A common debate in many American Universities has emerged regarding the necessity for trigger warnings in class syllabi as an attempt to warn every student of offensive and triggering material that they may not want to discuss. Although it may seem important to give notice to students of scandalous or offensive material, the addition of trigger warnings in syllabi is excessive and will only leave students unable to develop intellectually. This form of censorship only coddles the students, keeping them from learning that there will always be upsetting topics that they cannot control.
By censoring college curriculum, we are allowing students to rely on trigger warnings to be there during every uncomfortable situation they may face. Students must be able to see those topics at an intellectual level in order to move past them, instead of wanting to be shielded from any controversial ideas. Just as Jonathan Haidt argues in The Coddling of the American Mind, campuses have become safe places “where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make them uncomfortable” (44).
The students’ reasoning and central argument of the matter is trigger warnings provide a much needed protection for those ho have gone through difficult and traumatizing experiences. According to Kate Manne in her article Why I Use Trigger Warnings, the purpose of trigger warnings “… is to allow those who are sensitive to these subjects to prepare themselves for reading about them, [to] better manage their reactions”. With a warning given beforehand the students can decide whether or not they are able to participate in discourses of such nature.
Although this may protect the mental and emotional health of students, it is only providing them with a safety blanket that they can run to when faced with any type of confrontation. The addition of trigger warnings deprive the students of an education filled with critical topics and ideas, which must be discussed in order to achieve some form of intellectual development. The warnings first appeared on a variety of blogs and other online websites, often to alert people of content that can be thought upon as “triggering”.
In Warning; The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm, The New York Times writer Jennifer Medina defines trigger warnings as “explicit alerts that the material they are about to read.. might upset them… “. The demand for trigger warnings has become more and more ommon on campuses. Students in American Universities are demanding and harassing their professors in efforts to give trigger warnings a place in the classroom, so any student may get out of discussing countless of controversial topics such as sexual violence, suicide, abortion and just about any topic they may deem as inappropriate or disturbing.
If the student finds any of the flagged material to be offensive or “triggering” in any way, they have the option to dismiss the topic. For that reason exactly trigger warnings have no place in a University’s classroom, there is no limit as to what can be eemed as triggering. It could range from an event that occurs in an assigned book or simply a certain color mentioned that can remind a student of a traumatizing experience. With that in mind, perhaps every topic in the curriculum should contain a trigger warning, however, then there would be no lessons left to discuss.
With the option to dismiss the subject, students remove themselves from the situation and refuse to participate in the intellectual discussions, where they are able to share their opinion freely while also taking in new viewpoints from other students. If the student shields themselves from the lass curriculum, they are only depriving themselves of an healthy outlet in which they can discuss the topics they find inappropriate freely and intellectually.
Others may argue trigger warnings will protect individuals from reliving horrific events and will allow them to live their life free of their traumatic experiences. However in reality we will be doing the opposite; we will do the students a disservice. Not only will trigger warnings be limiting students intellectual growth, it will also be suppressing their emotional growth and ability to manage their life emotionally.
By censoring class iscussions, the students have no means of communication amongst themselves to have a healthy intellectual discussion about controversial ideas they may see later in life. College education is meant to challenge habitual ways of thinking, a place where professors have they mantra “Don’t teach students what to think; teach them how to think” (Haidt). If trigger warnings are placed on class material, students will not experience a higher level of education and will be unable to have their own opinion on controversial topics due to the fear of offending or triggering someone else.
Students must realize there will always be upsetting ideas and vents that will occur in life and they cannot refuse to discuss them. They must come to the realization that we do not live in a perfect society that is clearly evident in American history. From as early as eleven years old students have been taught about the hundreds of brutal murders and unfair treatment of minorities in their mandatory history classes yet there has not been a demand for trigger warning on the subject and are continued to be taught that curriculum.
Todd Gitlin writes in his article Student Advisory Explicit Conflict, ” History, Western and otherwise, is (among other things) a slaughterhouse. The record of civilization is a record of murder, rape… “. American History is filled with brutal events and controversial topics-we do not have a beautiful past- yet students seem to have overlooked those upsetting topics and have gone straight to famous literary works. Many well known books have been banned for discussing and in some cases for even implying a topic that is offensive and inappropriate.
Examples of the poor books who have been banned include Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, and The Merchant of Venice But hat good does that do ? Without those books, students may never discuss controversial discussion that are crucial for them to have some idea about. If they do not have any previous knowledge they will not be prepared to handle a real life situation in which there is no trigger warning to hide behind.
Perhaps college students are just exercising their right of freedom of speech or they have already been accustomed to the coddling of their weak and closed minded thoughts. Many of these books were banned because it is believed that students are not equipped to handle any controversial idea. People feel it s best to coddle students because we are only children who cannot be exposed to such triggering and inappropriate discussions. And who are these people you may ask ? They are the parents of the students.
It is believed parents are the culprits, teaching their children that it is okay to run from ideas that upset them. Perhaps that is the reason college students have decide to put in the demand for trigger warnings- they have been brought up to believe that it is their right to refuse discussing upsetting topics. Over the years parents have become overprotective and as explained by Haidt, “will do nything in their power to protect [their children] from harm”. However there can only be protection to a certain extent and trigger warnings surpass it.
Students must learn that they will not have those trigger warning later in life to “protect them”. They will not have time to prepare themselves or avoid a topic that they find triggering, life doesn’t come with trigger warnings. These warnings soften the students chances at excelling in their academic career, and are only encouraging pathological weakness. College is where students prepare for the real world, where they learn that everything in the world is not perfect.
They learn to accept that life has no warning or caution tape around every upsetting event and they cannot hide behind the two words “trigger warnings”. “Trigger warnings suggest a fragility of the mind” and that fragility is meant to be tested in Universities not embraced ( Medina). This form of censorship coddles the closed minded students, preventing them from learning that there will always be upsetting and triggering events that are out of their control. Students must learn there will be things in life that upset them and sticking trigger warnings on every controversial matter has not beneficial effect.