Do we, as citizens of this uncomfortable and unpredictable world, have the luxury and privilege of receiving “trigger warnings” before being exposed to disturbing material about subjects like the Holocaust, lynching, murder and rape?I’m assuming that’s a rhetorical question? Sadly, Lori’s invested a lot of her career in encouraging that very attitude.
I taught courses in literature, creative writing and gender studies at the university level for 18 years without being asked for trigger warnings. But, during the past two years, more and more students have asked for them.Well, yes. It’s a fad, and we know that these days, you’re nothing if you haven’t got an ‘ism’ or are a ‘victim’. It spreads quickly through the hothouse world of academe, as we know from David Thompson’s blog.
And one day, she slipped up. As anyone would. And a book she hadn’t read all the way through (fatal error!) contained the unmentioned ‘triggering’ material:
One student, in an anonymous teacher evaluation, wrote: “Not providing trigger warnings is not only detrimental to a students’ emotional well-being … but it also represents further invalidation/insult of rape survivors. Providing trigger warnings, honestly, is less of a request and more of a student’s demand for this professor if she intends to teach this class again.”Wow! Just savour the entitlement, the arrogant self-regard, the – dare I say it? - privilege of the modern day student!
It is statements like these that make me want to opt out of teaching this material all together.It’s statements like those that’d make me want to run amok with a chainsaw. But then, I wouldn’t be spending my days catering to such babies, and…well, you have.
I want to scream: “I care! This is why I have chosen to teach difficult material, about the oppression of women and minorities, in the first place.” I worry that, by giving in to requests for trigger warnings, professors are telling this new generation of students that they need to be coddled.Yup! That’s exactly what you’ve done! You’re now reaping that whirlwind. And you can’t seem to see that you’ve sown it.
I’m trying to understand. I’ve led workshops and conference panels about trigger warnings. In my Queer Literature course, I gave out a survey asking: would you want trigger warnings for every potentially triggering reading?You mean, you appeased and pandered and you wonder why it didn’t work?
As a courtesy, I have begun providing a blanket content warning on my syllabi. Of course, there is no way to know which issues will be triggering for which students. On the first day of class I ask students to be aware of the possibility of triggers throughout the semester and to take care of themselves if they feel triggered — to seek counseling, to step out of the room, to talk with me.Maybe you should try something a bit blunter? Maybe you should tell them what you’re telling the CiF audience?
I want to tell my students: sometimes I might not warn you. Not out of malice, but because I care. Because the outside world is full of triggers. Because any number of things, at any point of any day – the first few notes of a pop song, or the smell of french fries, or looking into the eyes of the man behind you at the bank – can trigger you. And you need to be ready and strong. You need to be prepared.Exactly! But why tell us? We already know that. Start telling them.
Because if you don’t, that rod you’ve made for your own back will just get gradually more inflexible…