The Ethics of Trigger Warnings in the Classroom

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)

 

 

 

22 thoughts on “The Ethics of Trigger Warnings in the Classroom

  1. I had a major flashback after reading parts of Nel Noddings’ “Caring.” I would’ve never thought that something about the ethics of care could be a trigger! I realized through working with the flashback that what is more important than a trigger warning is giving us tools to get through whatever might come up as I was grateful to have access to tools and resources that turned this episode into another healing experience.

    Although I agree with the idea that trigger warnings can help us mentally prepare, as Kate Manne points out, which is really, really important, I also think it would be very helpful to point students to resources and maybe even try to set up a classroom environment that is safe enough for people to talk about what was brought up so that we can stop the silencing. At least for me, some of the most empowering experiences included being able to talk about having been raped and having been in an abusive marriage – and getting the sense that people got that this could happen to any woman.

  2. Stacey, thanks for a great post, and I’m honored to have what I said included among the interesting views expressed here. And RachelAB, thanks for your comment, and I think your point is incredibly important. I say something along what I hope might be complementary lines in a FB note where I tried to explain some of my thoughts on this more fully. If the moderators don’t mind my copying and pasting a couple of lines from it (since I’m running short on the time it’d take to paraphrase them properly), what I say there is that my issuing a trigger warning is fully compatible with knowing – and I myself fully expect – that some students who may or will in fact find certain discussions triggering will need and want to engage in the discussion all the more so. It seems important here to remember how trigger warnings are typically used in practice, in internet communities primarily. The implication is rarely that people with the relevant traumatic experiences are well-advised to simply steer clear of the discussion. On the contrary, trigger warnings are often included at the top of posts primarily written by traumatized people for traumatized people (as well as those who care about them and who want to understand trauma better) to read or engage with at a moment of their choosing. As this suggests and as I strongly believe, trigger warnings can be agency-enhancing when they’re used properly.

  3. Quite honestly, I think nearly all philosophy is for me a trigger. It doesn’t take long before some pretty unpleasant-to-horrible scene pops into my mind. Fortunately, I can move on. Through practice.

  4. Thanks for the excellent post and discussion! I’d never made the connection between trigger warnings and agency (from Kate Manne’s comment), nor did I know that people’s PTSD can be triggered by things not obviously related to their trauma (from Mary McDonald’s and Rachel McKinnon’s advice).

    There’s something I’ve been wondering about this issue, which comes up in a couple of the linked articles. Let’s grant that trigger warnings are a good idea and that professors would be able to use them competently. How should we get professors to use them? The most obvious thing to do, which is discussed in the Salon article, is to push for formal rules saying what kinds of content needs a warning. As the article points out, there’s a risk that the rules will be abused by closed-minded students, or that they’ll end up discouraging professors from assigning readings with tons of triggers. (How are you supposed to document all of the triggers in a book like Stone Butch Blues, or even in a less obviously trigger-y novel like A Hundred Years of Solitude?)

    One other formal way of going about it would be to have professors go through training. (As an incoming grad student, I have no way of knowing how well this might work!) And there’s always the informal route: keep the blogs buzzing about trigger warnings, and try to encourage each other to use them.

    So, open question: Which of these ways is best? (Also, are there any worthy options that haven’t been mentioned yet?)

  5. I’m a little surprised by Mary Catherine McDonald’s claim that trigger warnings betray a total misunderstanding of trauma, as they emerged in the blogosphere as a way for “people who actually have PTSD” to be considerate of each other. (There is also something about her locution “people who actually have PTSD” that elicits the reaction in me that I must not be a member of the set of people under discussion so should defer to the authority of her judgment, even though I have the paperwork to support my credentials as an honest-to-god crazy trauma survivor. It’s odd and alienating that she would begin from the assumption that nobody with any material stake in this discussion is actually participating.) My understanding of her comment is that people with PTSD need empathy, but that empathy should not take the form of providing any information in advance that would help them have some control over their exposure to material explicitly about the thing that gave them PTSD, because that would be isolating somehow. As someone who “truly” has PTSD, I can attest that it is also pretty isolating to be in a classroom environment where, e.g., rape is suddenly being used as a case study for the subject that was on the syllabus, without warning; I have been raped dozens of times in the course of a violent relationship, and find it troubling and disorienting to be in the middle of a no-holds-barred discussion about the phenomenon of sexual violence without having had an opportunity to prepare myself.

    (Such preparation has consisted for me of taking a klonopin before class to avert any potential incipient panic attacks; thinking through various obnoxious things people are likely to say about rape so I can have canned responses prepared, even if I don’t use them; bringing coffee or mints along so I can have a strong taste available to me if I feel my mind slipping out of the situation at hand and into a flashback, for use as a grounding strategy; or making a plan for some post-class reward even if the possibility of a time three hours in the future seems extremely unlikely to me. I left philosophy substantially because I am too raped for an environment where all topics including traumatic ones are subject to whatever scrutiny my cohort could come up with — like the speculation about whether gang rape is acceptable under a utilitarian worldview that Susan Brison describes having witnessed in her book Aftermath, this really happens — so I suppose I am not anyone’s administrative or policy problem anymore.)

    I appreciate Rachel McKinnon’s concern that there is no way to adequately advise all of her students about potential pitfalls in material she assigns, given that there is no way to have a complete picture of what has traumatized every student and how the aftershocks are affecting them. But I feel like making an effort to demonstrate that the interests of traumatized students ARE something that has occurred to us is better than nothing. Kate Manne’s observations about the symbolic value of offering a choice even if the choice is not exercised, and about content warnings on the syllabus being a way to advert to the fact that the phenomena under discussion are real people’s lived experiences and not hypothetical thought experiments, seem on the right track to me.

  6. Please be aware that Mary Catharine’s comment is taken from another context, specifically a post where I myself was coming down very hard in favor of always using trigger warnings. So her comment was in the spirit of balancing my own reaction with some words of caution as to the potential limit of TWs.

    Also, she’s not saying that use of TWs betrays a total lack of understanding. I believe her point is rather that discussions surrounding TWs tend to not acknowledge many of the important facts regarding trauma, that she and Rachel go over in their comments.

  7. Also that’s totally shitty and unfair that many of us in philosophy are still so cavalier with our examples that you had those kind of experiences in classes to the point of it not being worth it to stay.

  8. philosophy dropout: Thanks for the comments. As Stacey noted, she’s taken these quotes from a wider context. I have a variety of pretty detailed comments/policies on my syllabi that deal with (I hope! I’m open to suggestions for improvement) exactly your suggestion. I have a statement on inclusivity and accommodation *before* the reading schedule, partly in order to show how seriously I take these issues. Here it is:

    Statement on inclusivity and accommodation:
    Your success in this class is important to me. If there are circumstances that may affect your performance in this class, please let me know as soon as possible so that we can work together to develop strategies for adapting lectures, activities, and assignments to meet both your needs and the requirements of the course. If you’re not sure whether this applies to you, please speak to me. This includes discussing whether some topics are difficult or potentially triggering, and how that might be accommodated.

    I also have a statement on classroom decorum:

    Classroom Decorum:
    We will often discuss very controversial topics in class, sometimes challenging some of your most deeply held beliefs and values. Class is constructed to be a safer space to discuss such topics, but topics should always be discussed respectfully. There will be no personal attacks or comments. Language should be inclusive, which means, for example, not using masculine pronouns for the general case (e.g., “When someone is rational, he should maximize his expected utility.”) as it’s both ungrammatical and not inclusive. See the American Philosophy Association’s guidelines here: http://www.apaonlinecsw.org/apa-guidelines-for-non-sexist-use-of-language. It also means not using epithets that are offensive (e.g., “That’s so gay,” “That’s a retarded argument,” “That’s crazy”). Also, do not use what are known as “silencing techniques.” For an explanation on what these are, you can visit a blog post I wrote about them: http://www.newappsblog.com/2013/09/calling-out-silencing-techniques-in-class.html. This all applies to me as well. If you catch me breaking any of these rules, you have permission (respectfully) to immediately call me out on it, even publicly in class. I will do the same.

    People can feel free to copy or adapt these as they wish.

  9. Stacey, I appreciate your clarification that Mary Catherine’s remarks were situated in a broader context when she made them, and that they were not made in the spirit of hostility and condescension toward trauma survivors that so many of the articles in the trigger warning debate have evidenced. My raised hackles left over from the latest round of anti-survivor polemics definitely influenced the charitability of my reading, and I apologize for having imputed that motive to your comments, Mary Catherine. (Though I hope it is still understandable why it would be rather disconcerting to read “as someone who works with people who actually have PTSD… what is interesting about this conversation is that it seems like a basic understanding of trauma and PTSD is almost entirely missing” – as someone who “actually” has PTSD and has been involved in discussions about trigger warnings, I have a fairly robust understanding of trauma borne of extensive subject matter expertise, and I am not the only one!)

    Rachel, those are fantastic paragraphs for a syllabus, and I am grateful that you have shared them! If I had encountered them as a student I would have been reassured that bringing up material I would have trouble with in private was acceptable and that we would be able to collaborate on some kind of context-specific solution, which is certainly more consideration than I encountered as a student. Toward the end of my undergraduate degree I shied away from mentioning problems at all after having had bad experiences with instructors (e.g. being told that I should not have signed up for a course if I was going to have a problem with the material – it is not possible to evaluate whether I would have trouble or not if the syllabus is very vague and doesn’t indicate what will be under discussion!; and being advised that moderating discussions would have pedagogically averse effects, as philosophy requires us to exhaust all avenues of inquiry, which in this case included long “debates” by the rest of my cohort about whether or not this or that hypothetical event would “count” as “real” rape).

    I have one remaining qualm about Mary Catherine’s comment that trauma survivors need empathy and better witnesses rather than further isolation. It’s true! But I think it’s important that having their trauma borne witness to be on the survivor’s terms, rather than any potential witnesses, however willing and eager. It is not re-traumatizing to be triggered into a flashback in a room full of other people and have them ask me to explain my experience and feelings about it, but it is invasive, uncomfortable, and disrespectful. Other people are not entitled to trauma survivors’ vulnerability irrespective of how good their intentions are, and trauma survivors are not axiomatically other people’s learning experiences, is what I am trying to say.

    I think ideally the classroom would be a space where students could volunteer their own experiences to enrich conversation about traumatic subjects if they wanted to, and have their experience witnessed respectfully, but not without advance warning or extra discretion exercised on the part of the instructor.

  10. I completely agree that, “having their trauma borne witness to [should] be on the survivor’s terms, rather than any potential witnesses.” I don’t know if MC will comment on here, but my guess is that she would agree with that point, too. So that’s an important qualification to keep in mind if we are thinking about how to be better, more empathetic witnesses.

  11. Dear Philosophy Dropout,

    First of all, I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had such extensive personal experience with trauma and PTSD. I have had similar classroom experiences as you have had, and I know the intensity and pain of those emotions intimately.

    I appreciate your comments about my comment regarding trigger warnings. I do want to clarify a few things, as what you are reading into the language that I chose is not at all what I intended. Specifically the idea that my ‘actually’ meant to exclude people who had suffered from trauma themselves. Or the more worrisome implication that I meant that people who identify as traumatized have not suffered something that counts as ‘real’ trauma. I actually take a very liberal view on what constitutes trauma for an individual which I’m happy to go further into.

    The ‘actually’ was my attempt at addressing the issue from the point of view of people who have been traumatized, rather than speaking of them in the abstract. I found my hackles a bit raised, to be honest, that the articles about trigger warnings were speaking about those who had been traumatized in the abstract. I personally work with combat veterans, and I have had combat veterans in the classroom and I think that we as a society are failing them. Deeply. I think part of the problem stems from addressing them in the abstract.

    What I have experienced, which I find somewhat lacking in the literature on trauma (with a couple of notable exceptions), is the excruciating isolation that combat trauma victims are faced with as they try to reintegrate into society. I have had several conversations with combat veterans that center around their wish for other people to stop trying to treat them with kid gloves. When I warned a combat veteran student about some violence in a movie I was showing in class he was deeply offended. This shocked me, as I thought I was doing my job in warning him. My action came purely out of a deep and real concern that he would be triggered by the violence, but what I had missed was the possibility that I would make him feel more isolated and estranged by pointing it out. I’m grateful (and honored) that he was able to be open with me about it so that I can be aware of the possibility. That perspective was all I was hoping to articulate with my comment.

    I think we need to really think about how we are treating those who have been traumatized. And though I see the importance of trigger warnings, I think that we need to be careful that they do not further isolate those who need to feel less estranged by society because of their experiences.

    I’m currently writing on the phenomenology of combat trauma, and I’m arguing that we need the phenomenological perspective in order to better understand trauma and help those who have experienced it adapt to it. My comment was intended as a reminder that we need to take into account the first-person lived experience of trauma if we want to treat it well. I think that requires empathy.

    Regarding what empathy means – and the second comment that you make here – we are in complete agreement that the witnessing happen on the terms of the victim. In fact, this is the general spirit of my original comment. I do not imagine a situation in which students are forced to explain when they have been triggered and why, I think in the absence of an empathetic relationship this could certainly be re-traumatizing.

    The kind of empathy that I’m imagining – that I dream of – is both within and outside of the classroom. It’s not strictly the kind that requires an act of confession and an empathetic response. It’s the kind in which we all have a better understanding of trauma and just how prevalent it is in our society so that situations like the one that you and I have faced simply don’t occur. The kind that leads us to develop innovative ways to help each other adapt.

    Those are dreams though. For now, I just want us to think deeply about what we’re doing. That’s all.

  12. Hi MaryCatherine,

    Thanks for your reply. To be clear, my objection to your “actually” was its (inadvertent?) insinuation that trauma survivors with PTSD are not already participating in this conversation and speaking for themselves when they ask others to extend them the courtesy of providing a trigger warning. Not all contributors to this discussion are necessarily speaking about trauma survivors in the abstract, because many of us who are engaged with the subject are ourselves survivors of various traumas, with nuanced understandings of how trauma and PTSD affect our lives and behaviors. I am not sure which “we” you refer to when you suggest that “we need to take into account the first-person lived experience of trauma if we want to treat it well”.

    I can understand how your student who survived combat trauma would feel isolated and alienated by having been singled out for a warning about course content. Perhaps that particular alienation could be averted with a general announcement regarding course content like the one Rachel has posted from her syllabus above, directed to everyone’s attention and not just the attention of a specific individual who has not indicated in advance that they would find such a warning personally helpful. Or, if you are not comfortable issuing a general warning to your classes at large regarding potentially difficult content, an alternative would be giving some indication that students can contact you to discuss any concerns they may have in advance, as Rachel has also suggested; it may not be alienating in the same way to be treated differently from the rest of the students if one has opted in to that treatment, rather than having it presumed to be necessary by an instructor.

    As you are well aware from your research, and as you have articulated here, trauma survivors have some experience in common (e.g. the experience of feeling estranged from the rest of the world, or certain experiences symptomatic of PTSD such as hypervigilance, the sense of foreshortened future, etc.) — but there is no one way that trauma survivors are, and therefore no one specific way others ought to approach us as we navigate through our post-trauma worlds. You and I are certainly on the same page regarding our shared fervent wish for more empathy and understanding of trauma survivors’ experiences and more accommodation for individual survivors’ specific needs, which will always be context-dependent and will always require sensitivity and discretion from others.

    To contextualize my response to your initial remarks, I would like to advert to two new entries in the great trigger warning debate that have not been linked above and that evidence a certain lack of the empathy that you have in mind. Sarah Roff’s “Treatment, Not Trigger Warnings” published online last week by the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that students should avail themselves of university health centres if their mental health is so precarious that attending class might exacerbate their problems (I can attest that not attending class is a great way to expedite having one’s access to university health services cut off, and that having access to treatment in the first place is no guarantee that PTSD symptoms will be fixed immediately). And “We Won’t Use Trigger Warnings” published online today in Inside Higher Education, with seven coauthors including Elizabeth Freeman, protests that students might understand the presence of trigger warnings on course syllabi to indicate that universities are safer than they are, that they “may provide a dangerous illusion that a campus has solved or is systematically addressing its problems with sexual assault, racial aggression, and other forms of campus violence, when, in fact, the opposite may be true.”

    As you have said, trauma survivors are dramatically failed by the world around them (you mentioned combat trauma survivors specifically but I assume you would not exclude survivors of sexual and other traumas — I am thinking of the 55 colleges currently facing Title IX investigations into their apparent misconduct with respect to the treatment of sexual assaults on campuses, as a result of pressure from student groups like Our Harvard Can Do Better, ED Act Now, and Know Your IX). I think that means that we should be trying to treat one another more humanely with the limited resources available to us, not that we should give it all up as a bad job, and I think you would agree! But since empathy is expressly not the goal of many contributors to the discussion on trigger warnings, I am especially interested in ensuring that empathetic contributions are framed as carefully as they can be.

  13. philosophy dropout: I just wanted to extend my thanks for your being part of this conversation.

    Picking up on the IHE point about not wanting to suggest that universities are “safe spaces” (since they’re not), I’ve been having discussions with fellow queer activists and we’re increasingly of the mind that we should focus on creating *SAFER* not “safe” spaces for exactly the worries the author of the article raise. BUT that we are attempting to create safer spaces isn’t a reason not to use trigger warnings or other methods! I just don’t get their leap.

    This is related to my recent work against ally culture. I (and *many others*) have been burned far too often by “allies” who think that they’ve created “safe spaces.” Often the worst outcomes come at the hands of “allies” (in the form of gaslighting and utter resistance to criticism, for example).

  14. I suspect there’s also a worry here about expertise. The IHE article *sort of* raises the issue, but not quite. As a professor who has no training in professional psychology, I’m on very uncertain footing with using the word “trigger.” That’s to say I’m not qualified to determine what triggers, and I’m not qualified to decide who is being triggered and who isn’t.

    How I’ve handled this in the past (both in class and on social media) is to post something more akin to content labels: something that says “hey, this article discusses topics x, y, and z.” And one can do this without mentioning anything about triggering as a specific psychological phenomenon, and while remaining agnostic about whether the material specifically is likely to be a trigger. I leave that up to people who have more experience with these things. Perhaps this approach has drawbacks, though?

  15. Matt, speaking for myself, the terminology used to advert to content is less important to me than the actual fact of having my attention drawn to it in advance. “Contains sexual violence” is just as useful as “trigger warning for sexual violence” if I’m reading a synopsis of a movie before watching it, or asking a friend about a novel they’ve recommended to me, for example.

    I don’t think instructors should be at all in the business of evaluating the legitimacy or severity of students’ PTSD, because, as you have said, that’s not your training. Even if it were, I don’t think it’s especially relevant to the relationship between students and instructors in a classroom (you wouldn’t expect yourself to evaluate the health of a student who used a wheelchair, either — your students’ health is between them and their healthcare providers).

    I like how Jos Charles framed trigger warnings as an accessibility concern in the third part of the roundtable on trigger warnings that Entropy Magazine hosted; they pointed out that while trigger warnings may not be “de facto the way to do things, they are at least one way to account for folks with PTSD, autism, panic ‘disorder’, social anxiety, etc.” They add that leaving us unaccounted for “is to deny institutional access … to a group of underprivileged folks based on their perceived mental status — a status that largely depends on and is defined by these institutions.” I would also add, following MaryCatherine’s remarks above, that excluding the people with firsthand lived experience of the subject under consideration, however inadvertently, could only impoverish the discussion for everyone else.

    Rachel, thank you! And I’m very interested to hear that you have been writing on the perniciousness of allies. It had not occurred to me until I read your comment, but gaslighting is exactly the right word for some of the rhetorical contortions I have heard from people who are trying to convince me that an unsafe space is in fact safe and any perceived unsafety is a cognitive distortion on my part, or is anathema to our shared politics, or whatever. I agree with you that ally culture is very germane to this conversation.

    (In fact if you scroll down a little in the roundtable article, Sarah Schulman has kindly provided an interesting lesson in obfuscating what is being asked for when traumatized people request a heads-up in advance of exposure to content that triggers them. In the course of explaining that her interest is in cultivating “a conscious, accountable and healing culture”, she draws a parallel between perpetrators of violence and survivors of violence who ask their instructors for trigger warnings because both involve a sense of entitlement to control others. Sheesh.)

  16. One of my students found this blog as part of their summer reading research. An interesting read, especially in light of the recent Atlantic article addressing some ‘basic psychological tenets in regards to trigger warnings.’ From my admittedly brief skim of this blog and the comments, it seems like it substantiates some of the claims that trigger warnings are contraindicated with the current evidence-based treatment of those suffering from trauma.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/
    @philosphydroput

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