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Trigger Warnings Abound

By: Matt Olson, Copy Editor

The Fall 2015 semester began Monday, and students are preparing – if they aren’t already prepared – to learn about a wide variety of subjects and topics. However, a certain movement stands to impede that learning with so-called “trigger warnings.”

Trigger warnings were initially designed to help veterans struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to avoid events that would trigger flashbacks. They were also utilized by writers and bloggers to make sensitive readers aware of issues such as sexual assault, which may also trigger flashbacks.

However, trigger warnings have been co-opted by an extreme branch of the political correctness movement and by those blind to privilege to prevent students from having to learn about anything that might make them uncomfortable. This notion is detrimental to the very idea of learning.

Trigger warnings have been discussed primarily in literature classes – primarily regarding sexual assault – but can extend to psychology and sociology courses – regarding issues as diverse as sexism, racism, homophobia and classism. Jeannie Suk’s New Yorker article “The Trouble With Teaching Rape Law” details how law students at Harvard University want trigger warnings to be included with courses involving rape law and how some students prefer not to discuss the subject at all.

The problem with using trigger warnings so often and for such broad reasons is that doing so impedes learning about important subjects. Law students should have to learn about rape law regardless of how it makes them feel. If they don’t, then what use will they be to rape victims? Or will these victims be turned away simply because they constitute walking, talking trigger warnings?

Furthermore, learning about controversial issues is supposed to make students uncomfortable, especially in classes such as psychology and sociology. Male students should learn about issues women face just as heterosexual students should learn about issues LGBTQ individuals face. White students should learn about white privilege. Students from wealthy families should learn about the advantages they have over students from poor backgrounds.

Political correctness and trigger warnings are not without their uses, and people who call for trigger warnings sometimes have legitimate reasons to do so. A university should be inclusive to all walks of life, and students should be aware that they will learn about and discuss issues which may make them uncomfortable.

At the same time, by unnecessarily avoiding these issues, students are only harming themselves. By making others unnecessarily avoid these issues, students are harming themselves and others.

As the semester begins, students should be willing to open themselves up to new ideas, one of the fundamental reasons for going to college in the first place. Sure, certain subjects may cause discomfort, but discussing the issues leads to understanding while censoring them only causes additional discomfort.

Universities are learning environments. Learning is not always comfortable. Maintaining that comfort prevents effective learning in many subjects. Don’t deny yourself – or others – the right to learn about these sorts of issues.

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