Across colleges around the United States, students have been proposing ‘trigger warnings’ for the materials they will be reading, watching and/or discussing. A ‘trigger warning’ is an alert on explicit materials that may upset some students. These can include scenes of domestic abuse, sexual material or violence.
The idea of warning labels in syllabuses and teaching materials have caught on at the University of California, where the student body government formally called for them. The situation has left some academics upset, saying professors should be able to use common sense when teaching and that adult materials should be suitable for university students.
Lisa Hajjar, a sociology professor said she often uses graphic depiction of torture to teach students about war. “Any kind of blanket trigger policy is inimical to academic freedom. 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.”
There should be a distinction between alerting students to something that might tap into a past trauma—such as rape, suicide or torture— and putting warning labels on famous literary novels and classic films. Are they being respectful to those with emotional triggers, or is it taking it too far and are we coddling?
Said Meredith Raimondo, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, “I quite object to the argument of ‘Kids today need to toughen up,’ ” she said. “That absolutely misses the reality that we’re dealing with. We have students coming to us with serious issues, and we need to deal with that respectfully and seriously.”
What is your opinion on the matter?