It begins with a traumatic experience. The problem is that traumatic experiences, like every other feeling suffered by those who believe their sensitivities define the parameters of everyone else’s world, is a humpty dumpty phrase. That’s a burden no one can meet, despite the most sincere words of UC Santa Barbara student Baily Loverin.
The demand is for “trigger warnings,” which is explained by the New York Times:
Should students about to read “The Great Gatsby” be forewarned about “a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence,” as one Rutgers student proposed? Would any book that addresses racism — like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “Things Fall Apart” — have to be preceded by a note of caution? Do sexual images from Greek mythology need to come with a viewer-beware label?
Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.
It goes on to note that this notion, that students are entitled to be forewarned that something might upset them, is generating a movement across college campuses:
The warnings, which have their ideological roots in feminist thought, have gained the most traction at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where the student government formally called for them. But there have been similar requests from students at Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, George Washington University and other schools.
Underlying this concern is the belief that people, regardless of age and relative status, are entitled to have their feelings shown “respect” to whatever degree they demand by those charged with teaching them. As Loverin explains in the video, “it’s really not anyone else’s business.”
“We’re not talking about someone turning away from something they don’t want to see,” Ms. Loverin said in a recent interview. “People suddenly feel a very real threat to their safety — even if it is perceived. They are stuck in a classroom where they can’t get out, or if they do try to leave, it is suddenly going to be very public.”
Of course, nobody forces these young people to leave their home and venture out in the world, specifically to someone’s classroom, where they might hear words that trigger their deepest feelings of misery.
Professors aren’t thrilled with this development:
The debate has left many academics fuming, saying that professors should be trusted to use common sense and that being provocative is part of their mandate. Trigger warnings, they say, suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace.
Yet, an ironic aspect of the academic disapproval is that these student demands impair their freedoms.
“Any kind of blanket trigger policy is inimical to academic freedom,” said Lisa Hajjar, a sociology professor at the university here, who often uses graphic depictions of torture in her courses about war.
See what she did there? And yet, the balance of the paragraph reveals that the problem isn’t entirely about the elevation of feelings above all else, but that the students’ rights would come at the expense of the teacher’s rights.
“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.”
Would “individual accommodation” work any better when it comes to academic freedom? What about the rights of the rest of the class to learn the substance of a lesson without it being filtered through one individual’s comfort level? Not likely.
The creation of this concept, that there is an entitlement to be forewarned about anything that might impact one’s feelings, isn’t exactly new, but was limited to places where emotion inherently trumped reason.
The term “trigger warning” has its genesis on the Internet. Feminist blogs and forums have used the term for more than a decade to signal that readers, particularly victims of sexual abuse, might want to avoid certain articles or pictures online.
But as it works its way closer to mainstream thought, it’s no longer just this self-selected group of particularly delicate minds impacted, but our precious darlings sent away to be groomed for the future leadership of our nation. While we send large checks, they are deprived of another important lesson: Life triggers feelings, some of which will make you uncomfortable. Deal with it.
An unkind curmudgeon might react to this development by suggesting that this is sheer idiocy, to demand that no unpleasant thought ever reaches one’s fragile senses. But a more kindly one would note that moving beyond one’s particular sensitivities is reason number 6 for putting a student in the line of fire.
“It is only going to get harder to teach people that there is a real important and serious value to being offended. Part of that is talking about deadly serious and uncomfortable subjects.”
Nobody makes it through life without someone or something offending them, no matter how tough they may be. And nobody has the right (or the ability) to micromanage the world so that they never hear or see anything that triggers unhappy feelings. If that hurts your feelings, tough nuggies. Get over it. And I say that with the utmost respect for your feelings.
Without a trigger warning, a survivor might black out, become hysterical or feel forced to leave the room. This effectively stops their learning process.
But, hysteria has its limits:
So far, there is no official policy, no punishment for teachers and no censorship. Don’t lose sleep over fear mongering and slippery slope arguments.
Well, that makes me feel better, even though it’s not quite accurate (so she gets a “C.” It’s still a passing grade, right?). Especially since the Times didn’t invite Greg Lukianoff to be part of the discussion.
Before you start reading this blog, know that it says all sorts of offensive shit. I curse. I talk about rape and murder and mayhem. I talk about pornography. There are pictures of people, real people, who live (sometimes lived) in the real world and did fucking rotten things like killing babies and raping relatives and strangers. I wallow in the gutter.
I don’t much care about your sensibilities. I wrote a whole post once about a lawyer who got punished for calling a judge a cunt. The court didn’t use the word. i did. Repeatedly. Don’t like it? Go away, motherfuckers.
Trigger warning: Old lawyers.
H/T Jill McMahon