‘Trigger warnings’: What are they and why do colleges want them?

‘Trigger warnings’: What are they and why do colleges want them?

Warning: This literary work is rated R for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use, and violence throughout. Which work? Who cares? Campuses across the country are “wrestling with student requests for what are known as ‘trigger warnings,’” the New York Times reports. These are “explicit alerts that the material they [students] are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans”:

The warnings, which have their ideological roots in feminist thought, have gained the most traction at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where the student government formally called for them. But there have been similar requests from students at Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, George Washington University and other schools.

In short, there is something offensive for everyone. For Jews, there is “The Merchant of Venice.” For blacks, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and — more pointedly — Joseph Conrad’s “The Nigger African American of the ‘Narcissus’.”

The Times notes that a draft guide was circulated at Oberlin that would ask professors to put trigger warnings in their syllabuses, flagging anything that might conceivably “disrupt a student’s learning” and “cause trauma.” What kinds of things?

Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression. Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or understand.

“Cissexism,” James Taranto notes, “refers to prejudice in favor of men and women who identify themselves, respectively, as men and women.”

Taranto also observes interestingly:

At first glance this looks like just the latest politically correct excess, but it’s distinct in some ways. For one, the faculty is resisting: “The debate has left many academics fuming, saying that professors should be trusted to use common sense and that being provocative is part of their mandate.” Lisa Hajjar, a sociology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, tells the paper: “Any kind of blanket trigger policy is inimical to academic freedom…. The presumption … that students should not be forced to deal with something that makes them uncomfortable is absurd or even dangerous.”

In other words, students should not be shielded from life’s occasional unpleasantness, nor should they enter college with the expectation that they will be. Dealing with hatred and ignorance in its many guises should be one of life’s lesson, along with learning to suffer fools. Students who take courses with Lisa Hajjar (aka, the jihdanik professor) get a sampling of both. According to CampusWatch, “Hajjar has made an entire academic career out of bashing the United States and Israel for their supposed use of ‘torture’ against Arabs” and has denounced “the occupation” by imperialists “of Palestine, Afghanistan and all other colonized areas.”

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Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.


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