The New York Times recently ran an article which stated colleges and universities are debating whether to add “trigger warnings” to course materials that contain topics that could upset students.
A trigger warning, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, is any material that depicts events similar to the one that caused the initial trauma can “trigger” symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. For example, the Times cited examples of possible trigger warnings that could be used in literature present in college curriculums. Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart: it “is a triumph of literature that everyone in the world should read. However, it may trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide, and more.” Other warnings could be used from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (suicide) to Charles Dicken’s Old Curiosity Shop (racism, ableism) to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (racism, classism, ableism).
But where does one draw the line? Lisa Hajjar, a sociology professor doesn’t actually agree with the warnings.
“Any kind of blanket trigger policy is inimical to academic freedom,” Hajjar told the Times. “Any student can request some sort of individual accommodation, but to say we need some kind of one-size-fits-all approach is totally wrong. The presumption there is that students should not be forced to deal with something that makes them uncomfortable is absurd or even dangerous.”
Should professors shield their students from anything that could trigger something, or should these students realize that the world is a big trigger and at any given point in time, something could happen that they’ll have to learn how to cope with?