Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

The Ethics of Trigger Warnings in the Classroom May 26, 2014

Trigger warnings (definition in the link) are a mainstay on many blogs and internet forums. People are also now starting to use them in books and on classroom syllabi. In response to this, there’s been a huge surge in articles discussing the ethics of using them. Most of these pieces worry that they do more harm than good.

Here’s a sampling of articles, op eds, and blog posts:

Salon. New York Times. NYT Op Ed.  New Republic. Los Angeles Times. The Atlantic. NY Mag. Huff Po. Mother Jones. Jezebel.
If you google “trigger warnings” and under “search tools” set the time frame to within one week (as of today, May 26th), you’ll find dozens more of them.

I take it that most of us can easily imagine the main arguments for using trigger warnings in the classroom: you are giving people a heads about about the material they are about to encounter, so that they can make better informed decisions about how and whether to engage the material, and you are signaling that you understand the severity of the material and consider it a valid decision if students to do not wish to engage the material at this time.

There are a lot of arguments in these articles against using trigger warnings in such a way. Many of them are bad arguments–they conflate serious trauma with any level of momentary discomfort, they seem to not understand how PTSD and anxiety disorders work at the most basic level, they trade on stereotypes of feminists wanting to keep people in a state of perpetual victimhood (thanks to Kate Manne for pointing this one out), and they don’t acknowledge the sheer levels of paternalism involved in their suggestions.

There are, however, some very thoughtful arguments and considerations that raise concerns about how we use trigger warnings and how we follow through with them. I quote some below, along with points in favor of using trigger warnings in the classroom. Comments are open and moderated.

“As someone who studies PTSD from several different perspectives and works with people who actually have PTSD, I think what is interesting about this conversation is that it seems like a basic understanding of trauma and PTSD is almost entirely missing. People who truly have PTSD are ‘triggered’ all the time. By many things. Most of which are not directly related to their trauma. Noises, smells, tastes, phrases, tactile experiences, thoughts, etc. etc. One of the most – if not the most – disruptive part of having PTSD is isolation. Feeling like what you’ve experienced is something that no one else can understand. Feeling like you are not like everyone else and never will be again. If we slap trigger warnings on books that mention war, I worry that we are further isolating the people who need just the opposite. I worry – particularly when it comes to combat related PTSD which the NYT article addresses – that we are sending a message that says, “You’re right. What you’ve been through is so terrible, what you’ve done is so inhuman that we cannot even talk about it.” I worry that though this is intended to come from a protective place that it sends the opposite message. The message that the rest of us don’t want to hear it, don’t want to have to worry about your emotions spilling over. People who have been traumatized – in my opinion – don’t need to be protected from being re-triggered. What they need is empathy. Instead of trigger warnings on syllabi, maybe we should have some classes (and trainings for profs) that attempt to understand trauma and PTSD so that we can all be better witnesses instead of just continuing to shut it all away.”
–Mary Catherine McDonald, philosopher

 

“I’ve used [...trigger warnings] for graphic/sensitive material in my ethics classes (e.g., FGM, sexual assault) for a number of different reasons. Most obviously, there are students who really do need to opt out of discussions which may leave them feeling vulnerable and reeling because of past trauma. Nobody has opted to opt out yet, but I have been thanked for the warning, because it helped a student mentally prepare for what they were aware (and were aware that I was aware) could be an emotionally wrenching discussion. Also, as that brings out, being given a choice can be valuable in its expressive or symbolic value, even if it isn’t exercised or something which it would be good for that particular student to exercise in this instance. Namely, it says to them that opting out would be respected by me and that I am not assuming that they are all clearly going to be fine with talking through anything and everything which might be important to talk about in an ethics class in particular. And that they are not being excluded from philosophy in general if they are not prepared to participate in a more or less unpredictable discussion of (e.g.) bodily mutilation or sexual assault. Finally, and equally importantly, it signals to everyone else – i.e., the students who have no need whatsoever to opt out of the discussion – that this is a morally serious subject which we are going to approach in a morally serious way, remembering that what we are talking about real lives, real bodies, and real social practices.”
–Kate Manne, philosopher

 

“…It’s almost utterly unpredictable what will trigger people. It’s often not the topics themselves, but the smallest thing that unless someone *knows* is a trigger for me (for example), there’s no way they could have given adequate warning. And given my intersectional identity, things that are triggers for other people with sufficiently similar identities may not be triggers for me. This is related to the dilution worry: we’d have to essentially say: “This course may contain triggers.” If we tried to list them all, we’d fail (because we can’t predict how something we think is benign and unrelated is really someone’s #1 trigger) and the list would be massive.”
–Rachel McKinnon, philosopher

 

“…part of what we as educators, parents and students have to recognize is that classroom spaces in which difficult topics like trauma, rape, war, race and sexuality are discussed are already unsafe. When students of color who have endured racism have to hear racially insensitive comments from other students who are in the process of learning, the classroom is unsafe. The classroom is unsafe for trans students who are often referred to by the wrong gender pronoun by both students and teachers. The classroom is unsafe for rape survivors who encounter students in the process of learning why getting drunk at a party does not mean a woman deserves to be raped.”
–Brittney Cooper, writer, Salon (linked above)

 

“I kind of know where these critics are coming from, because I used to be one of them. I publicly joked that sappy songs required trigger warnings, and I privately complained that they were as infantilizing as spoiler alerts. But now that trigger warnings have gone mainstream, I find I’ve come full circle. Why should trigger warnings bother me? Like many of trigger warnings’ loudest opponents, I have noticed, I have no firsthand experience with rape or racial discrimination or cissexism. And a few words at the beginning of an article (or on a seminar syllabus) are no skin off my un-traumatized nose. In fact, what now strikes me most about trigger warnings is how small a request they are, in proportion to the backlash they incite. What is it about about this entirely free gesture of empathy that makes people so outraged? In their distress, critics have entirely overlooked an important distinction: Oberlin students aren’t trying to get out of reading Mrs. Dalloway because they’re special, sensitive snowflakes, or even get it removed from syllabi. They just want a three-word note on the syllabus giving them a heads-up that it addresses suicide. If that’s all it takes for instructors to prevent the shock it could cause a student who has been suicidal, it is, to me, a no-brainer.”
–Kat Stoeffel, writer, NY Mag (linked above)

 

“Kids in college are thought of as these young, naïve, uncorrupted youngsters who need knowledge dropped on them hard, but it gives me pause to acknowledge how many of them have been sexually assaulted or seen trauma already. Regardless of what you think we should do about that, it’s heartbreaking to think that some students begin an experience meant to challenge them already deeply challenged and fragile enough that they aren’t able to experience the positive cognitive dissonance being offered through an education.”
–Tracy Moore, writer, Jezebel (linked above)

 

 

 

 

What is it like to do a PhD with disability & chronic illness? March 24, 2014

Filed under: academia,disability,health,mental health — hippocampa @ 12:41 pm

bw2fa7xcqaad-qe[1]@zaranosaur‘s own experiences with having to juggle her chronic illness while trying to do a PhD led her to start a blog on just that: what it’s like to do a PhD with a disability & chronic illness with the accompanying twitter ID @PhDisabled. From the website:

The experiences of disabled PhD students are seldom heard in the world at large.  This is despite the fact that there are many out there whose doctoral efforts are inextricably shaped by their experience as PhD students with disability or chronic illness.

Our goal is to create a space for PhD students with disability or chronic illness to share their experiences.  It is only by sharing these experiences that we realise that we who walk this path are not alone.  It is only by sharing these experiences, by beginning to talk openly about them, that we can hope that things will one day improve.

We welcome submissions from all PhD students, past, present or otherwise, on all aspects of the experience at the intersection of academia, disability and chronic illness.

People are invited to share their stories and the response is overwhelming. Also check out the hashtag #AcademicAbleism.

 

I Guess We Need to Explicitly Say That Suicide is Not a Fashion Statement June 18, 2013

Filed under: mental health — Stacey Goguen @ 4:27 am

I can’t add much else to the observation that, “this seems like some distinctive pinnacle of awfulness.”
(Thanks to RK for the heads up)

 

“Vice Published a Fashion Spread of Female Writer Suicides”
(Heads up: there are pictures of models depicting suicides.)

Okay, I can add this.  For all I know, inside a moral vacuum maybe implying that suicide is beautiful isn’t immoral.  But I feel confident in the assertion that in a social context where a segment of the population is encouraged to believe that they are only valuable members of society insofar as they are capable of being beautiful, emphasizing that such people can be beautiful and stylish while committing suicide is pretty damn immoral. And I am equally confident in asserting that we currently live in such a social context.

I’m going to take this opportunity to provide some links and quotes:
If you are feeling suicidal:
http://www.helpguide.org/mental/suicide_help.htm

(more after the jump)
(more…)

 

Man held in solitary confinement for two years with no trial March 8, 2013

Filed under: mental health,police — Monkey @ 9:10 am

A horrifying and scarcely believable tale from New Mexico – Stephen Slevin was arrested in 2005 for drink driving and on suspicion of driving a stolen car. Reports say that the car actually belonged to a friend who had lent it to him. Slevin suffered from long-term mental health issues. Consequently, he was thrown into solitary confinement, and left there for two years. His case seems to have never gone to court. Instead, the authorities forgot about him and he was left there to rot. His physical and mental health deteriorated – he lost a large amount of his body weight, developed bed sores, a fungal skin infection, and had to pull his own rotten teeth as he was denied dental treatment. He became more and more depressed and desperate until he entered a delirium. He cannot remember much of his time in prison. Slevin’s sister, who lived some distance away, eventually discovered the conditions in which her brother was being held. His family then began petitioning for his release. He was eventually allowed to leave jail in 2007. The case against him was dropped. Slevin took his case to court, and was awarded $22 million in compensation. The New Mexico authorities contested the payout, and he has now settled for $15 million. Slevin says the lawsuit was never about the money. He wanted to try and prevent others from suffering the same fate. “Prison officials were walking by me every day, watching me deteriorate. … Day after day after day, they did nothing, nothing at all, to get me any help.” You can read more from the Huff Post here.

 

Sandra Jensen: Why she kicks ass February 7, 2013

In a black and white photo, a woman stands outside by a table, microphone in hand. She has shoulder length straight hair and glasses. She is wearing a dress and sandals. She is smiling.

I found this short bio on tumblr and wanted to share it:

Sandra Jensen: Why she kicks ass

  • She devoted lots of her time working as an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities; she worked part time as well as being heavily involved in volunteering.
  • She was denied a heart-lung transplant by the Stanford University School of Medicine in California because she had Down syndrome. She then (along with supporters) began a very public battle, gaining nationwide attention arguing that Down syndrome should not be enough to automatically deprive a patient of a chance to survive, this resulted in her receiving the transplant (1996).
  • She became the first person with Down Syndrome to ever receive a heart-lung transplant.

I’ll be over here in awe

 

I also found her obituary from 1997, which you can read here.

Jensen, an activist for disabled rights, served as president of a Sacramento disabled-rights group and was invited to watch then-President George Bush sign the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Despite her disabilities, Jensen lived on her own, graduating from high school and busing tables at the Capitol cafeteria.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information about her or her story online, but I did find this report, which is taken from NYT and US News articles.

 

Living on the margins in modern Britain January 7, 2013

Filed under: class,colonialism,mental health,politics,poverty,prostitution,work — Monkey @ 5:04 pm

What makes a life in modern Britain go well? Doing ok involves keeping oneself (and maybe dependent loved ones) fed, warm, and sheltered; being part of human networks that provide emotional and practical support; possessing the emotional and cognitive tools to function day-to-day, and navigate life’s obstacles; being born in a geographical location that means one finds oneself on the right side of borders legislation; existing in a cultural niche where one is presented with opportunities, other than robbing, drugs, and violence. Doing ok in modern Britain depends to a large extent on luck – accidents of birth and upbringing, together with other factors that are mostly beyond one’s control. For those who are unlucky, life is tough. Journalist, Laura Page, interviews five people living on the margins in modern Britain.

 

Survey on experiences of faculty with mental-health diagnoses or issues November 9, 2012

Filed under: academia,disability,mental health — Heg @ 9:24 am

This sounds like a really important survey, especially in view of some of the experiences described at Disabled Philosophers, and they’re encouraging people from outside the US to respond, too.  Go fill it in!

We (Margaret Price of Spelman College; Mark Salzer and Alyssa Balletta of Temple University; and Stephanie Kerschbaum of the University of Delaware) have just launched a survey that aims to gather information about disclosures of mental health issues among faculty.

This is the first large-scale survey that aims to gather information not only about how many faculty members experience mental health issues, but also what that experience is like and how it affects their work lives.

Who can take the survey: Anyone who has received mental-health care and/or a mental-health diagnosis. For the purposes of this study, faculty member means someone who is employed (part- or full-time) at an institution of higher education and is not a graduate student. Faculty members may have titles including “instructor,” “lecturer,” “professor,” or another title.

What the survey covers: The survey asks about topics including diagnoses, hospitalizations, relations with co-workers, and experiences of disclosure at work. We understand that some of these topics may be distressing or triggering, and we have taken great care to ensure that the survey is as safe as possible. It is completely anonymous, and participants may skip any questions they wish.

How long it takes: Pilot testers found that the survey takes about 15 minutes, although this will depend upon each participant’s particular speed and how much open-ended information is included.

Further information: If you have any questions about this research project, please email us at facultydisclosureproject@gmail.com. You may also email facultydisclosureproject@gmail.com if you’d like to take part in the interview portion of the study but would rather not fill out the survey.

Thank you very much for helping to spread the word.

Warmly,

Margaret Price
Mark Salzer
Alyssa Balletta
Stephanie Kerschbaum

(Also, I really recommend Margaret Price’s book Mad at School. Thanks for writing it, Margaret.)

 

On Insults September 12, 2012

Filed under: bullying,disability,mental health,silencing,survival strategies,violence — Stacey Goguen @ 2:41 am

NSFW:  I use swears/slurs in this post.

I recently got into a discussion with a few of the other bloggers on this site about insults and blog etiquette, particularly in light of ableism.
(Here’s a starting point if you’re not familiar with the concept.  If you are interested in reading more on ableism or activism for mental health, I recommend the blogger Daisy Bee at Suicidal No More, who is a fantastic writer and incredible human being and Renee at Womanist Musings who has an seemingly endless amount of stamina when it comes to social justice and calling out bullshit.  Neither of these blogs are of the ‘101’ variety so please be aware of that should you choose to leave a comment on either.)

To sum up the issue at hand: I think using the word “crazy” to insult people is somewhere in the territory of using a slur.  I think it only works as an insult because it is relying on the stigmatized status of people with a mental illness.  It’s an easy and nasty way to silence people, claim that their perspective is illegitimate, and dehumanize them.  In future posts of my own I’m probably going to ask commenters to not use that word or similar words in this manner.

 

This is a controversial stance, though, even in the context of anti-ableism and anti-sexism.  I invite others to think about this along with me.  My own thoughts on insults and especially the word “crazy” have changed drastically in the past five years, and I expect them to morph further in the years to come.  While personal insults might seem trivial in the grand scheme of things politically, I take the concept of  “safe spaces” very seriously, even if they are ultimately ideals that are unachievable in theory or practice. (This is not to imply that others don’t take this seriously, but only to articulate my own priorities.)

Also please note: I’m not arguing that the word “crazy” should be stricken wholly from the English language.  Also, in this context, I’m much less concerned about words with sketchy histories than I am with words that trade on current oppression to silence and insult people.  However, maybe I’m wrong in thinking that I can make that division and at least temporarily avoid the slippery slope concern.

 

(much more after the jump)
(more…)

 

France’s psychoanalytic approach to autism: Watch and weep? January 23, 2012

Filed under: family,medicine,mental health — annejjacobson @ 7:44 pm

The clip below is actually a documentary that looks at the difference between two kinds of treatment of children diagnosed as autistic.  One is receiving “American” interventions and one receiving the standard (in France) psychoanalytic approach.

The film has been the subject of lawsuits, with some analysts interviewed claiming that they are misrepresented.  For more, see the NY Times.

When you watch it, don’t miss the alligator as the mother, apparently a la Lacan.  The discussion of what the pencil represents is wonderful.  One would love a psychoanallytic account of who arrived at the idea of the father’s putting his penis in the alligator’s mouth.  Hmmm.  New paper:  why Freud hated men.

 

Hume on the Cancer Ward: What creates benevolence zones? July 17, 2011

Filed under: academia,medicine,mental health — anonfemphil @ 10:01 pm

Hume thought that we can pick up others’ feelings and that doing so inclines us to act.  In particular, feeling their pain moves us to try to relieve it.  The connection between acquired feeling and action seems to be quite direct.  That is, it isn’t mediated by thoughts of how one will appear to others, or indeed any such thing.

One worrying feature of the account is that if one does really pick up others’ pain, doesn’t it make sense to try to get away from them?  I suspect a lot of us do react rather like that; I have always assumed I’d be a reluctant and not very helpful visitor on a ward for sick children, for example.  So what is the connection Hume thinks exists?

But in addition to that problem, we may feel that there’s another problem:  How does someone’s benefit end up one of one’s own goals?  Hume recognizes that we may be helpful for all sorts of self-regarding reasons, but he also thinks most of us have the capacity for co-feeling – for what he calls sympathy – and that that leads to benevolent, helpful action for those in distress.

We now have a model of how we produce actions that are basically or primitively rewarding, and Hume’s thought could be understood to say that human beings find helping those in distress primitively rewarding (other things being equal, of course)..  The neuroscientific account, to put it very roughly, says that if something is primitively rewarding, then you get a burst of dopamine when you first do it.  After a short while, the dopamine burst occurs in reaction to reliable antecedents of the reward, so you are alerted when the chance for the reward is coming up.  Among the primitive rewards are things like food and sex, and, maybe, helping others out when they need it. 

I’ve thought about Hume’s views, and even written about them, and it was on my mind when I stepped foot for the first time in MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.  US News and World Report has it the top cancer center in the US, and it is – really and truly – something else again.  It covers 25 square blocks, all of which are devoted to clinical and research work on cancer.  It also has a quite remarkable ethos.  Everything is supposed to be about the patients.  For example, when you go into their parking garages, the best and most easily available places are for ordinary folk.  Every medical facility I’ve been to other than this has the first four or five floors reserved for doctors and other personnel.  (I was at first quite suspicious and worried about getting towed.)

Where I was you take the elevator from the garage to the second floor, where you find another distinctive mark of MD Anderson:  tons and tons of nice, friendly volunteers who offer to help you find your way around.

And there are also a large number of cancer patients, some in perhaps tragic situations.  You can see family clusters, with a mother, father, with two young people in their 20’s; one’s got the hat on and so may well be the patient.  Small children are wheeled around.  One older man could hardly move; he was heaving, having a hard time breathing.  His wife told the nurse he thought he had a clot in his leg, a not impossible result of his treatment. 

And none of it seems ugly and distressing.  Everyone seemed helpful and nice.  And one wanted to help as one could.  It seemed to me very remarkable.  And I tried to figure out what was going on.

I’d love to know if anyone else has been in what one might think of as a zone of benevolence.  What could cause it?   My latest hypothesis is that many people have their defenses lowered.  This is not at all like being in a crowded restaurant, where people are turned inward to themselves and their small groups.  For example, I pulled something on an alarmingly reclining chair and it may a loud noise and rearranged itself.  One woman left her patient companion and came over to offer help.  Of course, she might just have been looking for diversion, but I’m not sure that we run about helping people when we’re bored.

Another might be that there’s really extensive gratitude for the excellence everyone seems to aim at.  The reviews of the hospital talk again and again about excellence and compassion.  In fact, I’d dismiss my own impressions as probably fleeting, except for the fact that a lot of reviews from people who have been involved for a long time say much the same thing.

If it were excellence and compassion, perhaps we could aim for something similar in our universities.  Well, why not!?!

 

 
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