By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT — “Trigger warnings.” As a teacher of literature, this blows my mind:
Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.
Are you kidding?
We have reached the pinnacle of the wimping out of America. Talk about pansy lightweights…this goes so far beyond the censorship debate it’s just unreal.
Jennifer Medina, reporting for the New York Times, reports on a growing call for “trigger warnings” on assigned literary readings. If this is the new norm, we are doomed. Doomed.
Can you imagine To Kill a Mockingbird with a “trigger warning”? What is the end result of this? The student then says, “Oh, I can’t read this book; someone once used the N-word on me and now I have trauma.”
Suck it up, people. This is what a nation of wimps looks like. I’m not without compassion; truly, I’m not. But if you’re going to tell me that you can’t read Invisible Man because you’ve experience prejudice before, then we have a problem. Incidentally, Invisible Man is THE most often cited work on the AP exam for English. As I recall, there is no “trigger warning” on that book or in the AP syllabus. Should there be?
The most vociferous criticism has focused on trigger warnings for materials that have an established place on syllabuses across the country. Among the suggestions for books that would benefit from trigger warnings are Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” (contains anti-Semitism) and Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” (addresses suicide).
I guess what they want is a totally sanitized syllabus and a reading list of Llama, Llama perhaps. Unless you have a hump, in which case even that might offend you.
Oberlin College published the policy (now under revision) which…
… advised faculty members to “[u]nderstand triggers, avoid unnecessary triggers, and provide trigger warnings.” It defined a trigger as something that “recalls a traumatic event to an individual,” and said experiencing a trigger will “almost always disrupt a student’s learning and may make some students feel unsafe in your classroom.”
“Triggers are not only relevant to sexual misconduct, but also to anything that might cause trauma,” the policy said. “Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression. Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or understand.”
The policy said that “anything could be a trigger,” and advised professors to “[r]emove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals.”
Where does it end? You can’t read The Grapes of Wrath anymore because you were once poor and that might illicit trauma for you. Goodbye Julius Caesar because you once had friends who stabbed you in the back (literally or not) and thus trauma. Goodbye Hamlet: you come from a broken home and we can’t risk stirring up that trauma; besides, Ophelia commits suicide and that might provoke you to do the same thing. It boggles the mind.
Truly, where does it all lead? What is left in the literary canon? Will the Bible come with a trigger warning? I am against censorship in all forms and to me “trigger warnings” are the same thing; it’s an “opt out” clause.
By the way, are you allowed to even say “trigger warning”? Didn’t Sarah Palin get in in trouble for something like that?
Allahpundit rounds up the criticism pretty succinctly.
If we are as a coddled society are now so soft that we now need “trigger warnings” to temper the blow of challenging topics, we can reduce students to tears with just a few profane words and some provocative subject matter.
It’s just one more way of sheltering them from the real word.
Pat Austin also blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.