Feelzplainin’ and The Constitutional Right To Triggerdom

When Stephanie West Allen sent me a link to a Vice post, it seemed to be yet another in those inane efforts to throw as many silly words as possible against the screen to justify trigger warnings in the absence of anything remotely resembling thought.  This one, by Ali Jaffe, argues that trigger warnings are “about sensitivity, not censorship.”

She begins by explaining the real significance of the Columbia University kerfuffle over Ovid’s magnum opus, Metamorphoses.

After a class at Columbia University read the poem, one student spoke out about her painful experience with the material as a survivor of sexual assault. Four students on the school’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board penned an op-ed for Columbia’s student newspaper, urging faculty to teach provocative or potentially upsetting material with increased sensitivity.

“As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text… She did not feel safe in the class.”

Yawn. Nothing to see here. Same old stuff.  So a delicate teacup wants the world of education to be recreated to make her feel safe. Isn’t that precious? But Jaffe isn’t arguing for mere sensitivity.

“What happens in the rest of students’ lives is affecting their intellectual engagement in the classroom,” says Heather Lindkvist, the Title IX Coordinator and Clery Act Compliance Officer at Dartmouth College. “If we think about what Title IX is about, it’s about ensuring that students have an environment free of hostility; that they feel safe, welcome, and secure on our campuses, and that includes our classes.”

Well, no, that’s not at all “what Title IX is about.” Notably, the link in the quote goes to an advocacy website.  Here is a link to the government’s actual Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments explanation, which is about preventing sex discrimination in federally funded higher education programs.  It is not about “an environment free of hostility.” It is not about making women “feel safe, welcome, and secure.” It’s about women not being subject to sex discrimination.

But Jaffe, whose background is left unmentioned, isn’t ready to stop there.

The bottom-line is that students have a constitutional right to feel safe in the classroom, and their teachers are in no way adversaries on this. Call it a trigger warning or contextualizing, but opening a preemptive conversation about why something in the classroom is challenging and also why it matters will only serve to advance the interests of both students and professors.

A constitutional right?  Did somebody pass a new amendment and not tell me? Nope, no new amendment.  This is where the post changes from banal whining to the sort of dangerousness that compels correction.

No, there is no constitutional right to feel safe in the classroom.  It is not the bottom line, top line or any line. It doesn’t exist. Some dumbass on the internet decided to call her preferred feelz a constitutional right, and some website named Vice is too short on editors and grown-ups to tell her that she can’t just make shit like this up.

But this otherwise empty intellectual sinkhole of a post reflects a subtle shift in the rhetoric of feelz.  Remember not too long ago this was the meme?


At the very least, it placed “rights” against feelz. That’s no longer the case, as the dialogue has since turned the notion of rights, the ones that are actually mentioned in the Constitution, on its head.  Now, the discussion is about accusers’ rights to due process, the shifting of the burden of proof off the accuser and onto the accused.

Free speech is no longer about the right to expression, but the right to not be offended by another’s expression.  As FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff’s broadside is entitled, it’s “Freedom From Speech.”

This shift has been subtle, as new “rights” have been manufactured out of whole cloth. Indeed, it’s one of the grave problems with characterizing rights in terms of dignity, as such amorphous high-minded concepts lend themselves to claims of rights for whatever anyone wants them to be.

And it may well be that in an effort not to be needlessly offensive to those who feel deeply hurt by a world that doesn’t make them feel safe, we allow this subtle shift to infiltrate substantive discussions about the relative clash of rights and interests.  This is a dangerous slide down the slippery slope, giving credence to claims of feelings as rights rather than reject the rhetoric that would characterize emotional desires as the equivalent.

No, accusers are not entitled to due process, just like the accused. That’s not what due process is for, not how due process works. While creating the appearance of fairness, a word that inherently appeals to most people, it is not an equivalent situation. One points the finger and the other suffers punishment for it.  They are not equivalent positions, and there is nothing “fair” about it. Nor should there be.

No, free speech does not end when it touches something that offends you, and you have no equivalent right to silence those who are insensitive to your feelings.

No, you have no right to feel safe.  You have no constitutional right. You have no moral right. You have no right at all.  You have a right not to be physically harmed, but your feelings, just like everyone else’s, are fair game for bruising.  No one says you have to suffer in silence. Don’t like how your Columbia professor uses classic literature that “triggers” your unsafe feelz? Go to Dartmouth. Don’t like how other people on the internets call you stupid? Don’t be stupid. Or turn off the computer. Or only click on links to cute kitteh pics.

Or just toughen up already, you special little snowflakes.  But neither you, nor Ali Jaffe, get to make up constitutional rights based upon how deeply you feel.  And the fact that Vice would publish such tripe is a disgrace.

37 thoughts on “Feelzplainin’ and The Constitutional Right To Triggerdom

  1. Dave

    How about a compromise? When everyone starts Kindergarten, the teacher writes on the whiteboard (I almost said blackboard, but they don’t seem to use those anymore) “Trigger Warning: Life sucks and the world doesn’t give a shit about your feelings, so toughen up and learn to take it.”

    That should cover then every schooling the child has from that day until the last day of their life, for all classes they ever take anywhere.

    For kids who transfer in who haven’t gotten the warning, they get it on an index card.

    Problem solved.

  2. Jordan

    Actual conversation I had this week:

    SJW: “I quit my job waitressing today.”
    Jordan: “Why?”
    SJW: “Someone said the word ‘faggot’ in the kitchen.”
    Jordan: “Did they say it to you? Did you report the person?”
    SJW: “No, no. But I shouldn’t have to tolerate that kind of language. I can’t work in an atmosphere like that.”
    Jordan: “What are you going to do for money?”
    SJW: “I don’t know. I think I’m eligible for welfare at this point.”
    Jordan: “I don’t mean to be flip, but don’t you think collecting welfare is a bit beneath someone who has a masters degree?”
    SJW: “There’s no point. Jobs should pay a living wage, but they don’t. All the other jobs I get just create a hostile, unsafe environment for me.”
    Jordan: [thinks to myself] “Cool. I’ll go to work everyday and pay taxes so you don’t have to.”

    College is no longer producing graduates who will contribute to the work force. It’s actually doing the opposite. The social justice warriors expect the world to conform to their own delicate sensibilities, and then can’t handle the fact that it doesn’t work like that.

    What scares me is that this notion of “the right to never have a hurt feeling” is actually starting to seep into parts of society.

      1. Jordan

        She’s a friend of my lady friend. I’d never met her before.

        My response made her so angry that she stormed out of the bar and called me a privileged asshole. I did my best to be polite about it, too.

        1. Mort

          So basically you will probably never have to talk to her again. Sounds like you played this one right…

        2. David

          You should not have been polite about it. Laughter and derision is the only appropriate response.

    1. L

      Good for her. I don’t mean it, but I do. I more or less agree with your assessment of her, but I am happy to have people like her getting out of the workforce and out of the way of people who actually are willing to work for a living, with all that that entails. When she quit, she improved the life of the waiter or waitress they hired to replace her, and she improved the quality of the restaurant. I see that as such a good result that I am–not sarcastically, not ironically–happy to go to work every day and pay taxes to support it.

      Hopefully the replacement waitress reports the guy who says “faggot,” and then he’ll get fired too, and the restaurant will improve still further. I don’t mind paying taxes to support that jerk either.

    2. Dee

      Seriously?! She’s just going to go on welfare because she can’t handle a “work environment” that “tolerates” some jerk saying faggot within her hearing (not to or at her nor anyone she knows) but its “hostile” to her, and she shouldn’t have to “deal with it” but won’t try reporting it so it stops and she can work. {How the hell does this asswipe expect a company not to tolerate something if they are not made aware of it?} And, she has the nerve to call you a”privledged asshole” for pointing out the logical solution to her pathetic problem. Meanwhile, I drag my fat ass all over town desperately trying to find a job, any job, just to be able to stay and continue my education, but my Master degree self is supposedly not even qualified to stalk shelves or clean toilets, so I have no choice but to move back home with my parents and the only low paying job that’ll hire me while this bitch has the nerve to just quit a job and get welfare so she can avoid putting on her big girl panties and being a responsible fucking adult.

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  5. Donald Campbell

    It used to be that Universities were a place of learning, and preparation for life. If special snowflake can’t handle Ovid, how is she learning to face a lifetime of uncontrollable situations? Like Jordan suggests, sometimes you will hear something in the kitchen that ‘offends’ you. The world is not safe. The world contains people that know offensive words, and occasionally will use them in your presence. Unlike Universities, which apparently have no profit motive whatsoever, businesses need to create an environment that will pay the bills. While it certainly would be nice if all restaurants had a ‘safe place’ for employees, remember, the owner is paying taxes on the property, and probably wants a few more paying customers.
    I agree with Ms SJW that it would be ‘nice’ to have a safe respectable work environment, paying a ‘living wage’ (whatever that means); however, the world is imperfect. Would you rather live in a place where the kitchen help might call someone a ‘faggot’, or would you like to live in a place where ISIS will take the suspected ‘faggot’ and pitch him off the top of the building?
    Someday, me and all the other taxpayers will be dead, and only the welfare moochers will remain. Who then gets to pay the master’s degree person their daily dole when everyone else is out of work like she is? Fact: The ‘perfect’ work environment doesn’t exist. Try to find one that is reasonable and live with it. If you are a ‘rape survivor’, you need to be able to survive references to things that might remind you of your experience. It may not be Ovid, it may be a specific smell, song or perhaps the way someone speaks. We can’t fix all of those things special snowflake, so face life. It isn’t always happy happy joy joy.

    1. L

      “Someday, me and all the other taxpayers will be dead, and only the welfare moochers will remain. Who then gets to pay the master’s degree person their daily dole when everyone else is out of work like she is?”

      If this happens (which it fortunately will not), the “welfare moochers” would have bigger things to worry about than getting their “daily [sic] dole,” considering money would be basically worthless at that point.

  6. Marc R

    Allen Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind predicted this decades ago. If someone can’t read an ancient text without some ideosyncratic fear then they should get a therapist to help them before they re-enroll at school.

    Every day I see tons of crap that sickens me. Who cares? What if I were afraid of clowns? Should they be banned? Fear of airplanes? Cut aeronautic engineering department?

    And the number 7. I once saw seven guys attacking someone so that’s a huge trigger. I have to use a backwards four.

    Seriously if I were dean of students I would boot that student out for disrupting the class and being too stupid for college. Life isn’t easy, books take time to read, talking about books requires understanding them, and college is for higher learning not bending the school to your personal hangups. Get over it.

  7. jk

    Marc R,

    I was with you all the way, until you said “clowns”.

    And you implied an attack by 7 clowns. That happened to me once, so I’ll thank you to not trigger the dangerously scary memories of that horrific day.

    You’re worse than the Holocaust.


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  9. Wrongway

    When my Rep in congress voted to keep the patriot act going, I called his office & asked for a bill to be passed to keep me safe from bee stings.. the schmuk on the phone chuckled.. so then I asked to have a bill passed to keep me out of a car accident.. he hung up..

  10. sam

    Back when I was in college (early 90s), majoring in (yes) women’s studies (along with poli sci and minoring in sociology), trigger warnings and their ilk were not yet a thing. I generally have no use for them, because they don’t help to actually prepare people for the real world. Certainly when you’re in a voluntary environment, it’s polite to perhaps warn people if you’re going to tell a gross or graphic anecdote, but that’s more about learning how to interact civilly with other humans.

    I had a urban sociology professor at the same time who was an outright bigot. He would say shit in class about the “pathologies of black people”, or the “depravities of murderers, rapists and homosexuals” that were just kind of shocking. I could see some of my classmates cringing, but no one would confront the guy, classroom power dynamics being what they were (he gave out the grades, after all). Certainly no one thought to report him to the administration.

    You know what worked? One day I (being the obnoxious feminist that I was) finally interrupted and called him out on his shit. I can’t remember the exact context, but I pointed out that he was skewing the information to fit a predefined stereotype narrative and then I brought up all of the other bigoted crap he had been saying.

    He stammered and tried to argue with me for about a minute, but he cut that shit out for the rest of the semester.

    And not to get into a whole side conversation about privilege and whatnot, but it did probably help that I was a white girl (also in the honors program and generally a teachers pet except for this guy, so I knew if he complained about me (!) I had some institutional backup). Given his clearly displayed prejudices, I don’t know how much he would have automatically discounted the same “rant” if it had come from, say, a student of color.

    1. SHG Post author

      So are you trying to say that these issues are best dealt with as a matter of consideration toward others rather than assertion of rights? Or did you just want to tell this story to show how you beat this bigot prof at his own game?

      1. sam

        I’m really just wondering what happened to teaching people how to actually confront and challenge things they find problematic, rather than expecting to live in a bubble where they never have any exposure to such things in the first place.

        Finding the rape imagery in Ovid problematic? fine. That’s actually a great conversation to have in a classroom. Plenty of people like Gatsby but someone could write a dissertation (and probably has) on the racist and anti-semitic imagery therein. And if you have professors who just gloss over that stuff and don’t address it? Speak up! Those are *great* things to have a discussion around. Expecting to exempt yourself from all challenging/disturbing/uncomfortable thought is just going to leave you unprepared for going out in the world.

        1. SHG Post author

          Thanks for the clarification. With new commenters, it can be difficult to be sure what they’re trying to say sometimes.

          1. sam

            no problem. Also, the anecdote was partially to note that 20-25 years ago my femnist/womens’ studies professors were teaching me to be a confrontational loudmouth, not a super-sensitive baby who needed to be protected from everything. I don’t know when that changed.

            (also, now I feel old).

  11. Michael

    Good, good. The collapse of Western Civilization is a necessary condition before I can become Supreme Imperator of Earth.

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  13. Osama bin Pimpin

    It’s funny that legal words (at least corporate legal words) use feeling words when they really mean dispassionate judgments. My favorite is “comfortable” which has nothing to do with personal feelings of safety, but rather a judgment whether you’ve done enough and have enough to adequately manage your clients risks.

    All this campus feelsplaining is endless manipulable and circular. Thats why I usually say I take offense that you took offense at me. And I feel unsafe now that you’ve said I make you feel unsafe.

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