I don’t get trigger warnings, particularly as discussed in the context of higher education. I mean, I get them, but I don’t get them.
If the point is to let people know that they might have to read something potentially disturbing, why isn’t a blanket acknowledgement simply proffered? I.e., if you come to our school you may be asked to confront some scary ideas?
If the point is to prevent people who have been traumatized from being reminded of their trauma, why is that not properly the responsibility of the mental health professionals on campus? I wouldn’t want someone who had been raped to be compelled by a bureaucracy to read a work describing graphic rape, but where’s the line? If reading something simply makes you feel bad have you been violated? Do we all get to pick and choose which ideas do and do not get access to our pretty little heads?
It seems to me that the very idea of a trigger warning is a trigger warning. The more easily you are triggered, the more likely any warning will trigger you even if the specific warning doesn’t apply to whatever it was that traumatized you. And that’s assuming that you were traumatized to a medical-grade degree, and not just upset or frightened in the normal course of human events.
What about people who have been traumatized but not sought help? Are trigger warnings providing a service, or are they enabling people to avoid healing or confronting reality? It’s certainly understandable that someone would not want to revisit a trauma, but if that trauma has been dealt with to whatever degree possible, wouldn’t that either diminish the need for trigger warnings or make it possible for that particular individual to do other work — perhaps in part based on an actual note from their campus doctor?
In reading this post you may have intuited some snark or sarcasm, but I assure you that in writing it and revising it several times there is nothing but sincere confusion in these words. I’m even given to wonder if the smartphone — with its endless ability to control and throttle streams of communication — has not given rise to the assumption that all manner of information can be controlled, including information previously deemed important to a well-rounded education. (Which includes the ability to deal with bad news and disturbing ideas and confrontational subjects in an adult manner.)
Then again, it seems equally clear these days that most institutions of higher learning are positioning themselves more as educational resorts than anything else, so it shouldn’t be surprising that their guests are particularly interested in personal comfort. And yet, in an age when actual campus rape seems to be emerging as an unacknowledged and perhaps even longstanding epidemic, the idea that those same guests are determined to avoid reading difficult or disturbing texts seems particularly incongruous.
Like I said, I don’t get trigger warnings. The more I try to figure out how they would actually work and who they would actually help, the more I end up thinking they’re primarily designed to facilitate happy thoughts and prevent unhappy thoughts. Which is fine if you can afford to pay the world to treat you that way, but has nothing to do with being educated or living in the real world.
— Mark Barrett