Lack of trigger warnings absurd, unsafe for many

“Viewer discretion is advised.”

For decades, regulatory organizations have affixed everything from movies to television shows to video games with this sort of message. Ideally, this gives people a fair warning before they see something that could upset them or, worse, remind them of past traumatic experiences.

It is high time for academia to join in and to enter the 21st century with the rest of us.

Teachers assigning material that deals with violence, sexual assault and other potentially upsetting subject matter without cautioning students is not only insensitive — it smacks of arrogance. It is presumptuous not to consider the mental wellbeing of a student before wantonly assigning material without even a simple warning. Assuming a sexual assault survivor will handle a depiction of rape the same way as somebody who has not is a caustic example of “one-size-fits-all” education.

To teach these works without letting students know what to expect is a patently absurd idea, one that therapists would sneer at. At the very least, a cursory warning should be included indicating the types of subjects being dealt with. Critics of trigger warnings would have us believe that this courtesy could “coddle” students, allowing them to block out ideas that they don’t like. This is a false accusation, and blatantly misrepresents the issue at hand. Triggering a person can cause them to relive past events of abuse, assault, etc., which is not exactly a great way to spend a Monday morning.

Trigger warnings, also known as content warnings, tell students what will be studied and discussed. It can circumvent the aforementioned triggering. These warnings give the student time to mentally brace themselves and to formulate a way to cope with the material ahead of them, allowing them to be more engaged in the classroom. Again, it’s not unlike the “graphic content advisory” you’d see before an intense episode of a television show.

For students to talk about potentially difficult and triggering material, safe spaces can be arranged as a supplement to therapy. For survivors of sexual trauma and abuse, discussing and working through their triggers is healthy and productive. Critics of these types of meetings often damn some of the approaches to stress relief implemented, such as using coloring books. Frankly, those opinions are irrelevant, considering the voluntary and non-obtrusive nature of safe spaces. Only in emotionally-repressed America would the emotional communication of others be something worth arguing over.

Treating triggering subject matter with care can allow a student to work through past issues in a healthy way, leaving them more equipped for the world at large. And if it doesn’t, so be it. It is not our job to judge how they handle their emotional baggage. It is, however, our moral obligation to have empathy for others’ suffering and to not turn their struggles into a petty argument.