I often write about a topic before I do much research on it. Some might call that the epitome of laziness or stupidity. Regardless, after doing enough reading, I’ve changed my mind of trigger warnings.
I was talking to a friend who’s done research in PTSD, and when I attempted to make my argument, he told me that he didn’t see anything wrong with a trigger warning on a syllabus, especially If those traumatized people are set off so easily. And that really is the crux of the issue: Whether we are willing to make the smallest amount of effort to extend courtesy to victims of sexual assault, violence, or whatever. The fear of trigger warnings is that they are a form of censorship, and that it will allow the “weak hearted” to get out of dealing with important things. But if a person is that upset by the issue, wouldn’t only a insensitive jerk force that material upon a person? Is it not like your asshole friend who would showed you Two Girls One Cup or Pain Olympics without any warning? Except imagine that you actually had past experience and problems with the content, and that triggered a flashback because you have PTSD.
The other issue is that overly sensitive students will be able to get away with avoiding difficult discussions. I don’t think this will be a problem, though. The students who want to avoid tough topics will likely avoid them anyone. Do we really think, for instance, that a racist would take a class on Hispanic studies, or that a misogynist is going to major in women’s studies? Hardly, because it still is an object of derision for those people. Avoiding challenging material is something that is already done without trigger warnings. As long as the material is still taught to those who do not need to avoid it, trigger warnings will have a minimal effect on the classroom.
Imagine you have a friend who is a veteran struggling with PTSD. Would you make him watch war movies and read war literature, even if he said not to because he has flashbacks? We can’t make the world a padded room, but we can at least warn people about sensitive issues so that they can protect themselves. It doesn’t bother me that some shithead somewhere could use trigger warnings as an excuse to get out of class, because more important are the people who can benefit from a trigger warning. We don’t ban alcohol, for instance, because some people misuse it. Trigger warnings are a bandage on a more serious problem, which is how we treat victims and those with mental health issues in our society. Nevertheless this is a small but significant step towards recognizing them in our society. Sure, there are people who abuse the word trigger to mean something that upsets them, which has caused the meaning to drift from its intended purpose, which was to describe phenomena which caused the negative feelings of a PTSD sufferer to resurface. We shouldn’t lose focus that trigger warnings are for people who actually have triggers, and not for people who merely feel uncomfortable with certain topics.
For those who worry that we will be using trigger warnings in our every day speech, that’s plain unlikely. People can understand context, and they can understand with whom what is appropriate to speak about. I have an aunt who has had her mother and a brother commit suicide. For that reason, I don’t speak about suicide with her or around her because of how much it could upset her, nor would I send her recommendations to read The Sorrows of Young Werther or Mrs. Dalloway without a warning of the content. A trigger warning.