Editorial: Attention: Editorial contains critique on trigger warnings

By The Pitt News Editorial Staff

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A contentious question has been spreading from campus to campus as of late: should college professors be required to forewarn students of the sensitive material they’ll discuss in class? 

Bailey Loverin, a second year literature major at the University of California-Santa Barbara, and co-author of a resolution for her student government on this very question, thinks so. “Trigger warnings,” as they are commonly called, “are a way of identifying what may cause someone who recently experienced trauma or has post-traumatic stress disorder to relive their trauma,” she said. 

In other words, trigger warnings prevent professors from freely exposing students to material that may be psychologically harmful, especially to those who have experienced it firsthand, including rape, war, racism and sexism. 

Therefore, texts or media presented in classes that contain any of these hot-button subjects must come with an adequate notice on the syllabi, like an “R” rating on a violent film. 

But higher education has a different audience than the film industry. 

College students are paying tuition to prepare for the real world, which unfortunately contains rape, war, racism and sexism. To understand certain courses, such as history and world cultures, students must confront these issues in the classroom. Trigger warnings would leave students sheltered from reality. 

While the intent to protect students from possibly psychologically damaging content is noble, it’s still difficult for a student to begin to understand something he or she has never experienced — like war — without knowing the all of the details.

These warnings also hinder professors from fully exploring their subjects in an academic environment. 

“Any student who felt triggered by something that happened in class could file a complaint with the various procedures and judicial boards, and create a very tortuous process for anyone,” said Marc Blecher, a professor of politics and East Asian studies at Oberlin College, in relation to the consequences professors could face if they do not adequately label material deemed to be triggering. 

Because of this possibility, professors may feel limited in their teachings, which could lead to students attaining a shallow understanding of certain courses.

Students and professors should judge for themselves what is and isn’t appropriate on a case-by-case basis or, in other words, use common sense. If a student feels that he or she is deeply offended by material presented by a professor, then that student can seek justification for his or her self.

A blanket policy insisting that all course materials be labeled the same way for the entire student body, regardless of the context of the course, takes common sense out of the equation.  

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