In Defense of Trigger Warnings (… as a Practice, not a Policy)

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2 Responses

  1. Jera D. says:

    I’ve survived trauma. It’s a wound on my psyche that’s never going to go away. Every week, something innocuous bumps or brushes against it – some event in my surroundings, like a crying child; or something I watch on a torrented TV series, like a domestic abuse scene – causing time to slow to the point that I can measure the time between heartbeats, and I’m revisited by the old terrors of my past.

    But still, I think that the use of trigger warnings is a sort of.. excuse for weakness. It’s feels like a permission, or rather some kind of patronizing assurance.

    It tells me that other people care about what I went through.

    It tells me a lie, and I hate being lied to.

  2. SteveKobs says:

    Markus, maybe you can answer a few questions for me. I honestly, don’t fully understand what a “trigger” or a “trigger warning” is. And I’m not sure how I am supposed to respond if someone feels they may be “triggered” by material that is reasonably understood as benign. (The New York Times article you link to posts a few topics I think most sociologists would consider to be reasonably benign.)

    I usually end up teaching social problems, deviance, and other classes some students and professors view as “depressing topics.” Many of the topics discussed in my courses can be difficult to deal with.

    As of now, I tell my students at the start of the semester, “We deal with difficult topics in this course. The journal articles, the movies, and discussions we will have deal with violence, self-injury, sex, sexual deviance, sexual violence, and other sensitive topics, however, if these are topics you are uncomfortable with and unable to discuss, you should take a different course.”

    Does this count as a “trigger warning”? I am being unfair to my students by saying this what the course is about, and if you don’t want to discuss these things, don’t take the class? Should I have more warnings?

    What am I supposed to do if my classes will trigger someone time and time again? I play a rather difficult film on prostitution in my class, which contains a rape scene. I warn students before we watch the movie and I have offered an alternative movie to individuals that simply tell me, “I don’t think I can watch this movie.” However, what should I do if this same student is triggered every other week? What if a student doesn’t want to discuss race? Should I excuse someone from reading one of Wacquant’s books? What if a very wealthy kid doesn’t want to discuss Power Theory, because he/she feels may trigger him/her? What about Stigma? Could learning about stigmas count as a trigger?

    At what point do topics that trigger become something that people use to simply avoid topics they don’t want to discuss because they are hard and difficult in general? Has there been any study on what students define as “triggers” and what they are actually “triggering”? Are these “triggers” only being used by those who need to shield themselves from experiencing severe emotional distress or are they being used by people who don’t want to discuss difficult topics?

    I do not want to cause harm to my students, but I certainly want to challenge them and expose them to and help them understand some of the more difficult things that occur within society.

    Additionally, if classism, racism, and sexism are all triggers, what can we, as sociologists, discuss?

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