Trigger Warnings Cause a Stir on Campus

The millennials are growing up. As the first generation of teen social media users, we have been interconnected to each other and the full spectrum of opinions and trends that the Internet has to offer.

Being interconnected has turned us into an age group that is fighting to figure out whether we are too sensitive or desensitized. Bipartisanship is at an all time high.

Animosity toward others who disagree with them have scared many people from participating in healthy debates and absorbing valuable information or insight that the opposing side may have, especially on the Internet.

The power to choose what we want to see has certain ramifications. Even with scholastic intentions, students tend to gravitate toward beliefs that align with their own to avoid confrontation or debate.

What happens when a kid who shielded himself from any issue involving abortion growing up, has to read a post modernist book for class that focuses on the experiences of women who have had abortions?

In this day of hypersensitivity, this student could theoretically ask for a “trigger warning.”

A problem arises in the role of the “comfort first” minded student in the pedagogical relationship with the professor. In other words, are some college students becoming too sensitive?

President Barack Obama spoke last month at a town hall meeting in Des Moines, Iowa about the “coddling of students.”

“I’ve heard of some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative, or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women,” Obama said.

Obama elaborated on the issue and told high school students and their parents, “I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of views…anybody who comes to speak with you and you disagree with (them), then you should have an argument with them. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.”

Before Obama addressed this uptrending issue, it was brought into the limelight by a popular article written by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in the Atlantic magazine.

Lukianoff is the Hwead of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education which supports free-speech rights on campus and Haidt has been a moral psychologist for 28 years, and a professor at New York University.

Their article titled “The Coddling of the American Mind,” which makes the correlation between deterioration of mental health in students and the overprotection of their minds via trigger warnings, has caused a stir in the educational community.

A trigger warning is a phrase used to describe the purposeful avoidance of a certain topic or issue to prevent a student, viewer, or reader from getting upset. Trigger warnings are used for people who have post traumatic stress disorder, a warning before the content that may literally trigger the victims illness.

Other publications have followed up supporting it such as the New Republic, in an article titled “Trigger Happy” by Jenny Jarvie.

Jarvie points out, “alerts have been applied to topics as diverse as sex, pregnancy, addiction, bullying, suicide, sizeism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, slut shaming, victim-blaming, alcohol, blood, insects, small holes, and animals in wigs. Certain people, from rapper Chris Brown to sex columnist Dan Savage, have been dubbed ‘triggering.’”

Ethnics Studies Department Chair of Glendale CollegeFabiola Torres, said that while she has not gotten a request for a trigger warning, students can get upset during lectures.

Torres talks about how teaching ethics can sometimes hurt feelings.
“It’s about social inequality, students don’t want to feel like their (race) isn’t part of the story … When discussing or learning about ‘white privilege’ some students will tend to generalize and say ‘well that’s reverse discrimination’ — no it’s a component of being a person of consciousness.”

That’s exactly what it is, the real world is messed up, but teachers have to bring these things into light in order for their students to have a realistic and educated point of view toward life.

According to Michael E. Miller from the Washington Post, Columbia University undergrads asked for a trigger warning for their literature humanities class on “Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses,” a “fixture” in Greek literature and a story that has been told for thousands of years. Miller described the epic as a “cultural touchstone for Western civilization.”

When surveying the list, you can see that many of these topics fringe on discomfort, sensitive subjects that people may choose not to listen too.
When browsing online, it’s one thing to avoid uncomfortable topics as anyone can post on the internet.

In an academic setting, however, some of these students may actually be harming themselves instead of protecting themselves by shying away from “trigger” topics.

An Atlantic article mentions that students slip into mental distress because of the newfound culture that causes people to think twice before speaking or else they may be labeled as insensitive or aggressive.

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote that this type of thinking has caused students to think pathologically citing cognitive therapists that relate this pattern of thought to depression and anxiety.

The article cites students as slipping into mental distress because of the newfound culture that cause people to think twice before speaking or else they may be labeled as insensitive or aggressive.

These colleges students are the first to use social media throughout their teenage years, which has heightened their fear of sharing something controversial because of the commonality of “online mobs.”

Is it connected to the 5 percent rise of “overwhelming anxiety” reported by college kids in 2014 from 2009?

Aaron R. Hanlon rebutted this argument in a New Republic article, by saying that the issue of college students avoiding trigger warnings is rarer than we think. The issue is far more to do with the process of teaching and learning because he believes that the issue with a student who has post traumatic stress disorder can just meet with the professor.

Hanlon also acknowledges that a trigger warning isn’t the “end of a difficult conversation,” but the beginning of one.

“Our job as professors is to ignite curiosity and serious discussion and that in itself is a challenge to our comfort zone,” Torres explains.

“We all grow up believing something and college is supposed to shake you up, you’ll read something that is going to piss you off.,” she said. “But critical thinking is by definition, the ability to look at things from different angles.”

If students shut themselves off from these discussions for their own comfort, they end up stymieing our ability to learn.

Torres said she has never coddled someone, but she teaches from a place of love and justice.

Maybe that is what millennials can start doing more of, in order to improve moral standpoints and knowledge of the world.