Op-Ed: Trigger Warnings Won’t Help Us Grow

Mar. 10, 2016 / By


When you’re a kid you’re fed sugar-coated versions of how life works, such as everyone being a winner and the existence of Santa Claus. In high school, I was led to believe that college was a place where ideas were exchanged and that students would be exposed to opposing views.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the reality.

Today’s campuses are inundated with calls for trigger warnings, statements that precede discussions, lectures or events that alert students to material that could be disturbing. The trend began with feminist students at the University of California Santa Barbara and has gained traction over the years amid growing conversations around issues like sex abuse, PTSD and war veterans.

Most people entering college have made it to their 18th birthday, and so should be reasonably expected to handle things that might upset them. Instead, trigger warnings now allow students to, at best, avoid difficult situations and discussions, and at worst police what their peers, college faculty and others on campus say.

Writing for The Atlantic, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt accompanied their 2015 opinion piece on trigger warnings with the image of a toddler sporting a sweatshirt that read “college.” There is even scientific research discouraging the use of trigger warnings, summarized by Richard J. McNally, a Harvard Psychology professor.

“Trigger warnings are designed to help survivors avoid reminders of their trauma, thereby preventing emotional discomfort,” wrote McNally for Pacific Standard Magazine. “Yet avoidance reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming the disorder.”

Still, despite the argument in favor of open discussion and the fact that no college has adopted trigger warnings as a requirement, campuses seem to prefer avoidance.

At Oberlin College last year, students protested guest speaker and conservative feminism critic Christina Hoff Summers, citing on-campus rape culture and stating that her presence made them feel “unsafe.”

Students created “safe spaces” so they wouldn’t be “triggered” by Summers’ “hate speech.”

In response, Summers wrote in a blog post that trigger warnings create a “hostile environment for critical thinking and free expression.”

I thought that once I graduated college I would no longer have to deal with trigger warnings, but I’ve since found they have expanded beyond the college campus.

Not long ago I went to lunch with a few friends and an acquaintance. When my friend started talking about her weight loss goals, the acquaintance nonchalantly told us to stop talking about it because it was “triggering.”

Before I could say anything, my friend reluctantly changed the subject.

The truth is that the people who cry trigger at every opportunity also help discredit those who truly do have triggers. Because so many have been “triggered” over ridiculous situations, others have become skeptical or fed up anytime anyone asks for a little sensitivity. I don’t even believe people when they speak up about their triggers.

The Internet is the best proof of this countertrend. If you’re a regular on Reddit, read YouTube comments or any popular discussion board, you will no doubt encounter someone satirically posting “TRIGGERED” in response to a silly trigger call. People make fun of and criticize triggers on the Internet all the time now.

Triggers have caught on largely because most people don’t want to appear insensitive. I’m all for showing sensitivity and being accommodating. If a war veteran asks me to not play with fireworks because of their PTSD, I won’t. But what if someone takes a word out of context and expects me to erase it from my vocabulary around them? Not going to happen.

Cartoon also by Kallayan Thuch.

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Kallayan Thuch

Kallayan is a graduate of Long Beach City College. She is a self-described hyper-masculine illustrator, graphic designer, gamer and fitness freak. She left enough of a mark at LBCC's The Viking to be awarded an editor-in-chief award despite never being an editor-in-chief there.