“I look like an LGBT Engineer” September 23, 2015
It became evident that we’d not heard about any problems from the LGBT academic and student communities in engineering. At first, that seemed like a good thing. However, I started to think about the number of individuals in this minority group that we actually knew of. We could only name one or two, including myself!
“Why does it matter?” asked one of my colleagues, respectfully, and I was grateful for her question. It matters for many reasons.
Why One Philosopher Uses Trigger Warnings September 20, 2015
Triggered reactions can be intense and unpleasant, and may even overtake our consciousness, as with a flashback experienced by a war veteran. But even more common conditions can have this effect. Think, for example, about the experience of intense nausea. It comes upon a person unbidden, without rational reflection. And you can no more reason your way out of it than you reasoned your way into it. It’s also hard, if not impossible, to engage productively with other matters while you are in the grip of it. You might say that such states temporarily eclipse our rational capacities.
For someone who has experienced major trauma, vivid reminders can serve to induce states of body and mind that are rationally eclipsing in much the same manner. A common symptom of PTSD is panic attacks. Those undergoing these attacks may be flooded with anxiety to the point of struggling to draw breath, and feeling disoriented, dizzy and nauseated. Under conditions such as these, it’s impossible to think straight.
The thought behind trigger warnings isn’t just that these states are highly unpleasant (although they certainly are). It’s that they temporarily render people unable to focus, regardless of their desire or determination to do so. Trigger warnings can work to prevent or counteract this.
As teachers, we can’t foresee every instance of potentially triggering material; some triggers are unpredictable. But others are easy enough to anticipate, specifically, depictions or discussions of the very kinds of experiences that often result in post-traumatic stress and even, for some, a clinical disorder. With appropriate warnings in place, vulnerable students may be able to employ effective anxiety management techniques, by meditating or taking prescribed medication . . . It’s not about coddling anyone. It’s about enabling everyone’s rational engagement.
Trigger Warnings August 25, 2015
There’s been a fair amount of discussion of trigger warnings recently (well, for months now, but especially over the last few weeks) in the media. As the academic year begins, and syllabi are on our minds, the debate is unlikely to go away. My own view is that this entire conversation has been poorly (perhaps, not accidentally) framed. We would do well to avoid false dichotomies that undermine the interests of both purported parties to the debate. That is, the division on this issue appears to be largely between professors and students. It’s the case of Academic Freedom, Intellectual Tradition, and Good Sense, et. al. vs. Entitled, Sensitive, and Zealous Student Activists Who Need to Toughen Up — except, I don’t think it really is.
The AAUP’s report on trigger warnings raises a number of concerns regarding trigger warnings. Among them, concerns of conflict with academic freedom insofar as faculty may be pressured or required to include trigger warnings on their syllabi against their own pedagogical judgement, concerns that students will be encouraged to lodge complaints if a course covers material that they find offensive, concerns that faculty will be held responsible for student trauma, concerns that trigger warnings serve to stifle discussion, and so on. It is interesting that trigger warnings elicit such a plethora of worries and spark intense disagreement when the practice of advising discretion or offering notice of content is more widespread. Lindy West suggests that “trigger warning” might be operating something like a dogwhistle now:
Back in early July, comedian Jimmy Fallon tripped on a rug in his kitchen, caught his wedding ring on the counter as he fell, and suffered a gruesome injury called a ‘ring avulsion’– basically, a medical term for ripping your finger off. Fallon spent 10 days in intensive care and came close to losing the digit, which, unfortunately, most ring avulsion sufferers do. Explaining his massive white bandage when he returned to his late-night show weeks later, Fallon warned: ‘If you Google it, it’s graphic. So don’t Google it’ . . . Odd that the anti-free-speech brigade isn’t up in arms about announcements such as Fallon’s – surely he, too, is “coddling” his audience, withholding valuable ‘exposure therapy’ for avulsion victims and infringing on Google’s free expression. It’s almost as though, coded as feminine and largely associated with rape victims, the antipathy toward trigger warnings is about something else entirely.
Even if West is right, not all of the dissent on trigger warnings is reducible to bias. I think the most pressing concerns, though, are not in fact concerns about trigger warnings themselves, nor are they fundamentally concerns with student requests for them. They are, rather, at root concerns borne out of the corporatization of the university. Where administrators view students as customers and respond to conflict on campus by way of risk-assessment both faculty and students are worse off; but this isn’t students’ fault and it doesn’t entail that students have no place in discussions about curricula and pedagogy. In fact, this self-same administrative strategy has greatly contributed to the traumas associated with sexual misconduct amongst students, one of the most salient phenomena requests for trigger warnings are a response to.
As we grapple with administrative creep — with this risk-averse financially-minded way of living together as an educational community increasingly being woven into the fabric of university life — I think it would be a mistake for faculty and students to forget that the sharpest division in the trigger warning debate is an artifice of someone else’s making. Students are (rightfully) frustrated that public relations, athletic titles, and protecting the university brand so often come before student safety. Likewise, faculty are (rightfully) frustrated with administrative overreach into their classrooms, their research, and the very structure of faculty governance. When we consider the background dynamics of the trigger warning debate, it seems to me that there is more in these frustrations to unite students and faculty than there is to divide them. Without the fear of administrative creep, disagreement regarding best pedagogical practices would surely remain, but what issue is free from disagreement in higher education? It’s in the context of the neoliberal, corporatized, university that controversy encourages censorship (self-censorship, or otherwise) and that trauma can be exacerbated in unique and challenging ways.
As Aaron Hanlon explains, trigger warnings themselves are meant to encourage greater engagement with a broader range of material rather than discourage it.
I use trigger warnings in the classroom as a way of preparing students who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder while also easing the entire class into a discussion of the material. The thinking behind the idea that trigger warnings are a form of censorship is fundamentally illogical: those who offer warnings, at our professional discretion, about potentially triggering material are doing so precisely because we’re about to teach it! If we used trigger warnings to say, effectively, “don’t read this, it’s scary,” then there’d be no need to warn in the first place; we’d just leave the material off the syllabus.
Trigger warnings are not the end of controversial material in the classroom; they are a new beginning. A way for faculty to reach out to students, who might otherwise struggle, as partners in an intellectual journey into risky territory. They may well have their pitfalls, but perhaps some of the surrounding frustration has been misdirected.
Papineau v. Manne on Twitter August 18, 2015
The snapshot below of the twitter exchange is pretty self explanatory. It might help to know that Papineau is referring to a letter from Manne that the TLS printed, with unfortunately one sentence ommitted that’s unfortunate because the ommitted sentence, as I underrstood it, went into some specifics about how philosophical combat works against women. This missing material is brought up in the exchange.
Part of Manne letter is copied here.
There was quite a bit more to the twitter exchange. I’m putting it up because it vivdly illustrates how a senior philosopher with a great deal of experience of academia, can be quite clueless about a powerful negative feature women face.
And I’d love to hear what you all think.
Unfortunately the links on the snapshot don’t work.
Yup, definitely being taken over by women August 16, 2015
Over the last year, we have heard a lot about the feminist/women’s (there are different versions) takeover of philosophy. That line of thought is nicely put in perspective by the various other similar claims discussed here.
The idea of a gender perception gap is borne out by studies in other areas. In one study on gender parity in the workforce, sent my way by colleague Flavia Dzodan, it was found that men “consistently perceive more gender parity” in their workplaces than women do. For example, when asked whether their workplaces recruited the same number of men and women, 72 percent of male managers answered “yes.” Only 42 percent of female managers agreed. And, while there’s a persistent stereotype that women are the more talkative gender, women actually tend to talk less than men in classroom discussions, professional contexts and even romantic relationships; one study found that a mixed-gender group needed to be between 60 and 80 percent female before women and men occupied equal time in the conversation. However, the stereotype would seem to have its roots in that same perception gap: “[In] seminars and debates, when women and men are deliberately given an equal amount of the highly valued talking time, there is often a perception that [women] are getting more than their fair share.”
How do you give men the impression of a female majority? Show them a female minority, and let that minority do some talking. This is how 15 minutes of Fey and Poehler becomes three hours of non-stop “estrogen,” how a Congress that’s less than 19 percent female becomes a “feminized” and male-intolerant political environment, and how one viable female Presidential candidate becomes an unstoppable, man-squashing Godzilla. Men tend to perceive equality when women are vastly outnumbered and underrepresented; it follows that, as we approach actual parity, men (and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, for some reason) will increasingly believe that we are entering an era of female domination.
Another Title IX lawsuit against Northwestern is proceeding August 15, 2015
A Feinberg School of Medicine student is suing Northwestern under Title IX saying the school responded with “deliberate indifference” after he reported he was sexually harassed by a professor.
A federal judge ruled last week that the student can move forward with his Title IX lawsuit against the University. His lawyer confirmed Friday that he will do so.
Judge Sara L. Ellis ruled Aug. 6 that the medical student can make his case that the University retaliated against him and did not respond as rapidly or as strongly to his grievances as it has to similar complaints filed by female students. Ellis dismissed the student’s allegation that the University responded inadequately to his sexual harassment complaint.
The student says a Feinberg microbiology and pathology professor sexually harassed him and later retaliated against him after the student rejected his advances by assigning him poor grades, opposing his application to a fellowship and directing others to discontinue a promised scholarship, according to the suit.
The picture to the left is of Kiran Gandhi, a drummer for M.I.A., who ran the recent London Marathon after having started her period. She did not use a tampon. One result is the stain between her legs. Another is a lot of outrage and accusations. Her account of her motives is on her blog.
There are a lot of issues that surround menstruation. One set of issues she wants addressed more widely is the shame many women feel about menstruating. Another is the fact that many women in the world do not have access to products that can in some way contain the blood. She also thought she would be compromising her health choices in order to make people more comfortable, which doesn’t sound like a great idea.
So what do you think? For my own sake I have the uneasy feeling as I put this post up that the sky might come crashing down on my head.
No, bias against women in science not disproven July 17, 2015
Another great article about that Williams and Ceci article Michael Brownstein had a great post on.
The 2015 study, performed by Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci, isn’t rigorous. It’s plagued by five serious methodological flaws.
To read about them, go here.
I’ve seen this policy announcement at a conference of an association for computer memory and at one for the vision science society. The second adapted the first’s. It ends with strong wording:
The open exchange of ideas and the freedom of thought and expression are central to ACM’s aims and goals. These require an environment that recognizes the inherent worth of every person and group, that fosters dignity, understanding, and mutual respect, and that embraces diversity. For these reasons, ACM is dedicated to providing a harassment-free experience for participants at our events and in our programs.
Harassment is unwelcome or hostile behavior, including speech that intimidates, creates discomfort, or interferes with a person’s participation or opportunity for participation, in a conference, event or program. Harassment in any form, including but not limited to harassment based on alienage or citizenship, age, color, creed, disability, marital status, military status, national origin, pregnancy, childbirth- and pregnancy-related medical conditions, race, religion, sex, gender, veteran status, or any other status protected by laws in which the conference or program is being held, will not be tolerated.
Harassment includes the use of abusive or degrading language, intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. A response that the participant was “just joking,” or “teasing,” or being “playful,” will not be accepted.
Individuals violating these standards may be sanctioned or excluded from further participation at the discretion of the organizers or responsible committee.
It is the last sentence that may be especially interesting to philosophers who were concerned about the APA’s reference to legal liability.** We probably should remind ourselves that actions do not necessarily follow words. For example, it may be that a complaint has to meet a very high standard of proof before any sanctioning occurs.
**(That is in fact a concern I share since I have seen how easily one can end up with costs over $100,000, and in fact for that reason declined to pursue fully my own interests in a case I initiated.)