I think it’s wise to understand limitations personally, and have at least a sketch of an idea for how to choose our ways of learning, but that’s a challenge for twenty-somethings who feel pressure, already, to fall into normalcy and succeed. The pressure may come from within, but again, it’s hard to succeed with living and learning in ways perceived as normal if a person has not come from a shared place of ‘normal.’ Living on adrenaline because of prolonged trauma confuses the brain into thinking it cannot function without its fix. It’s almost an addiction… and so we look for fixes, not respite, then wonder why the world seems so nightmarish.

    I imagine this seems like a harsh, cold comment but I honestly think we have to look squarely at our personal tendencies after a time, knowing life involves trauma, and that we can opt out of disturbing lectures/ discussions when triggered. We can practice leaving a room or lecture hall on autopilot for emergency purposes. Knowing we may be freaked by something gives us power to choose our course of pursuit, but we must be willing to live proactively. It must become our personal intention to learn proactively. If a professor or mentor’s position is not proactive, move on. We have to teach ourselves, with proper guidance, that life is not a series of fight or flight responses. I still work with a therapist on this problem, but persistence brings insight, and through insight it is possible to recognize how to proceed with courses of action that nurture the deficiencies.

    Truly, truly, truly the changes we wish to see must be begun within.

    • Hi Meredith. I am sorry I am so late in replying but as luck would have it, I ended up being triggered that very same day and it’s taken me this long to be back to an acceptable state for replying my own post about triggers. Go figure.

      I do see where you’re coming from. In the end, it is always up to us to learn how to protect ourselves and how to create safe environments and to have emergency plans.

      I suppose that some programs are more likely to trigger a given student depending on the cause/nature of their PTSD. Triggers for sexual abuse PTSD are not the same as trigger for say, earthquake survivor PTSD so in that sense, it should be easier to plan in advance.

      Thanks for your comment, it is good to hear from all sides.

  4. I can see the benefits and drawbacks to each side. I know that there are many books I wish I had been “warned” about, as well as movies, even some music. A PTSD flashback or even a panic attack induced by graphic displays of violence, rape, etc can be very triggering. I can understand not wanting to use the verbiage “trigger warning” just because it is kind of a loaded phrase. I don’t think it would be wrong, though, to put on a syllabus that a certain topic is going to be covered. Just introduce that at the beginning and get it out there, give an alternate option, something. I don’t really have a good answer; I just know from personal experience that it is better to be warned than to be totally blindsided by something. This is a great article, SSG!

    • Hi Rose. I am sorry I am so late in replying but as luck would have it, I ended up being triggered that very same day and it’s taken me this long to be back to an acceptable state for replying my own post about triggers. Go figure.

      Yes! I absolutely agree with you. It doesn’t take anyway away from you as a professor to be kind. One never knows how much good a few words will do 🙂

  5. I don’t understand why warning people about potentially difficult topics is being conflated with censorship. No one is saying these professors can’t talk about triggering topics; they’re just asking the professors to say, “Hey, we’re about to talk about rape (or whatever topic)” so that people can step out if they need to.

    Personally, I almost never get triggered by things I read, but visual images of things like self-harm and rape get stuck in my head and trigger my own traumatic memories. Because of that, I tend not to watch TV shows or movies if I can’t anticipate the content. Rape in particular seems to have become little more than a plot device to stand in for any bad thing that can happen to a female character, which disgusts me.

    But I have no problem writing and talking about rape culture. In a way, I think it helps me deal with my own experience because it’s within a framework that says, “Hey, it’s not okay to rape people, and it’s not okay to blame the victims.” It lets me move slowly toward believing that what happened to me was not okay and not my fault.

    That being said, I can imagine a discussion in a college class about rape culture could be very upsetting. Rape apologists are common, and I’m not sure if I would end up dissociating or yelling at them in response. If it’s online, I can just click that happy little X in the corner and get away from it, but it’s much harder face to face.

    I think what I’d like most if I were still in school–and what I imagine I would do if I were a professor–is to make a general statement at the beginning of the semester that if anyone is finding themselves very upset or triggered by a topic, they’re welcome to step out with no judgment and without affecting their grade. I’d probably preface obviously distressing topics like rape or graphic violence with a warning, but no one can anticipate everything that might trigger someone because triggers are often unique to the person’s experience. For instance, I’m triggered by police lights and sirens, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to warn me that the movie my professor was showing had a police car. I’m ultimately the one responsible for managing my triggers, but a small warning helps sometimes.

    • HI Hope. I am sorry I am so late in replying but as luck would have it, I ended up being triggered that very same day and it’s taken me this long to be back to an acceptable state for replying my own post about triggers. Go figure.

      Yes, I never quite understood the censorship connection but I think it was more on the side of once/if it becomes the law (or whatever the word it is for it) admin people can use any little excuse to fire a professor on the basis that they didn’t comply with it. And that it could be excessive power to disgruntled students. Or maybe it is that scholars are highly allergic to anything that could remotely mean censorship? I don’t know.

      As you say, it mostly a matter of common sense. It doesn’t cost anyone to add a few words in regards difficult subjects 🙂

  6. I think your response was great to the discussion. I also think the initial question was worded in a very leading way, in hopes to provoke the response the professor clearly wanted. Let’s look at it:

    “Are the so-called “Trigger Warnings”– the phrase “so-called” often implies that there’s something inherently false or insincere about whatever it’s used to describe. This already suggests the professor wants to call into question the validity of these things.

    “…yet another way to censor professors? Could they be considered the equivalent of cultural censorship”… “–censor/censorship” are likely to be opposed by people in an academic setting. I personally oppose censorship. However, this is a false equivalency, since a warning is not the same as censorship. A warning is letting you know you may find the content upsetting, but gives you the choice to proceed or not anyway . Censorship is the censor finding something upsetting, and deciding on that grounds nobody should be allowed to see it.

    “controlled by a privileged demographic only looking to received a non-challenging education? What say you?” –And here we have another loaded and often misused term “privileged”. It’s no secret that for every person who wants to discuss social inequities there are 10 who hurl it around like an insult or dirty word. Though either way, trying to suggest that people who have suffered some kind of trauma are a “privileged demographic” seems like a pretty big logic fail. “Non-challenging education” almost reads like he’s calling people with PTSD “chicken”, very juvenile. And though I don’t often get nit-picky over grammar, since this was written by a professor I’ll just say “receive” shouldn’t be in a past tense in this sentence. :p

    Personally, as a rape survivor, self harmer, and what have you, I’ve never not read something because of a trigger warning, but I appreciate them being there so I can mentally brace myself.

    • Hi Jenny (is it ok if I call you Jenny?). I am sorry I am so late in replying but as luck would have it, I ended up being triggered that very same day and it’s taken me this long to be back to an acceptable state for replying my own post about triggers. Go figure.

      As Meredith says, good insights.Thank you for sharing them with us. And yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Unlike what most people here have said in their comments, I do get triggered by written words even more so that by images. That is why many a time I have to not read amazing blog posts even if I want to. And yeah, I didn’t like the ‘non-challenging education’ part one bit. I found it patronizing.

      I am not asking for people to baby me, but I don’t think it is too much to ask for a little common sense and a little compassion. Just adding a few heads up words regarding the material doesn’t make it any less challenging or interesting or whatever is it they want it to be but it goes a long way in helping a student brace themselves should they need it.

      • Thanks. Sorry to hear you went through a rough time. And yeah, it’s ok to call me Jenny 🙂

  7. An important subject to bring up.

    As a teacher I first became aware of the need for caution and sensitivity when I was with a class of 13 year olds, teaching them family vocabulary. I asked one boy a question about his mother and he told me she was dead!

  8. Reblogged this on Summer Solstice Musings and commented:

    June is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Month. While PTSD gets the most airtime in regards war veterans, there are a good number of civilians who deal with non-war PTSD.

    Please join the conversation. I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

  9. Ahem. **scratches head** I am, as the addenda to my name will witness, no stranger, to scholarship, scholarly discourse, or scholarly scholars. I am no stranger to people who like to talk scholarly-ese. I cringe remembering the days when I spoke it fluently. But I am a complete stranger to the concept, let alone the practice, of putting trigger warnings on learning materials at institutions of secondary and higher learning.

    It’s already hard enough to get kids to read stuff without giving them more reasons not to. Case in point: I was trying to buy a new copy of To Kill A Mockingbird on Amazon, and all they had were Cliff Notes and other how-to-not-read-the-book-but-still-pass-the-test garbage! I had to special order a copy, and I’m still waiting for it three weeks later. Sheesh. Bad enough that nobody reads one of the greatest books of all time, but if we got started putting Trigger Warnings on it? Let’s see…Racism…Rape….Rabid dog warning….Child Abuse (of child who has now grown up but is still being abused)….Mental Illness (of said child, we think, but we’re not really sure…but you have to read the book to get this one)….did I get ’em all?

    In order to learn, we have to feel. And in order to become healthy, we have to learn to deal with our triggers. I’ve got a few triggers myself, but I managed to get through three post-high school degrees (I ran away from home because of abuse, lived on the streets and survived the various violent situations that happen in those circumstances, in lieu of finishing high school). Certainly there were plenty of triggering phenomena in my higher education experiences, some of which caused me to dissociate, some to sob, some to run, and some to seek counseling. That was when I started to heal: when I started seeing the patterns in the triggers. If I hadn’t been exposed to the triggers, or better said, if I had been sheltered from them by TW: RAPE or TW: EMOTIONAL ABUSE etc., then I would not have had the freedom to walk headlong into dangerous academic waters, where I would find…MYSELF.

  10. That is a very interesting point of view.

    I think we all can agree (and have agreed) that challenging ones’s minds and thoughts is not only important but also necessary. I guess I should have added as well that the discussion was about University education, not middle or high school.

    As for me, I really don’t care for being triggered. I do not want to be triggered and if I had to go through university again, I would really like and appreciate the heads up for difficult content. It takes me waaaaaaaaay to long to go back to normal once I’ve been triggered and I seriously couldn’t finish a semester if I were to be triggered more than once during the term.

    I am really glad it worked for you. And that is why it is so important to keep the conversation going. It is important to hear from every side 🙂

    • I’m really sorry that uni was so hard for you in the trigger department. I guess for me, since my whole life was one big trigger at that time after what I’d been through (I’d give you the link to my “other” blog, the one that has “what really happened” in it, but I’m actually afraid it would do you damage so I won’t) that in reality I was just dissociated the whole time so encountering triggering materials actually served to pop me back into “reality” for a brief time, and as I said, they were actually helpful in allowing me to confront my demons in a somewhat controlled way. I see that there are many ways of dealing with this…and now that I’m thinking about it more clearly, I am seeing the REAL triggers like the bigfatugly professor who wanted…something…from me….so that he would give me a good grade….and I was SO triggered, and yet instead of doing the “easy” thing, I walked out of his office not caring if he flunked me, because I had NOT “taken the bait” and traded sex for what I needed, which was for him to look at my exam again and see that I had actually done much better than what the T.A. gave me. I took the “hit” rather than going back to where I had been not too long before. So of course I was totally triggered, and spent the rest of the quarter in a haze, doing things I shouldn’t have done and taking unnecessary risks, etc., but the truth is that I was proud of myself for taking the high road. So that’s one way the triggers were helpful, in that they gave me opportunities to change learned behaviors, since I no longer needed them to survive.

      • You know, it is entirely possible that I experience something similar. I know now that through all my 20’s and 30’s I was in survival mode. I really didn’t learn (realized? was told?) that I had PTSD. But now, I am seeing retroactively how certain experiences as remembered by me, pretty much look like I had been triggered. I really don’t know

  11. I realise that I am really late in commenting, but better late… I remember a discussion in a third year class about triggers and how trigger warnings would not be used during that course. It was a subject in which there was the possibility of a very great deal of triggering topics. Basically what we were told was that once we left academia and were in professional practise we would not have the luxury of trigger warnings. While it seemed a harsh approach to take, I came to appreciate it. Regardless of whether a trigger comes from PTSD or something else, there is a point in which we need to be able to care for our own needs, rather than having them put on a plate for us.

    I guess the other issue that rang through my mind as I read your post is that triggers are individual. It’s simply not practical to be able to warn everyone that needs it. We are surely much better to equip ourselves with the ability to manage our reaction to the trigger. I know it it no mean feat, but surely a way of enabling ourselves to manage our lives.

    One final issue. I didn’t get your point of there being two demographics… people with PTSD and people who don’t want to think. Really? Maybe I’m missing your point but it seems rather harsh.

    • I don’t know what you understood but what I meant with the demographics reference is that in the context of the discussion, the two demographics that were discussed were those two, the students with PSTD (because of the potential triggering and its effects on the student’s mental health) and those student who could use the trigger warnings as an excuse to not participate (for whatever reason, being it laziness or hatred or something else) therefore missing the opportunity to have their thinking challenged.

      It was not by all means a suggestion that those two are the only possible demographics that a professor would encounter at any given university session

    • Also, I was surprised to find (via all the comments) that most people in this community much prefer not to have trigger warnings. A lot of insights in all the comments. But you do make a great point re: the individuality of the triggering.

      As I mentioned in some comments as well, I am very much triggered by written words and not so much but images (photos, movies) but it is the other way around for most people

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