No Trigger Warnings Here
When we say “trigger warnings,” we think of examples like the one former Student Body President, Addison Bennett ’16 gave us last year in an email about creating an action plan to deal with sexual misconduct: “*trigger warning* Open Letter to the Community”. The term “trigger warning” can also apply to the type of disclosure that a professor might give in class before an assignment, such as, “there is violence on page four.” The statement ‘trigger warning’ has become a way to soften the words or stories that are about to follow.
In theory, trigger warnings as they are intended to function are not so terrible—victims of violence shouldn’t be forced into situations that exploit their trauma. Ideally, the words “trigger warning” should not imply that triggering material not be taught—they should just act as a warning. However, in practice, trigger warnings lead to close-mindedness, complacency and intellectual laziness—why think about something hard, when you can think about something easy? Students can now study the holocaust without seeing any images of the genocide. In a Skidmore history class on the Warsaw Ghetto, students were encouraged to leave the room before the film even started. In cases like this, trigger warnings discredit and interrupt teaching. When used, they communicate the notion that some ideas can be put aside when convenient. This is not to mention that fundamental aspects of psychology reiterate the necessity of gradual exposure to former trauma. Nor to mention President Philip Glotzbach, who, when asked about a culture of over-sensitivity on campus, said he believes “we ought to be about communicating difficult ideas” and then solving them.
In a liberal arts institution, there are going to be uncomfortable ideas and discussions. Within literature, history, religion and business, there is violence; there is sexual abuse. Instead of studying these issues and trying to find ways to improve both ourselves, and society, we have closed the door to tackling tough debates. Race discussions on campus are not prevalent, likely because students worry that they might “trigger” another student, thus silencing the conversation. Student’s personal anecdotes are now worth more than great thinkers in history. We have screamed the buzz words “trigger warning!” in order to steer clear of reality.
The Editorial Board does not contend that people be needlessly exposed to violence. In a math class, using suicide data for a problem is probably not necessary or appropriate material, and in all instances, we respect a student’s right to simply leave the room if they need to take a breath. The issue arises when we prevent each other from tackling famous works of art and literature because they don’t sit with us in the right way. If you need a break, take it, but this doesn’t excuse you from the work thereafter. We should not be allowed to avoid an issue before even confronting it. As students, we have made the decision to attend an institution that challenges our thoughts and ideas. If we continue to stifle the liberation of these thoughts, then we only inhibit our learning ability.
Let’s go back to making people feel uncomfortable, but in a productive way. Professors are here to help us, and we need to let them do their jobs. We need to open our minds to things we may not want to hear, but still need to hear. Many students have lost faith in the institution’s ability to respect their personal experiences, and beliefs. We need to trust each other’s desires to make the world a better place through discussion rather than denial. Education should be challenging. Let’s keep it that way.