Do you trigger warning? Would you want one?
August 28, 2015 6:03 PM   Subscribe

I teach college-level courses in a historical humanities field. My research and teaching both swim in a time period where the conceptualization of "consent," as we understand it today, was not in play. So I have to teach a lot of documents, images, novels, poems, and plays that... well, to be honest .... feature rape as a matter of course - often, in fact, as a comedic convention or as an important didactic touchstone. I teach a lot of works that also features graphic violence - again as part of a conventional, generic trope. And I teach a lot of radical political philosophy from [historical humanities field]. Do I need to include a trigger warning on my syllabus? If so, what does that look like? Do the graphic violence and/or radical politics also warrant a similar warning? And if so, what does that look like?

Other versions of my questions: If you are a professor who has taught this kind of course, where the historical-contextual conventions do not align with the sensibilities of our own cultural moment, what have you done to prepare students for encountering the material you present in your class?

If you are the kind of student who might have been shocked by encountering narratives or rape, violence, or radical political beliefs - what do you wish your professor(s) might have done to prepare you for such encounters early in the semester or on the syllabus?
posted by pinkacademic to Education (28 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Angus Johnston has some useful suggestions for trigger warnings, including his own model.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:07 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I struggle with this very problem in a class I run! Well, with different materials.

I haven't found anyone to refuse the material. Mostly what I've found is that by preparing students, I create a mood in class where the topic is treated respectfully, and I tip students off that I am not just uncritically supporting [problematic thing].

When I write the course description, I include a short paragraph saying that the class will deal with [blah blah thing]. Lately I've been including a phrase about how the material is not in keeping with contemporary views on [gender/sexuality/etc], because I feel like this helps build in some distance. I want us to be able to discuss the content and use it to deepen our understanding of the material, not - unless it's super, super traumatic - get derailed into a long condemnatory discussion.

Before we actually do each reading, I tend to provide a more detailed precis as part of the prompt questions - "This section contains [detailed statement about thing]. What can we infer about [writer's view of issue]/[thinking at the time]/etc? What other options did the writer have, based on our knowledge of other contemporary work? What has changed between now and then? What has not?

Basically, I use a content statement as a trigger warning, so that students have some cues about how I hope they'll think through the material.

We also talk pretty regularly about how to read this kind of thing. We had a big conversation last week about the difficulties of differentiating between the author's views and the views he was satirizing, since we're reading something that's more than forty years old and it's not clear just how much is satire of misogyny and how much is unconscious misogyny. We've had some fairly contentious conversations where students have interpreted material differently - there's a range of ages in my class, and someone who was an adult in 1978 deals with material from that period differently from someone who was born in 1990.

Going forward, I plan to lead with that discussion - acknowledging that it's difficult to read and situate the material, and that it's difficult to balance the importance of the work with its painful or repugnant aspects.

I've tried to help the class focus on the "horizon of possibility" in each work - basically, if you're a left writer in 1968, you are never going to produce work that is comfortable for left readers in 2015, because your baseline assumptions about gender, sexuality, race, etc are going to be so different. So we try to situate the work - what ideas was the writer responding to? What were common ways of writing about [race/gender/etc]?

Something else I've just had to accept - some work that I like will be found completely morally unacceptable and/or too painful by my students. We've been reading a book that is written from a 1970 white anti-racist perspective, which means that it reads in a really fucked up way now, and it's not comfortable for a couple of my students. They're being heroes and working with the text, but it's not being a good experience for them because the race part is too painful. In the future, I'm not going to use the book - if I need it, I'll use some excerpts and only spend part of one class session on it. This is difficult for me, because I've always found it an interesting book and because my ego gets kind of wound up in my choices for class.

I think that teaching has been a gradual process of letting some of the ego go, and trigger warnings/flexible curriculum are part of that. I teach this class because there are things I want the people taking it to learn, not just because I hope that they will develop beautiful souls through reading and discussion, but I've slowly been moving from being very curriculum-attached more toward the beautiful souls side of the equation and that's made me much more comfortable with preparing students and scaffolding our readings.

I personally would want to distinguish between different issues:

1. Sexual violence, racism, homophobia - things that are attacks on the personhood of people who may actually be in the class, or friends/partners/family of people in the class

2. Material that is upsetting because it deals with violence generally - you're reading Kathy Acker or Vera Brittain or Samuel Delany and it is wrenching or squicky.

3. Ideas that are challenging to the beliefs but not the personhood of students - if I'm an anarchist and I read some Ayn Rand, that may be angering and frustrating, but it's not the same as if, for instance, I assign a Jewish student to read some of Martin Luther's more hateful passages.

Obviously, you can have work where these categories overlap, but I would be wary of giving students the impression that their experience as, for instance, Catholics reading anti-clerical material is the same as when a student of color has to sit through Birth of a Nation for some kind of film history class. I would break up my introduction to the class material in the syllabus, indicating that students may find all three different types of reading and stressing that they are different.
posted by Frowner at 6:38 PM on August 28, 2015 [85 favorites]


I think it's fine to include a trigger warning about rape — as much for your own protection as for the students'. The professor of my Criminal Law class gave us a warning before we studied the law of rape, and I thought that was fine. Then he told us, when we were in the middle of studying it, that it wouldn't be on the test, which I thought was more questionable but still understandable.

Beyond that, consider that trigger warnings could be harming students' mental health more than helping, as this article in the Atlantic argued:
According to the most-basic tenets of psychology, the very idea of helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided. A person who is trapped in an elevator during a power outage may panic and think she is going to die. That frightening experience can change neural connections in her amygdala, leading to an elevator phobia. If you want this woman to retain her fear for life, you should help her avoid elevators.

But if you want to help her return to normalcy, you should take your cues from Ivan Pavlov and guide her through a process known as exposure therapy. You might start by asking the woman to merely look at an elevator from a distance—standing in a building lobby, perhaps—until her apprehension begins to subside. If nothing bad happens while she’s standing in the lobby—if the fear is not “reinforced”—then she will begin to learn a new association: elevators are not dangerous. (This reduction in fear during exposure is called habituation.) Then, on subsequent days, you might ask her to get closer, and on later days to push the call button, and eventually to step in and go up one floor. This is how the amygdala can get rewired again to associate a previously feared situation with safety or normalcy.

Students who call for trigger warnings may be correct that some of their peers are harboring memories of trauma that could be reactivated by course readings. But they are wrong to try to prevent such reactivations. Students with PTSD should of course get treatment, but they should not try to avoid normal life, with its many opportunities for habituation. Classroom discussions are safe places to be exposed to incidental reminders of trauma (such as the word violate). A discussion of violence is unlikely to be followed by actual violence, so it is a good way to help students change the associations that are causing them discomfort. And they’d better get their habituation done in college, because the world beyond college will be far less willing to accommodate requests for trigger warnings and opt-outs.

The expansive use of trigger warnings may also foster unhealthy mental habits in the vastly larger group of students who do not suffer from PTSD or other anxiety disorders. People acquire their fears not just from their own past experiences, but from social learning as well. If everyone around you acts as though something is dangerous—elevators, certain neighborhoods, novels depicting racism—then you are at risk of acquiring that fear too. The psychiatrist Sarah Roff pointed this out last year in an online article for The Chronicle of Higher Education. “One of my biggest concerns about trigger warnings,” Roff wrote, “is that they will apply not just to those who have experienced trauma, but to all students, creating an atmosphere in which they are encouraged to believe that there is something dangerous or damaging about discussing difficult aspects of our history.”
posted by John Cohen at 6:44 PM on August 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think thomas j wise's link basically has it. I would also, in the first class, say something like "We're going to cover some heavy stuff, including violence, both sexual and otherwise, in the course of this class. I probably won't be giving trigger warnings in the middle of a reading generally, but please know that, at any time, you can step out of the class without penalty and then come talk to me about it later, or not, as suits you."

Then, from there on out, I would just try to act like a human being.
posted by 256 at 6:45 PM on August 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I teach sociology and I talk about difficult things and I find the trigger warning issue is overblown by the people who are irritated by it or see it as PC.

I don't have elaborate trigger warnings and I don't have anything on my syllabus about it. I do tell them the first day that the content will be hard and it might be helpful for you to say a version of what you said above (and put it on the syllabus).

When I was a graduate school I read a quote about being politically correct meaning trying not to be an asshole. So, I try not to be an asshole. I have a number of veterans in my classes and I give them a head's up when the content about torture and the Iraq war is coming up. I show a film about a funeral home and in the film a baby dies. I give a head's up about this and if someone has experienced the death of the child I give them alternative assignment if they want it. This particular film is not that important and there are alternative ways to convey the information. No one has ever asked me to do this - I've offered.

I've had zero issues with it. I talk about it, I will sometimes talk about it when something particularly hard is coming up, and that's it. I love my students and I am very protective of them, but I've just never found this to be the huge issue I hear about everywhere.
posted by orsonet at 6:50 PM on August 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have been unprepared for material on rape (which I have had experience of) in class. I am generally able to deal with the material if I am prepared for it - however, if I'm not mentally prepared I can find it difficult and upsetting. I now teach refugees who have often had painful experiences of violence.

My policy is to warn students the lesson before if I am using material depicting violence or extreme forms of prejudice in the next lesson and give a very brief overview of what the content is. That way students can come prepared or skip the class if necessary.

However, if a large part of the class is made up of these materials I would make it clear right at the start that this is the case in the course description.

A statement like 'Please be aware that this class teaches documents, images, novels, poems, and plays that feature sexual violence and other forms of graphic violence in a context that was historically acceptable but now would be considered problematic' in the course description or prior to the class would make it as easy as possible for students to take another class if they might find that difficult.

I think my wording could be improved for the warning - that's generally what you should convey though.
posted by Laura_J at 6:53 PM on August 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I really like Frowner's approach.

As a (WOC) student, I would really appreciate having trigger warnings, especially in the syllabus, so I can a) prepare myself for difficult readings and b) build in self-care into my schedule as and when I need it.
posted by Tamanna at 6:57 PM on August 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


So, I teach in a social science were talking about sexual violence would sometimes be appropriate given the class material that we're covering at that point, and I don't; while I am hardly a wilting flower, the professor hyperventilating in class is not a good look. We never lack for material to discuss in class, I have colleagues who handle these subjects - bless them - much better than I, and I am in a position of power to where I can take the skip.

And that's the difference between academia and much the rest of life. In academia, you have a person with the power to say watch this film and write a paper that's 50% of your grade, or your faill or you only get two skips, do you really want to use one of them to skip the day we're talking about date rape? In life, we have some power over our lives, and we can use that power to try to avoid topics that we know are going to be upsetting - there's no point in making someone who encountered horrific childhood abuse encounter the subject on a daily basis. Some folks can, and great on them (one of my dearest still talks to their abuser, because they have the upper hand these days, and if that works for them, then bravo). But you shouldn't have to.

If I'm a frosh signing up for a gen ed, I'm not going to know anything about your historical period. Put a warning on the syllabus and putting the material in context, ala Frowner's awesome suggestions, costs you nothing but a little class time (and hey, that context discussion is something that we should have in history/lit/etc classes anyhow, right?) When we're in a position of power, it behooves us to not be the asshole, and it doesn't cost us much not to be. Err on the side of warnings, and you might be surprised at who sticks around for the discussion.

[edited to note that my comment, in part, responds to a now deleted comment, so if my context doesn't make as much sense...]
posted by joycehealy at 7:26 PM on August 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


I've been working through From Abortion to Pederasty: Addressing Difficult Topics in the Classics Classroom, a book of thoughtful essays on this and other hard topics (BMCR review here.) Rape comes up in several essays, and while I do not think one essay has all the right answers (or questions) I found them thought-provoking and challenging. I think it would be applicable for many time periods beyond the classical world, although obviously it is focused on the historical and literary contexts of the Greeks and Romans. There have been other discussions on this topic in archaeology and classics; you may find it useful to look for similar threads, even if your subject is different. Talking about rape and extreme violence in the classical world, for example, within a classics degree program is almost inevitable at some point; having conversations about them be thoughtful without being harmful is something I will always be grateful to my professors for managing with grace. In my experience, my classes did not at all avoid this kind of material, but we avoided the rape jokes, dismissive comments, and disregard for things like wartime PTSD that can (and do) come up.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:26 PM on August 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Please do a trigger warning. For the one or two students who were recently raped or assaulted, it will give then the chance to switch classes. Group disturbing material as much as possible to allow students to skip a section. It's possible one of your students will be attacked mid semester.
posted by Kalmya at 7:30 PM on August 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm not a teacher, but I'm a sometime student and media programmer. I think trigger warnings for the stuff in Frowner's #1 (I'd add combat and explicit abuse) are a good idea and I'm happy when they're present. Beyond that, it's really up to your judgement. I don't think you need them for radical political beliefs.
posted by thetortoise at 8:02 PM on August 28, 2015


The stuff about exposure being helpful is nonsense. Rape survivors, for example, are not magically going through the world completely insulated from the idea of rape, they're exposed to the news and tv and books and conversations where it comes up on the regular. If you can give them a little warning that they're going to be coming up against some graphic stuff in what is generally considered a fairly safe environment, you're only helping them out, not overly codling them. Please use trigger warnings.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:02 PM on August 28, 2015 [39 favorites]


One of the nice things about putting it in the syllabus is that it allows people to make a choice on the very first day of class whether this is a class they should take. They can drop it and replace it before the option is gone.

I would have been personally grateful beyond measure if any of my professors had done me thus simple courtesy. It should be my choice alone whether I encounter that in the course of my academic life.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:37 PM on August 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


One of the nice things about putting it in the syllabus is that it allows people to make a choice on the very first day of class whether this is a class they should take.

This is a good way to put it, but in an academic context requires some nuance - is this a mandatory course? Do those choices actually exist? These aren't trivial questions, obviously, and particularly in lower-year courses, those answers will involve understanding the syllabus of equivalent substitute courses so that people have a real choice between what courses to take, and not a choice between, say, any of the three courses that will give them PTSD flashbacks and dropping out.

I would avoid the phrase "trigger warnings" in favor of a short note that some of the works you'll be covering this term involve [a broad description] of [a type of violence], and if a survey - your survey - of equivalent undergraduate courses suggests that they all share that same broad [type of violence] as required material, I would explicitly offer students who cannot engage with that subject matter but need that course to continue with their studies an alternative.
posted by mhoye at 9:09 PM on August 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I teach in Classics, so it's often wall to wall triggering subject matter. I put a general content warning on the course syllabus and repeat that warning verbally over the first 3 classes. Once in a while I will make a class optional if the material is especially disturbing. I have one class in particular that has material that freaks me out and I'm used to this stuff, so for that I just never put the material on the exam, but tell them that it is significant material because it illustrates something important about how the ancient viewed certain lives, which why it's on the syllabus. For some reason, not only is that class full, people bring their friends, which is not what I had intended... But usually I just warn for all the material because the value gap is (thankfully) is so huge.

A few thing you may not think of: students may find the material disturbing but still want to deal with it. What upsets them most is if they are sitting there while someone is filling in a quiz on Buzzfeed, playing an online game or generally and visibly not giving a damn about that material. So I try to make sure that everyone understands that taking this as an opportunity to do that is incredibly awful and rather upsetting for some fellow students. Make sure you don't have underage students registered (happened once to me and it took forever to convince the university that this was not material for a 12 year old, even if they were a genius. And it certainly wasn't material that they should be approaching for the first time in a situation with huge age disparities). You might also want to prepare them for older (and sometimes not so old) scholarship that will blithely just think this stuff is fine, which they might end up reading for a paper. I'm struggling with that right at the moment as I wade through what feels like the endless publications ofslavery apologists in academia.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:26 PM on August 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I used to put a warning on disturbing material, but I'm not going to do so any longer. I will make a blanket statement on the first day e.g., "We will be discussing works of art that explicitly address sexual assault" , and after that, the students will be expected to read the material and participate in the conversations.

I used to think that trigger warnings were cost free, but I have since changed my mind.

I am obviously sympathetic to victims of violence and sexual assault, but you can't construct a world where people are free from pain and distress. If someone is at the point that they can't read a text that includes a depiction of sexual assault without having a complete breakdown, then I believe they should take time away from their studies to address this issue. This is certainly not meant as a punitive measure, but university courses will contain materials that many people will find distressing. In fact, part of the point of these materials is precisely that they are distressing, and trigger warnings undermine the power of the work. Some material is supposed to shock and deeply disturb.

I also worry about the kind of discussions we will be left with if people who are personally affected and troubled by the material leave the room. Do we think we are going to have the kind if conversations we should be having about sexual assault, for example, if the only students present for the discussion are those who have no experience with sexual assault and so feel comfortable with the material?

Finally, trigger warnings contribute to a deeply troubling campus culture where the fundamental aim of courses is to entertain students and make them feel comfortable. I don't recognize this as a goal of a university education.
posted by girl flaneur at 10:45 PM on August 28, 2015 [28 favorites]


The class I taught last semester was wall to wall rape, some of it within historical contexts and elided as sex, some not. There was a warning first day, I warned in class, and I made it clear that I would assist with referrals or recommendations should any student require it. Nobody requested we change anything, we always ended up with at least one rape survivor in the discussion (and quite frankly the idea that mandating a rape survivor be in the conversation and not be given a warning about the topic for the edification of others is ethically suspect and I would look askance at any colleague who suggested that), and conversations did happen about the changing face of consent, depictions of women and sex, and the rights of women.

The warnings give the students a chance to prepare themselves - one of the works we studied has child death in it, as well as all the other stuff, so it meant the recent mothers were able to prepare themselves for that as well. It isn't about 'breaking down because you read the word rape' it's about preparing them to be in a learning environment. It's almost impossible to learn in a state of emotional trauma, which is what we are expecting of students if we refuse to warn them about the content of what they're consuming at our behest. I'm here to teach them, not toughen them up. The world does a fine job of telling rape survivors to toughen the fuck up, I refuse to be a part of that.

I'm not using trigger warnings here because I think it's inane to differentiate between 'this course contains work that deals with rape, violence, infanticide, abuse, and genocide' because it has 'trigger warning' in front instead of 'content warning' or 'please note' - it is to the exact same effect, which is allowing students to prepare themselves.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:07 PM on August 28, 2015 [22 favorites]


As a note, many students of limited means must continue their studies when they should take time off to deal with trauma in order to retain access to services and/or not lose their scholarship. It's not an available option.

The comment upthread about scheduling in self care and being able to prepare mentally and emotionally is completely on target. PTSD never goes away for many people, but they gain the tools to deal with it. Part of that is being prepared for material. Imagine that an ancillary reading for your class triggered someone so much that they preformed poorly on a test in another class worth 50% of their grade. That would be a sad outcome that a little extra preparation on your part could help them avoid.

It's giving the victims of trauma and assault a way of staying in the conversation. Confronted abruptly, they may have no choice but to leave and deal with the fall out. Given warning, they can be in a position of strength to speak about their experience. Giving people warning to gather themselves is a way to prevent retraumatizing them.

There is nothing to be gained from springing this on people. It can take a long time to find your voice to speak about it, and an environment where you're given sufficient warning can cultivate and support that.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:14 PM on August 28, 2015 [18 favorites]


The two times during my schooling when course material featured rapes, I felt blindsided and betrayed. School is generally a PG or PG-13 environment with high standards for respectful behavior. It's not a sleazy bar or a frat party; I don't have my guard up for even the kinds of daily sexism, racism, and veiled references to sexual violence you encounter there. My professors were generally people I respected and trusted, which is why I was letting them guide me on an educational journey. To naively follow them into a situation where I was watching or reading about a rape really took me by surprise. Just as you wouldn't recommend a movie where something awful happens to a friend without saying something to prepare them and justify why it's worth it ("it's not feel-good and light-hearted, but it's very thought provoking"), I think it's appropriate to provide the same courtesy in class. Also, I would ask myself whether the upsetting material is necessary. We watched Rashomon in a brief section on post-modernism and how perspectives differ. I didn't need to watch a woman get repeatedly assaulted to grasp the idea that eyewitness accounts differ.

The idea mentioned above -- that upsetting material should be included as exposure therapy -- is paternalistic, presumptive, and dangerous. The therapists who guide traumatized people through exposure are trained in how to support patients through their reactions, and in the ways that it can be harmful, which most professors have not. Without that kind of support, nobody knows if someone's exposure will be beneficial or instigate a major depressive incident. People will heal from their experiences at different rates and ought to be able to guide their own journey here. Maximizing their access to class material (by using upsetting material only when it is truly germane and valuable to the discussion) and providing some heads up so people can mentally prepare seem like easy and appropriate steps.
posted by salvia at 11:45 PM on August 28, 2015 [13 favorites]


[Comment deleted. Sorry folks, but this is not the place to debate other commenters or have a general argument about content warnings. Please address the OP's question(s), which I've condensed here: 1) warning on syllabus? what does that look like? 2) warning for graphic violence and/or radical politics? 3) if you are a professor who has taught this kind of course, what have you done to prepare students? 4) if you are a student who might have been shocked ... what do you wish your professor(s) might have done to prepare you?]
posted by taz (staff) at 1:08 AM on August 29, 2015


I recommend these suggestions for alternatives to syllabus trigger warnings proposed by humanities professors. In addition to the arguments made there, I think considering such alternatives is important particularly when the question of engaging students with the history of "radical political philosophy" is at stake.
posted by Bwithh at 1:34 AM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes please to content warnings, notes, heads-ups, whatever. Apart from being prepared and not having the subject jump out like a Jack-in-the-Box, I would also, depending on the situation, use the warning to prepare for or avoid my classmates attitudes on the subject. I have for example had a very difficult time cooperating with coworkers who spent a seminar on mental health tittering and rolling their eyes. It would have been better for me to self-study that portion and remained ignorant (at least on the visceral plane) of their asshattery.
posted by Iteki at 1:46 AM on August 29, 2015


As a student, I'd just like to be warned it is coming up.

I find myself almost entirely unbothered by disturbing material when I know it is coming up. If it comes out of nowhere, that's when it suddenly punches me in the gut.

Actually, is almost EXACTLY like the difference between being hit in the stomach unprepared, and having that second's warning where you can tighten your belly, which makes a hit something that can be, well, laughed off.


Further, it helps if the way you present it as a lecturer makes it clear to the more 'socially obnoxious' among us, that while we are studying historical views an attitudes towards these issues, those attitudes are not acceptable today, or in class, no more than Nazi views towards Jewish people would be acceptable.
posted by Elysum at 6:42 AM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


To answer questions 1) and 2) ...

1) Give a brief outline of the course, touching on the fact that it includes certain kinds of disturbing content. Please don't use the words "trigger warning" or "warning" when you do. The point of higher education is to figure out how to discuss issues like these without resorting to the kind of reductive terminology of internet discourse. Give them better words.

2) Students need to confront conflicting ideas, as long as those ideas don't attack their personhood (racism, misogyny, etc.) Definitely be clear that being forced to read someone you disagree with is not in the same category as being exposed to someone who wants to you to suffer because of who you were born as.

To answer question 4) ...

Last, when the class is going on, the most important thing is how you deal with the material and how you make sure everyone participating is respectful of the topic. Not fearful -- but other students need to pay attention, not minimize the subject, or make comments that ignore the dignity of others in the room.

As a student, the most hurtful thing to me would be hearing my classmates agree implicitly or explicitly with racist, misogynist material and not get immediately challenged by the authority in the room.
posted by hyperion at 7:20 AM on August 29, 2015


There is a difference between giving students a general idea of what you will be covering in the course and adding warnings to each reading which you anticipate might be problematic for some students. Whatever you call these individual warnings, they are objectionable due to their very repetition. By constantly warning students, educators are sending the message that some percentage of students need special protection from ideas and art due to their own history of trauma. This is, I think, a very dangerous message to send.

Colleges and universities have extensive frameworks for handling how disabilities are accommodated. At every campus I've worked at, faculty members are not allowed to sort these issues out on their own. As I see it, these trigger warnings are attempting to do just that: they are backchannel attempts to accommodate a perceived disability.

Rather than giving trigger warnings, faculty should make sure any student with PTSD is directed to the office of disabilities so that they receive proper accommodations.
posted by girl flaneur at 10:10 AM on August 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I hope the mods will allow this, as I believe it's something that needs to be repeated as often as possible: exposure therapy can be psychologically dangerous when performed outside of proper clinical guidance. That article in the Atlantic was, in that respect, not just a difference of opinion but incorrect medical advice. In my opinion it ought to carry a warning label of its own.
posted by traveler_ at 11:12 AM on August 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


Not everyone with a history of trauma has a disability or will have a "complete breakdown" if they're surprised with work that's triggering to them. People have explained how and why warnings about potentially upsetting material helped them prepare to engage with the material, so you're arguing against straw man caricatures of what trigger warnings are for.

My criminal law professor told us at the beginning of class that some of the material we'd cover would be disturbing to some people and acknowledged that some students would have personal experience with some of the issues covered. He said if anyone didn't want to be called on in any class they could let him know, no explanation required. This was back in 2001 before trigger warnings was common parlance and before people started freaking out about them. It seemed at the time like a good reminder that this stuff isn't abstract to everyone, so other students need to be respectful in class discussion. We had a lot of very intense and sometimes upsetting discussions in that class. I don't think it would have been a better class without the warning. I can't see what possible benefit there is in springing things on trauma survivors.
posted by Mavri at 11:33 AM on August 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Thanks, everyone. I know that some comments were deleted, but I did appreciate all the advice. I opted to include a brief section on my syllabus that does, essentially, the following: 1. gives students a heads up that some material may be challenging due to its content and contexts, 2. makes a note that assigned texts and discussed concepts should not be interpreted as endorsements of their content or perspective , 3. offers students resources on campus that are available should they need them.

It's not perfect, but I hope it will encourage those students who would appreciate a trigger warning to make whatever necessary preparations or choices given their personal circumstances they need to make while, at the same time, acknowledging that sometimes we might discuss things that make students uncomfortable ,or things they'd rather not discuss, or things with which they may strongly disagree - and that not every case in point is, for lack of a better phrase, up for a trauma-grab.
posted by pinkacademic at 1:34 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older How do DJs earn millions of dollars?   |   shoulder separation: surgery vs. doing nothing, or... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.