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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

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.

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About the Contributor
Elias Blondeau, Staff Writer

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  • C

    ChrisFeb 19, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    So ESRB should be assigning audience ratings for homework assignments?

  • W

    WalterFeb 19, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    “PTSD is a serious issue among survivors of everything from rape to terrorist attacks like 9/11. But if students are suffering from PTSD to the extent that even curricular mentions of violence (sexual or otherwise) bring on symptoms of the disorder, that’s an actual mental health problem that should be addressed by medical or counseling professionals—not faculty making their best guesses at which Shakespeare play is too much for their students to handle.

    If it were possible to live in a world without triggering events, the arguments advanced by trigger warning advocates might have more merit. But students will eventually leave campus, entering a world filled with triggers—sights, smells, sounds, and traumatic events alike. Attempts to create a bubble-wrapped campus environment devoid of triggers is doomed to failure because of their unpredictable nature. Even if such an effort were to succeed, the “best” possible outcome would be to delay the diagnosis and treatment of students with PTSD for four years, rather than getting them the help they will need to deal with life after college.”

    The Shibleys’ article (taken from does a great job of explaining why the paternalistic warning system you’re advocating for is a terrible idea. I’d recommend you give it a read.