By Zach Weissmueller at Reason Online
“It’s really not anyone else’s business to tell someone when they are mentally and emotionally ready to deal with things,” says Bailey Loverin, a University of Santa Barbara (UCSB) junior who authored a resolution to mandate that professors issue “trigger warnings” before presenting material that might trigger memories of past traumas in students.
Feminist and social justice blogs popularized the concept of the trigger warning, with writers encouraging each other to label posts that might trigger flashbacks to sexual assault or domestic abuse. As the popularity, and scope, of the trigger warning idea grew, some bloggers began listing potential triggers, ranging from rape and violence and suicide to snakes and needles and even “small holes.”
Oberlin College attracted media attention when its Office of Equity Concerns posted, and later removed, a trigger warning guide advising professors to avoid triggering topics such as racism, colonialism, and sexism when possible. The memo also suggests introducing discussions of potentially triggering works with language such as this:
We are reading this work in spite of the author’s racist frameworks because his work was foundational to establishing the field of anthropology, and because I think together we can challenge, deconstruct, and learn from his mistakes.
Loverin says that her trigger warning resolution is much more narrowly tailored to protect sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But she also goes a step further than anyone has at Oberlin by proposing that trigger warnings in the classroom be mandated.
“I don’t feel that it’s a problem asking for this to be mandated,” says Loverin. “You’re always going to have someone that’s going to argue, ‘Why? This is ridiculous. I shouldn’t have to do this because I don’t feel it. Why should anyone else?'”
Loverin’s resolution passed the student-run Academic Senate and now awaits review by the faculty legislative body. Greg Lukianoff, President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), worries that mandated trigger warnings would set a troubling precedent on campus. He points to an incident that occured on the UCBS campus only days after the resolution passed wherein an associate professor of feminist studies stole a sign from pro-life protesters and then pushed one of them away when she tried to take the sign back. The professor’s defense?
“What she argued was that the display was triggering,” says Lukianoff. “It’s a very unforunate part of human nature. If you give us an excuse to shut down speech with which we disagree, we’re very quick to see it as an opportunity.”