Opinion: Trigger warnings need to be better understood


by Lauren Myers, Special to the Simpsonian

What if educators gave students written or oral heads-up before covering graphic topics or materials that could possibly cause flashbacks to those who have suffered traumas? Or offered counseling and extra time to discuss outstanding issues? Even having the option of opting out of the discussion entirely?

Trigger warnings exist to warn those about sensitive subjects that could be traumatic to individuals who have had past experiences of trauma. People in favor of these warnings feel that students should not feel pressured to either attend or participate in class sessions which might trigger traumatic memories of sexual assault, immigration, disability, violence, racism, and heterosexism through certain literature, texts and films. People who are against these warnings may ask “where do we stop?”. We may be encouraged to think that we’re weak and fragile, as well as having our horizons restricted by narrowing our exposure to the world around us.

These warnings don’t glamorize or glorify these topics rather they validate life experiences of those in our community which helps alleviate uncomfortable situations while creating safe places. Although we can’t anticipate every potential trigger, these warnings may be similar to putting a bandage on a giant wound. If that is the case, we should be addressing why these warnings are necessary. Starting off with discussing what steps need to be taken in order to make our campus environments safer.

The way we talk about these traumatic topics today are imperfect. I don’t feel that these warnings are a type of censorship. For me, the large issue here is that students represented in these types of topics maybe withdrawing themselves from the conversations where their voices and perspectives are important. This doesn’t mean that it is the responsibilities of victims and survivors to “educate” their classmates. Their voices are valuable to the discussions we are having in our classrooms. Creating safe places should be a priority. If trigger warnings are a step in helping with that, then why not include them?

It is critical that instructors at the all levels of education have the proper understanding and training of the potential impacts of the topics they are teaching about. When instructors are ethical, effective, and responsible, students will feel comfortable which will promote trust within the classroom while creating a didactic and challenging environment.