Trigger Warnings University Edition

There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not certain courses or the material should come with a trigger warning. For example, some want trigger warnings on poems or books that depict rape scenes. On one side, there are people who are against trigger warnings. From their perspective, universities are supposed to be challenging even if certain topics make students feel uncomfortable. On the opposite side, their are people who argue that people should feel safe at universities. I disagree with both arguments.

While I agree in part with those who don’t advocate trigger warnings, I think it depends on what we mean by “trigger.” In lay people terms, “trigger” simply means something that makes someone uncomfortable. Most of the time, I think we are talking about making someone more than a little uncomfortable. Usually, the person triggered has experienced trauma, so “uncomfortable” is an understatement.

Still, it really depends on the trauma victim. I’m a survivor of abuse, and uncomfortable is generally the correct term for what I experience when abuse is brought up in conversation, books, and the like. However, not every trauma victim is as lucky as I am. Some experience PTSD, and this is a very different thing. Uncomfortable for these people is a very drastic understatement, when speaking about triggers.

Students who have PTSD are the ones I’m concerned about; because, I agree universities should be in the business of talking about uncomfortable topics. However, there are veterans, for example, who could potentially have PTSD who use GI bills to pay for school. Now some would argue trauma victims should seek treatment. Well, yes, they should. Still, they have a right to an education. Meanwhile, if someone is so emotionally damaged that they cannot handle even moderate triggers, then perhaps they should postpone an education.

I’m neither 100% for or against trigger warnings. I, do, think it depends on the content. A university professor, for example, should not be in the business of using gunshot noises without warning. Although, I do not know how that scenario would happen. Perhaps, what is needed is not so much trigger warnings. Instead, course should make clear the topics of the coursework during registration. This could simply be addressed in a subject line and some amount of an about section.

However, let me be clear: universities should not water down the material or coursework.