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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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194 Responses

  1. mk
    mk March 5, 2014 at 12:07 pm |

    I’ve written and re-written my comment several times because I’m really struggling with this one. On the one hand, I absolutely appreciate trigger warnings online, particularly if graphic images are involved.

    That said, I’m a high school librarian, and I can’t imagine issuing trigger warnings every time I check a book out to a teenager. (I realize that high school and college are different animals, but the demographics do overlap.)

  2. Athenia
    Athenia March 5, 2014 at 12:09 pm |

    “Trigger warnings don’t just warn students of potentially triggering material; they effectively shut down particular lines of discussion with “that’s triggering”.

    Could you provide some examples of this?

    I say this as a person who taught The Bluest Eye to high schoolers. No trigger warnings were given, but at the same time, they didn’t particularly have a choice to opt out of learning/reading the material (Although I suppose they could if they or their parent objected to the material). As a former English teacher, I absolutely have no problems “directing” my students about the themes and ideas of a book and quite frankly, telling my students beforehand that the book they’re are about the read a rape doesn’t change the content of the book (unless you think what happens isn’t rape).

    I don’t find TWs “in real life” particularly problematic, but it’s what happens afterwards, is the real issue.

  3. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 12:45 pm |

    Errrrrr. Okay. So, two things.

    First: It seems to me like the obvious thing to do to find a balance between “spoilers” and “triggers”, from the teacherly POV is to have a separate document/handout that provides a list of triggers and/or themes for people who want to read them. Problem solved.

    Second:

    And there’s something lost when students are warned before they read Achebe or Diaz or Woolf, and when they read those writers first through the lens of trauma and fear.

    Do you seriously imagine that if students aren’t warned for content, that they’re going to be magically unaffected by the graphic parental rape scene in The Bluest Eye? I mean, look, I didn’t look up trigger warnings for TBE when I read it, and it still squicked the shit out of me. It wasn’t suddenly a calm collected intellectual experience because I was now a) anxious and angry AND b) surprised.

    IDK.

    1. Ally S
      Ally S March 5, 2014 at 1:15 pm |

      Seconding everything you said, mac.

      First: It seems to me like the obvious thing to do to find a balance between “spoilers” and “triggers”, from the teacherly POV is to have a separate document/handout that provides a list of triggers and/or themes for people who want to read them. Problem solved.

      Another possible solution is to simply announce at the beginning of the course that some of the material may be triggering in specific ways.

      1. EG
        EG March 5, 2014 at 1:52 pm |

        Another possible solution is to simply announce at the beginning of the course that some of the material may be triggering in specific ways.

        That’s not really helpful, though, is it? “Some of the books we’re going to read over the next 14 weeks may be triggering in X, Y, and Z ways.” So you don’t know which ones? So you’re just girding yourself with every book all semester?

        1. Ally S
          Ally S March 5, 2014 at 2:22 pm |

          Yeah, I guess not. The teacher could always mention the specific books that are potentially triggering, but then that’s not much different from mac’s proposal.

    2. Li
      Li March 5, 2014 at 1:25 pm |

      First: It seems to me like the obvious thing to do to find a balance between “spoilers” and “triggers”, from the teacherly POV is to have a separate document/handout that provides a list of triggers and/or themes for people who want to read them. Problem solved.

      Yeah, my experience of many people for whom trigger warnings don’t meet their needs is that they typically want them BANNED FOREVER rather than to find a way to use the practice in a way that meets the needs of multiple sets of people.

      I mean, I don’t necessarily think the phrase “trigger warning” is the best practice, because I know a lot of people for whom that particular phrase heightens rather than reduces anxiety, so I tend to do my content notes in a different way, but the resistance to even that can get really non-sensical, even/especially among people in academic settings. Is a content note on the kinds of themes and content that are going to come up in a lecture or reading material really that different from a synopsis or abstract, both of which are already common in academic settings? Where’s the push to get rid of forewords and introductions?

      1. Li
        Li March 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm |

        Disclaimer: My higher ed experience was overwhelmingly in fields and subjects that used critical and non-fiction resources rather than literary ones, and therefore where there’s pretty much no point in avoiding spoilers.

      2. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 1:43 pm |

        Yeah, my experience of many people for whom trigger warnings don’t meet their needs is that they typically want them BANNED FOREVER rather than to find a way to use the practice in a way that meets the needs of multiple sets of people.

        I have no patience for the kind of weaselly whiners who want to control others’ experiences because they don’t want to handle their own. My response to that would tl;dr to “deal with it, princess”. And you’re right about the phrase “trigger warning” – I’m a peer tutor, and on the occasions when someone comes to me with questions about a text they haven’t read yet, I tend to phrase it as “do you mind spoilers?” if I receive “no”, I go with “you should probably know that [text] deals with [common trigger] in [extent of explicitness]” for exactly that reason.

      3. Ally S
        Ally S March 5, 2014 at 5:02 pm |

        Is a content note on the kinds of themes and content that are going to come up in a lecture or reading material really that different from a synopsis or abstract, both of which are already common in academic settings? Where’s the push to get rid of forewords and introductions?

        Well said.

        1. Jennifer
          Jennifer March 8, 2014 at 5:30 pm |

          Agreed.

  4. Ally S
    Ally S March 5, 2014 at 1:07 pm |

    That the warnings hinge on topics that are more likely to affect the lives of marginalized groups contributes to the general perception of members of those groups as weak, vulnerable and “other”.

    Most privileged people will see us as “weak, vulnerable, and ‘other'” by virtue of being who we are. One defining aspect of the kyriarchy, in my view, is the derision of oppressed people’s efforts to take care of themselves. And trigger warnings (and whatever serves the same purpose) facilitate self-care for people who suffer from triggers, many of whom are oppressed people due to the oppressive nature of many things that are triggering. So it’s no surprised that the MRA dudebro who deliberately triggered me after finding out about my history of sexual abuse thought I was weak and vulnerable when I told him I was triggered by his words.

    What I’m trying to say here is that this article reeks of respectability politics. Of course, it is important to fight the notion that oppressed people are inherently weak and vulnerable, but we can do that without simultaneously being critical of people who engage in small acts of self-care. To fight that notion, we can begin by saying that oppressed people are fully human – many of us are weak and vulnerable, and many of us are strong and impervious to many forms of harm. Some of us need “kid gloves”, and some of us don’t. I hope I’m making some sense, although it’s hard to be coherent because I’m triggered by something else right now.

    1. PrettyAmiable
      PrettyAmiable March 5, 2014 at 5:07 pm |

      One defining aspect of the kyriarchy, in my view, is the derision of oppressed people’s efforts to take care of themselves.

      OMFG, so much this.

    2. roro80
      roro80 March 6, 2014 at 7:59 pm |

      YES.

      And you know what can contribute even more to the perception of marginalized people as “weak and vulnerable”? When we have a panic attack in the middle of class because we’ve been horribly triggered without any warning or chance for self-care in the first place. I know I feel a lot less weak and vulnerable when I am given the ability and agency to say “you know what, I gonna go ahead and use the ladies’ room right now” than when I wake up with people staring at me in pity, concern, and scorn after I’ve fainted in public. I’m not only perceived as weak and vulnerable when that happens, but I feel weak and vulnerable. It’s goddamned horrifying.

    3. Jennifer
      Jennifer March 8, 2014 at 5:31 pm |

      Yes

  5. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos March 5, 2014 at 1:35 pm |

    We don’t assign literature and art to students to entertain them with a hidden emotional “spoiler” (a largely modern concern) in the second or third act. We assign literature and art to students to teach critical analysis and close reading/viewing of the work in question. That includes contextualization starting with the course name, description, syllabus, the classroom sessions leading up to the reading, and assignment of additional critical text about the reading.

    I want literature that wrestles with my experiences as a survivor. I want to be introduced to that literature by a curator with experience in leading discussion about that work.

    I don’t want for my experiences as a survivor to be used instrumentally for shock value or as a “puppy kicking” moment just to make the antagonist more creepy.

    Foreknowledge about a work gives me the critical distance needed to examine how the work addresses sexual assault and violence.

    1. EG
      EG March 5, 2014 at 1:51 pm |

      We don’t assign literature and art to students to entertain them with a hidden emotional “spoiler” (a largely modern concern) in the second or third act.

      It being modern doesn’t make it not real, and I would appreciate it if you don’t tell me how to use texts pedagogically. The first time I taught Beloved, I had students stop reading for the first class right before the passages in which we find out how Sethe’s baby girl had been killed. During the second class, we talked about the artistic choices and effects of revealing the death of Sethe’s daughter 2/3 of the way through the narrative, and how it affects’ readers’ experiences and sympathies. None of the students had read the novel before. That was absolutely an important pedagogical technique.

      1. CBrachyrhynchos
        CBrachyrhynchos March 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm |

        I’d say that Beloved is an exceptional case, and you did contextualize it by having a discussion around the first part of the book that sets the theme and tone first. Anyone who thinks that things are going to get better in that chapter is likely kidding themselves.

        Teaching Beloved in this way is a fair bit different from advocating that we should be doing cold readings across the entire curriculum.

        1. EG
          EG March 5, 2014 at 2:47 pm |

          I’d disagree that it’s an exceptional case. I’ve done similar things with Ulysses.

        2. CBrachyrhynchos
          CBrachyrhynchos March 5, 2014 at 3:56 pm |

          But there is a context, which is everything from the course title and description to the syllabus, to the norms established on the first day of class, to the classes leading up to the work in question.

          Which is why I found this whole article to be frustrating because it’s a false dichotomy between saying everything about a work and saying nothing about the work, when you’ve already said something about the work when you’ve put it on a syllabus with related work. You’ve already said something about how to look at it in the first day of class.

          I’ll agree that “trigger warnings” are not the best way to approach class discussion. But that’s not why they were originally advocated in the first place. They were originally advocated because anonymous “mystery meat” links to untrusted and unreviewed sources can deliver anything from a Rickroll to a Goatse. Revealing above the fold what you’re going to talk about below the fold is good writing practice.

        3. EG
          EG March 5, 2014 at 4:04 pm |

          I’ll agree that “trigger warnings” are not the best way to approach class discussion. But that’s not why they were originally advocated in the first place. They were originally advocated because anonymous “mystery meat” links to untrusted and unreviewed sources can deliver anything from a Rickroll to a Goatse. Revealing above the fold what you’re going to talk about below the fold is good writing practice.

          But that’s how they are being advocated here–not for mystery meat links, but for readings on a syllabus, which, if a student has an internet link, ze can check anything from Amazon reviews to academic journals and read about for zirself. Which is the other part of this that’s being left out. College students are not helpless children whose eyes are being held open and who are being forced to read things. They are adults who can google any reading I give them, primary or secondary source, and get a good sense of what’s likely to be in it. They can–and often do–decide not to do the reading I assign, and sometimes I know about it (when, for instance, they decide to watch the made-for-TV-movie version instead of reading the original novel and it doesn’t occur to them that there may be plot differences) and more times, I expect, I don’t. And sometimes that may be because they’re lazy jerks and sometimes it may be because the material triggers them and most times, I imagine, it’s because they had to triage something. And as long as it isn’t too many of the readings that they’re skipping, it probably won’t matter to their grade.

        4. CBrachyrhynchos
          CBrachyrhynchos March 5, 2014 at 4:53 pm |

          Jill is using the Oberlin policy to make a bunch of general claims about the idea of explicitly labeling discussions of certain topics for the benefit of the audience. I think those claims are generally wrong.

        5. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 5:26 pm |

          . They are adults who can google any reading I give them, primary or secondary source, and get a good sense of what’s likely to be in it.

          Agreed. It’s only really an issue, I find, when instructors play movies in class without putting them on the syllabus (I had an instructor play a short which used incest as its “punchline” once, completely without warning, and I was fucked up for days), or when they’re using texts so obscure that no real resources exist.

        6. EG
          EG March 5, 2014 at 5:30 pm |

          It’s only really an issue, I find, when instructors play movies in class without putting them on the syllabus (I had an instructor play a short which used incest as its “punchline” once, completely without warning, and I was fucked up for days), or when they’re using texts so obscure that no real resources exist.

          I thoroughly agree with this. The only situation I’ve known it to come up was when for a presentation, a student played the rape scene from A Clockwork Orange. The professor, who should have shut that shit down immediately, or at least apologized afterward if ze was too shocked to do anything, did nothing, and that was a serious problem.

        7. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 5:55 pm |

          The only situation I’ve known it to come up was when for a presentation, a student played the rape scene from A Clockwork Orange.

          I saw a student presentation yesterday where there was a brief news clip detailing child sexual abuse. The instructor was horrified but it was over before he could even react. That shit still messes me up but at least it’s out of the instructor’s control.

      2. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 2:41 pm |

        None of the students had read the novel before. That was absolutely an important pedagogical technique.

        Completely OT but that sounds like a really interesting way to tackle Beloved, and I always enjoy when my profs present work to the class in stages. I don’t ever take advantage of it myself (I never know at what point I’m going to be incapacitated by my fibro, so I tend to do my reading in large chunks and asap in the term) but if I could be abled for a few semesters I’d definitely try to tackle a few texts that way.

        1. EG
          EG March 5, 2014 at 2:48 pm |

          It worked really well! I haven’t had the time to do it that way since (that semester involved shorter, more frequent class meetings than I usually do), but I think it was the best time I’ve ever had teaching that book.

  6. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 1:49 pm |

    Traumas that impact women, people of color, LGBT people, the mentally ill and other groups whose collective lives far outnumber those most often canonized in the American or European classroom are set apart as different, as particularly traumatizing.

    Also I just wanted to respond to this with the radical notion that perhaps this is because women, POC and LGBT people and so on (not to mention those at these intersections) have to deal with everything a cishet neurotypical abled non-survivor white guy has to deal with PLUS a whole whack of extra stuff and perhaps that genuinely is more traumatising.

    1. karak
      karak March 5, 2014 at 8:43 pm |

      I agree. But I feel that many times, the way that oppression is talked about actually short-circuits empathy.

      What I see in the class I’m TAing is this sort of exotification and Othering of victims of violence and abuse. We’re talking about the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s in America, and these students don’t seem to be connecting to the information as anything other than a long-ago story. And that lets them sanitize the events as, “many year ago black people wanted to vote and stuff and got together and it was hard and now we’re all equal.”

      I found that once I connected school desegregation to Malala Yousafzai, and started using words like “domestic terrorism” it shifted from a fairy tale to something real.

      Okay, I’ve gotten off topic, back to my thesis:

      I’m worried that the way we focus on oppressed populations emphasizes them as “unusual”, or tragic, and not their humanity or the overarching, transcendent nature of their suffering. And thus people do not critically examine the ways oppression continue to influence that particular group or oppressed people in general.

      I call this “never again” syndrome. I’ve read a lot of students papers that end with “and the world will never allow something like the Holocaust to happen ever again!” which boggles me because there have been several genocides and ethnic cleansings since then. But because that narrative is only Jews and Nazis, it’s over and will never happen again.

      1. epinetron
        epinetron March 5, 2014 at 11:59 pm |

        Yep. This. In my field, I get a lot of “ancient people were so sexist; we’re a lot less sexist now,” and other similar types of things. Or “the Greeks and Romans had slaves, and so did America for a while, but now we don’t anymore anywhere in the world because we all know it’s wrong.” And it’s really important to convince them that, both as far back as Greece and Rome and as recently as the 21st century, things happen whose repercussions we are still feeling today, and also that in both our society and in past societies, oppressions exist but are super complicated and look different in different places and times.

        1. Hugh
          Hugh March 6, 2014 at 4:15 am |

          THIS

          Too much of history – particularly pop culture history – is just patting contemporary society on the back for how egalitarian we are now, with a heavy implication that any problems we do have right now will inevitably be solved by the inexorable march of progress.

  7. EG
    EG March 5, 2014 at 2:02 pm |

    Oberlin College recommends that its faculty “remove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals”.

    I think this sentence, embedded 2/3 of the way through your piece, Jill, deserves far more attention and outrage than any discussion of trigger warnings.

    Fuck you, Oberlin. Do you think I or any professor runs around throwing graphic rape scenes into our assigned readings for the fun of it? This is some condescending bullshit that pre-supposes that faculty have no professional standards and don’t know what we’re doing when we put our reading lists together.

    The more chilling reading is this: of course Oberlin knows that professors don’t do that. Oberlin is therefore trying to put pressure on its faculty to take upsetting material out of their syllabi so that it can either forestall student complaints about necessary material or cover its ass when a student does complain, instead of standing by the professor’s academic freedom.

    On trigger warnings:

    If a college is going to request or require this, it better issue crystal-clear instructions about what requires a trigger warning and what doesn’t. Because I’m not going to go through every book I teach and scan it, particularly in light of one commenter on this site complaining that there wasn’t a trigger warning when a guest poster referred to her small daughter as being “chubby” and another commenter complaining that a post about hats worn to a royal wedding should have had a trigger warning on it because it was about the monarchy.

    When I teach, at the beginning of the term, I try to remember to note things like “We’re reading nineteenth-century British children’s literature, and we’re going to encounter lots of racism, and I don’t want to hear excuses like ‘that’s the way it was back then’ or ‘they were just ignorant.’ They were racist, and we’ll be discussing that.” Beyond things like that, though, for fuck’s sake, I don’t even always know ahead of time if a text is going to be deeply upsetting to me. I can’t gauge for every student in my class.

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 2:33 pm |

      Beyond things like that, though, for fuck’s sake, I don’t even always know ahead of time if a text is going to be deeply upsetting to me. I can’t gauge for every student in my class.

      I think that’s a bit damn disingenuous. There’s a difference between a highly specific trigger like “women policing a child’s clothing” (a thing that deeply affects and upsets me for personal reasons, but which I don’t expect to be trigger-warned for ever, for obvious reasons, such as it’s a highly unique trigger) and something that’s really widely known to be a trigger, like graphically described rape or incest or miscarriage. Going all wide-eyed innocent about how you CAN’T POSSIBLY KNOW what triggers people is pretty goddamn irresponsible for someone of your intellectual caliber.

      1. EG
        EG March 5, 2014 at 2:42 pm |

        I didn’t say “I can’t possibly know.” I said “Beyond things like [overt obvious racism], how the fuck am I supposed to know.” And if a college wants to be issuing directives to the faculty about course content, than it can damn be absolutely specific about them. If it can’t be bothered to, then I don’t see why I should try to read its mind.

    2. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm |

      That said, I ABSOLUTELY AGREE that Oberlin is full of shit, and that people should absolutely teach uncomfortable and triggering material. I don’t think giving people a heads-up about it is required; just that it’s decent. YMMV on whether college professors are intrinsically required to be assholes of course.

      1. EG
        EG March 5, 2014 at 2:52 pm |

        Professors aren’t required to be assholes. But professors are absent-minded, and particularly apt to be so familiar with texts that they work on and focused on specific parts of them that they forget the other parts (this happened to me recently with something that I now forget).

        This is about administration recommendations. And when administration starts to interfere with course content, the results are almost never, ever to the good.

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 5:13 pm |

          But professors are absent-minded, and particularly apt to be so familiar with texts that they work on and focused on specific parts of them that they forget the other parts (this happened to me recently with something that I now forget).

          If someone’s so absent-minded that they literally cannot remember what’s in the book they’re being paid to teach, I know grocery stores that need people to put big boxes of cereal in big unforgettable bags.

        2. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 5:17 pm |

          Like seriously, I’m not going to give a prof shit for forgetting in which exact act and scene Fortinbras said the thing, but if they’re (for example) setting The Bluest Eye for a text and can’t remember the graphic rape scene at the centre of the action and the plot, they’re incompetent at best.

        3. EG
          EG March 5, 2014 at 5:27 pm |

          I’m far more likely to remember the former than the latter, which is why I make a good lit critic and a terrible anything else.

        4. EG
          EG March 6, 2014 at 10:58 am |

          Like, as an example, I read The Bluest Eye 20 years ago, and I remember that there’s a rape in it and that it’s incestuous and that it takes place in a…kitchen, I want to say? But I remember the chapter riffing on Dick and Jane much more clearly.

          Still, I personally am unlikely to forget that a rape scene exists. But I just taught and read Turn of the Screw literally a month ago, and I can’t remember whether or not suicide is a plot point. Literally cannot remember. As in, I think one of the characters may have committed suicide, but I could be misremembering, or it could be possible but left ambiguous because that’s what that book is all about. I can talk in great detail about other elements of the novella, but if suicide is one of the things that needs a TW on the syllabus…then we could be in trouble, but I’m don’t know whether or not it’s in there. And I’m really quite good at what I do.

    3. CBrachyrhynchos
      CBrachyrhynchos March 5, 2014 at 2:50 pm |

      When I teach, at the beginning of the term, I try to remember to note things like “We’re reading nineteenth-century British children’s literature, and we’re going to encounter lots of racism, and I don’t want to hear excuses like ‘that’s the way it was back then’ or ‘they were just ignorant.’ They were racist, and we’ll be discussing that.” Beyond things like that, though, for fuck’s sake, I don’t even always know ahead of time if a text is going to be deeply upsetting to me. I can’t gauge for every student in my class.

      Which is much closer to what advocates for warnings actually suggest than many of the straw proposals discussed here.

      1. EG
        EG March 5, 2014 at 2:56 pm |

        The Oberlin policy says:

        Remove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals.

        Sometimes a work is too important to avoid. For example, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart 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. Here are some steps you, as a professor, can take so that your class can examine this source in the most productive and safe manner possible:

        Issue a trigger warning. A trigger warning is a statement that warns people of a potential trigger, so that they can prepare for or choose to avoid the trigger. Issuing a trigger warning will also show students that you care about their safety.

        You may hesitate to issue a trigger warning, or try to compose a vague trigger warning, because you feel it might also be a “spoiler.” A trigger warning does not need to give everything away. If you’re warning people about the issue of suicide in Things Fall Apart, you can write, “Trigger warning: This book contains a scene of suicide…” You don’t necessarily need to “give away” the plot. However, even if a trigger warning does contain a spoiler, experiencing a trigger is always, always worse than experiencing a spoiler.

        Try to avoid using graphic language yourself within the trigger warning, but do give students a hint about what might be triggering about the material. If you say something like, “This movie might be upsetting to some of you,” that can a) sound patronizing and b) lead everyone who’s experienced trauma to feel like they might have a terrible time. Try instead saying, “This movie contains scenes of racism, including slurs and even physical violence, but I believe that the movie itself is working to expose and stand against racism and I think it is important to our work here.”

        Tell students why you have chosen to include this material, even though you know it is triggering. For example:
        “…We are reading this work in spite of the author’s racist frameworks because his work was foundational to establishing the field of anthropology, and because I think together we can challenge, deconstruct, and learn from his mistakes.”
        “…This documentary challenges heterosexism in an important way. It is vital to discuss this issue. I think watching and discussing this documentary will help us become better at challenging heterosexism ourselves.”

        Strongly consider developing a policy to make triggering material optional or offering students an alterative assignment using different materials. When possible, help students avoid having to choose between their academic success and their own wellbeing.

        This is considerably more involved than what I describe. I may agree with some of things in it. I may have done some of the things in it. But don’t pretend it’s the equivalent of a couple sentences regarding the body of work at the beginning of term.

        1. CBrachyrhynchos
          CBrachyrhynchos March 5, 2014 at 4:31 pm |

          The additional information is helpful. I also disagree with this policy.

  8. EG
    EG March 5, 2014 at 2:10 pm |

    This piece by TressieMC articulates my thoughts precisely.

    Put a damn trigger warning on that damn statue in Central Park. Put a trigger warning on campus celebrations of Thanksgiving. Put a trigger warning on Women’s Studies departments that are hostile to trans students. But my syllabus on representations of queerness and childhood is the problem? Fuck that.

    1. EG
      EG March 5, 2014 at 2:12 pm |

      Students can hang Confederate flags out their windows–put a trigger warning on that . Hell, put a trigger warning on the US flag, considering the history of this country. But it’s college syllabi that are the problem?

      1. EG
        EG March 5, 2014 at 2:14 pm |

        Frats stage marches chanting “No means yes!” Trigger warning that shit.

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 2:36 pm |

          The next time 50% of my grade (which I am bloody well paying for, upon which my academic and professional future rests) relies on how meticulously I attend fratboy rape marches, how thoroughly I can compile a bibliography on how many ways one can scream “no means yes”, and then analysing the inflections and nuances of fratboys screaming “no means yes” for 5000 words, I’ll take your objection seriously.

        2. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 2:43 pm |

          *not to say that payment means I get to dictate content, but that it’s something that my financial status is in considerable jeopardy for, and that it indicates my seriousness in study.

        3. EG
          EG March 5, 2014 at 2:46 pm |

          50% of your grade hinges on you reading a specific text? In that case, all I can say is that part of what I learned in college was how to fake it.

          I have no sympathy for the student-as-customer approach. Students on financial aid deserve no less consideration than students paying their full way. Students aren’t my customers. Students are, if we must use a business analogy, which I think is a poor idea to being with, my product.

          The point is that if a college really wants to deal racism, misogyny, homophobia on its campus, syllabi are the least of its problems. This is a bullshit band-aid move akin to dress codes in public schools.

        4. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 5:11 pm |

          50% of your grade hinges on you reading a specific text? In that case, all I can say is that part of what I learned in college was how to fake it.

          Are you, as a college professor, seriously saying that you would prefer that students NOT READ THEIR TEXT MATERIAL rather than you providing a basic “hey this contains rape”?

          I have no sympathy for the student-as-customer approach.

          I have no sympathy for the instructor-as-God approach. I guess we’re lucky not to ever run into each other professionally.

          How about the “student as human being” approach? OR don’t you actually think that people might be fucking damaged by accidentally happening across graphic incest and rape and getting triggered? That it might substantially damage their ability to function properly in the course? Fuck responsibility to the paying customer, how about basic decency for people over whom you have substantial academic power?

          Seriously, I can’t even communicate right now with how fucking angry your comment makes me. Especially when I bloody well CLARIFIED what I meant about paying for the course, and you barged ahead and gave me shit anyway. Because it’s more important to protect your right to be an asshole than to read.

        5. EG
          EG March 5, 2014 at 5:25 pm |

          I wrote that comment as you were posting your second comment, it seems, because I never saw your second comment before now. But carry on assuming the worst if you’d prefer.

          Are you, as a college professor, seriously saying that you would prefer that students NOT READ THEIR TEXT MATERIAL rather than you providing a basic “hey this contains rape”?

          If a student needs to not read a particular novel, that is always that student’s call to make, trigger warning or not. I don’t see how my providing a trigger warning will make the difference there. My point is that 50% of your grade is not dependent on your doing any one reading. I would be greatly surprised if any student actually did all the reading for any one class. I suspect it’s quite unusual.

        6. EG
          EG March 5, 2014 at 5:26 pm |

          Further, the question is not whether or not I prefer to provide a trigger warning. The question is whether I think administration should have anything to say about whether or not I do. I say absolutely not.

        7. EG
          EG March 5, 2014 at 5:41 pm |

          The Oberlin policy reads:

          Triggers are not only relevant to sexual misconduct, but also to anything that might cause trauma. Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression….Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart 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.

          Oberlin is not advocating saying “Hey, this contains rape.” Oberlin is asking its faculty to put trigger warnings on syllabi for every form of oppression under the sun, suicide, unspecified “violence,” and “more.” That’s not asking for a sentence of heads-up. That’s a grocery list, and it’s asking me to speculate on every possible upsetting element in every text I assign (“and more”).

          I’m doing a class on representations of queerness and childhood. If I trigger-warning “homophobia,” say, that’s easily 3/4s of the primary texts. Does James Baldwin’s first novel needs a trigger warning for racism? At what point can I give my students credit for being adults who can put two and two together, and figure out memoirs of growing up queer are going to include memories of homophobia and that a novel about black communities in 1930s NYC and the US South is going to include racism? A trigger warning on Turn of the Screw is not only going to give away every plot element in it, but is also going to preset readings of a novella that is famous for its ambiguity.

        8. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 5:50 pm |

          I agreed with you up-thread about the Oberlin policy; it’s over-the-top and pointlessly intrusive. And I’m glad you just hadn’t seen my comment, because that makes more sense than the other.

          Further, the question is not whether or not I prefer to provide a trigger warning. The question is whether I think administration should have anything to say about whether or not I do. I say absolutely not.

          That said: sure, YOU provide warnings (and exactly the kind of warning I like, as I mentioned above) but a hell of a lot of people don’t, and I think that if people aren’t going to be decent human beings, some level of humaning has to be imposed on them. And sure, in the power scale admins are privileged over teachers, but I don’t think the teachers’ response should be to kick students in the head because someone else is kicking them in theirs.

        9. EG
          EG March 5, 2014 at 7:25 pm |

          But profs who don’t give a fuck aren’t going to start giving a fuck because admins tell them to–they’re far more likely to be the ones kicking the students in their heads than anyone else. The tenured prof in my department, who, I’ve been told, passes around handouts with naked pictures of Henry Miller on them and revels in his female students’ discomfort isn’t going to stop because of admin guidelines. And the attempt on the part of admins to make a power grab regarding curricular control is a real thing, and about alienating labor.

          If professional organizations, like AAUW and AAUP and MLA want to issue recommendations for TW and guidelines on using them (that aren’t stupid a la Oberlin), that would be a very different thing to me. I’d be on board with that.

          But if admins aren’t going to intervene with profs known to be harassing assholes, then this just strikes me as one more way to cover their asses and try to wedge their way into the classroom.

        10. ldouglas
          ldouglas March 5, 2014 at 9:37 pm |

          Mac- I think part of the issue, for me at least, is that admins are historically terrible at trying to do this stuff well. Their knee-jerk response (which then becomes ossified into unalterable policy, in about five minutes) is always to limit liability, which translates into intense hostility to anything potentially challenging to students. I went to a school that’s very well known for its commitment to academic freedom and faculty control, and even there one of my professors was ‘investigated’ for religious and racial intolerance- something that went on for months, until the faculty outcry finally prevailed.

          Her crime? Allowing students in a philosophy of religion class to (carefully, thoughtfully, politely) debate whether monotheistic religions were less likely to be tolerant of other faiths than their historic predecessors.

          So while I actually generally feel like it’s good practice to let people know when common triggers may come up (EGs model is, I think, a really good one), having admins have anything to do with it is unacceptable to me. It will cause far more long-term damage than good.

        11. ldouglas
          ldouglas March 5, 2014 at 9:42 pm |

          And before anyone thinks this is some sort of anti-PC manifesto a la Dinesh D’Souza, those same admins tried to suspend a student for naming the man who sexually assaulted her publicly.

  9. ldouglas
    ldouglas March 5, 2014 at 4:12 pm |

    College students are not helpless children whose eyes are being held open and who are being forced to read things.

    This is the single most important sentence in this entire discussion, I think. I’m not that far out of college, I have some relatively serious ‘triggers’ of my own, and the level of patronizing, condescending bullshit that is spewing out of some of the people on the pro-warning side makes me want to scream.

  10. Nilbogboh
    Nilbogboh March 5, 2014 at 4:15 pm |

    I have conflicted feelings about all of this. I teach a variety of courses that contain potentially triggering content, but in particular I teach a course on Slavery in which I have had to confront this issue several times. The first time I taught it I think that I expected that students would recognize that a course on slavery was going to be full of difficult and upsetting material, so I never prefaced any of the material. I had two students that semester completely break down while watching the film Sankofa (in which there is a horrific rape scene). We had read several essays dealing with the sexual exploitation of slaves previously, but the film was the breaking point for these two students. In my classes now I try to warn students at the beginning of the semester that we will read things that can be triggering in a variety of ways, but I carefully explain why it is important to actually read about racism and sexual exploitation in order to understand them. The history of slavery is one that should not be sanitized in my opinion (especially at the college level). I still struggle, however, with what to do for the students that cannot handle certain material. Do I give them alternate assignments? Should I allow them to skip the days we talk about it? etc. I feel strongly that as faculty we should be trusted to be experts in the material and to make our own decisions about what our students need to know in advance by carefully weighing pedagogical value and emotional health.

    1. Athenia
      Athenia March 5, 2014 at 5:03 pm |

      I completely support your comment and I wish I could upvote it a million times!

    2. EG
      EG March 6, 2014 at 10:48 am |

      I too completely support everything you say in your comment. It articulates my feelings perfectly.

  11. ldouglas
    ldouglas March 5, 2014 at 4:18 pm |

    And screw anyone who thinks it’s a good idea for school administrators to have an iota more power over what goes on in classrooms than they already have. The growth of legions of non-faculty bureaucrats is the primary thing driving vastly more expensive college tuitions and provide no measurable benefit, while doing their level best to stifle student expression, creativity, and everything non-corporate and soulless about the university system.

    Even in the last decade, administrator positions have more than doubled while faculty jobs have gone up by about 5-10%. Barely any of them do anything useful for the world.

    1. EG
      EG March 5, 2014 at 4:20 pm |

      Even in the last decade, administrator positions have more than doubled while faculty jobs have gone up by about 5-10%. Barely any of them do anything useful for the world.

      To say nothing of administrator’s salaries relative to faculty’s, and the ever-increasing use of adjunct labor.

      1. ldouglas
        ldouglas March 5, 2014 at 4:37 pm |

        To say nothing of administrator’s salaries relative to faculty’s, and the ever-increasing use of adjunct labor.

        With you 100%.

  12. MicNikki
    MicNikki March 5, 2014 at 4:29 pm |

    I super, major, wholeheartedly agree (with Jill). Just throwing my voice in as one amongst many. Trigger warnings have become effectively diluted. And they absolutely set the tone of a piece before you read it.

    I say this as a person heavily prone to certain types of triggers.

  13. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin March 5, 2014 at 4:29 pm |

    I am aware of my triggers, for the most part. I’m also aware of what topics or issues might create a problem for me. They are thankfully much less frequent now that I’ve been properly medicated and I attend weekly therapy.

    I’ve been recently watching a fairly new documentary series about the building of Nazi concentration camps, specifically Auschwitz. It’s all grim stuff, of course, but I’ve taken it on in part as an intellectual challenge and also a religious one.

    As a Quaker, I’m supposed to see that of God in everyone and to live a life as a pacifist, rejecting war and the occasion for war completely. But where is that of God in people who systemically murdered an entire race of people? It’s worthwhile effort for me to consider the whole of the argument, as my initial response has long been only how can people do this to each other?

    Balancing the two in tension has allowed me to reach an answer for my question, even though it scares me how easy it is to rationalize the killing of other human beings.

    Trigger warnings would never have allowed me the ability to make this leap in comprehension.

    1. CBrachyrhynchos
      CBrachyrhynchos March 5, 2014 at 4:38 pm |

      Trigger warnings would never have allowed me the ability to make this leap in comprehension.

      I disagree. I made the decision to read explicit transcripts and reporting of the Sandusky trial. I was grateful that those transcripts and reports were labeled as explicit above the fold, so I could work through them on my own time and terms.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 5:24 pm |

        I disagree. I made the decision to read explicit transcripts and reporting of the Sandusky trial. I was grateful that those transcripts and reports were labeled as explicit above the fold, so I could work through them on my own time and terms.

        YES. There are days when I can read survivor statements without flashing back to my molester, and there are days when I’d curl up in a ball and wind up missing four nights’ sleep, and be fucked if I can manage my anxiety if people are going to spring triggering shit on me because they FUCKING FORGOT their own text material, or didn’t give enough of a shit.

        I had a First Nations class last year that dealt wtih horrific abuses in history. Rape, abuse, physical abuse, torture, mass murder, you name it. The instructor provided brief warnings, informed us of the content of video clips before playing it, and it worked out just fucking fine, and I didn’t magically stop learning because I knew ten minutes in advance that I was going to see a clip about brutal murders.

        1. CBrachyrhynchos
          CBrachyrhynchos March 5, 2014 at 6:06 pm |

          Thank you. For me, I can’t deal with TV news because 1) it’s a push medium and 2) it’s a performance with a heightened level of affect these days.

          I’m actually not a big fan of abstracting them out behind the phrase “trigger warning.” I’d prefer a descriptive title and an introduction/lede that establishes the subject. If it’s going somewhere that has tags, use them. If you open with grumpy cat, pull a bait-and-switch to sexual assault, and go back again for the conclusion, I might be triggered. More likely, I’ll be pissed because you’re a troll and a hack.

    2. epinetron
      epinetron March 5, 2014 at 5:30 pm |

      But you watched the documentaries knowing that they were documentaries about the Holocaust, no? It’s not like you just picked up a random movie and then all of a sudden halfway through realized it was about Nazi atrocities. And the fact that a movie is a Holocaust documentary, well, that’s pretty much a massive TW: Nazis in itself– people who want to avoid triggering descriptions of genocide tend not to go out of their way to watch documentaries about, well, genocide.

      1. bookshopcat
        bookshopcat March 6, 2014 at 9:57 am |

        Exactly. In my case, if someone posts a link to a story about, oh, I dunno, dating a trans guy without discussing the content or context, I have no. way. of knowing what it’s going to be like. It could be something good (or at least not actively harmful), or it could be something poisonous that’s going to leave me feeling sick for days. Cissexism is something that I deal with on the regular, something that causes serious barriers and issues in my life and the lives of my friends, and I can’t make it stop by turning off the TV. Having it sprung on me out of the blue is nothing like deciding to sit down and watch Holocaust documentaries as an intellectual exercise (which strongly implies that it’s so far outside the viewer’s experience/history that they have a fair bit of emotional distance from the subject).

  14. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin March 5, 2014 at 4:55 pm |

    I’m quite happy to disagree, because I only know my own emotional response. And hopefully we all do.

  15. karak
    karak March 5, 2014 at 5:17 pm |

    I completely agree that trigger warnings are a form of sanitizing, when used abusively, and are a way to frame certain experiences as abnormal.

    Others in this thread have addressed the issues in ways I like, so I’m going to talk about my personal experiences.

    I distinctly remember four texts that I read that were actually traumatizing, as a child. Bastard out of Carolina was given to me by a teacher that was impressed by my work and she thought it would challenge me. The Color Purple was actually assigned reading by my mother (I was briefly homeschooled), and while she did warn me, to some extent, I was completely taken aback by the sparse description of the brutal rape scene in the first chapter.

    Apt Pupil and Lord of the Flies were both texts I found on the family bookshelf, they both gave me nightmares. They’re distinct for being the only books I know to be definitively responsible for my nightmares.

    However, I read all of these by the time I was fifteen. I don’t remember being traumatized by a single text in college–even ones that were disturbing or dealt with death, racism, or sexual abuse.

    Trigger warnings are meant to be quick and fast. They have no depth and assume a sort of “rule of thumb”. Their lack of sophistication makes them excellent for a blog post, but in college, in a world that’s more thorough and thoughtful, a trigger warning is an incorrect tool. Talk about the text meaningfully, don’t slap a two-sentence scarlet letter on it.

    1. epinetron
      epinetron March 5, 2014 at 5:48 pm |

      but in college, in a world that’s more thorough and thoughtful, a trigger warning is an incorrect tool. Talk about the text meaningfully, don’t slap a two-sentence scarlet letter on it.

      This. I always put a warning in my syllabi and bring it up in the first class meeting if we’re going to be discussing topics like rape, racism, slavery, etc.– and as a Classicist, pretty much all of my classes have rape in them, and a whole lot of them have descriptions of slavery and (ancient or, less frequently, modern) racist ideas. The point of this warning is both to encourage students to be sensitive about these issues in discussion and to warn students who might be triggered by them. I also am trying to get better about mentioning before we read a specific text if it has a really graphic/upsetting scene of violence/rape/something else triggering, rather than just giving them the catch-all at the beginning of class, because I don’t want to upset or trigger any students in my class with my teaching.

      But I want to balance that need with the pedagogical need to get students to think a bit more deeply about the past, to get them to write papers that have more nuance than simply saying “Rome was a super sexist society” as their main argument. And I also need to balance the need for not triggering students with the need to not glorify or whitewash the past, which I believe does all my students a disservice– so skipping things like rape or slavery is bad, too, because then we’re only looking at the good and skipping the bad. And giving a trigger warning on every single possible bad thing in every single text, well… I guess it would be possible, but it just seems like it would oversimplify the issues and lead to a lack of nuance in student thinking. But I do try to give trigger warnings (although I don’t call them that) for graphic and potentially very upsetting scenes in texts we read.

      But then, in the works I teach, spoilers aren’t really a thing the way they are in more recent literature– as EG mentioned, there can often be a much more delicate balance between triggers and spoilers when the works at hand are 19th/20th/21st century literature, where suspense and plot twists are part of an author’s toolbox.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 5:57 pm |

        I had a Classics course last year where the prof did exactly that. It worked perfectly ♥

      2. Yonah
        Yonah March 6, 2014 at 11:15 am |

        As another classicist, I wish you had been my professor. For some reason the rape, slavery, murders, torture, etc., never seemed real the way my professors spoke about it, like they were la-la-land equivalents of our modern real deal. I don’t remember a single good discussion about these things. If you know of anything written down (book, link to forum discussion, whatever!) I would be really grateful. We should probably take this to spillover?

    2. Asia
      Asia March 5, 2014 at 5:49 pm |

      I’m not sure how many college freshmen would have been exposed to the same books in childhood. I think that if my parents had realized the context of many of the books i read they would disagreed. College students are adults but there is a wide range in experience and preparation.

      I would worry that you might encounter students that really had never given serious thought to distressing contexts. They deserve and frankly probably need some instruction on how to deal with reading that material.

      I’ve seen the results of a rape survivor being triggered. I’m talking a full on panic attack. If that can be avoided, it should be. But, her being triggered wasn’t the presenter’s fault it was the rapists fault.

  16. sunflowerradio
    sunflowerradio March 5, 2014 at 5:33 pm |

    Paradoxically, I think this is may be easier to deal with in classes where regular readings and discussions have difficult or disturbing material, because students come into the class understanding that it won’t be intellectually or emotionally easy.

    I took a class on various feminist perspectives on sex work (not trying to derail) and there were a few days where the professor said something along the lines of, “Next class we’ll be watching a film, and it will be a little more graphic than what we usually deal with, so if you need to skip the class, no questions asked.” Nothing we discussed in that class was easy, so we didn’t expect the film to be either; but her gentle trigger warning was very much appreciated.

  17. anna_k
    anna_k March 5, 2014 at 5:55 pm |

    I don’t really know what I think here, but am finding it very interesting reading the insights in comments, esp. EG’s and mac’s.

    I say I dunno what to think b/c (as clear from my previous Rwanda posts) I spend my entire working life on atrocities, genocide, war crimes, etc *and* I have PTSD so yeah, triggers do matter. My thoughts and experiences are complex, mixed and unsettled.

    In my experience, where I’ve been able to work independently under a supervisor, so just being guided in general terms, I’ve had very few issues because I have control over when and how I approach triggering material (with the obvious caveat that I also have deadlines by which time things have to be written).

    The few times I’ve had big problems, it’s been in structured classes with assigned reading material.

    Once was with a white male professor who’d never even mentioned trigger warnings/showed awareness of their existence, but was super-understanding when I raised issues, was unable to fully participate in that class, and needed an extension for certain work. And he changed his policies on the specific document for the future too.

    The other times, though, have all been in a class run by (self-defined) feminists that’s all about emphasising how caring and intersectional and social justice-y it is in theory, thus leaving me no space to actually protest the bi-weekly racism and neo-colonialism of the class, because don’t I understand how knowledgeable and caring and prejudice-free everyone is in there?

    So I can also see space for ostensibly trigger warning-friendly classes to themselves perpetuate abuse, is what I’m saying, I guess. Appreciate that it’s only my experience and doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone! Would appreciate others’ thoughts on whether they’ve bumped up against similar things tho :)

    1. ldouglas
      ldouglas March 5, 2014 at 6:00 pm |

      Once was with a white male professor who’d never even mentioned trigger warnings/showed awareness of their existence, but was super-understanding when I raised issues, was unable to fully participate in that class, and needed an extension for certain work. And he changed his policies on the specific document for the future too.

      The other times, though, have all been in a class run by (self-defined) feminists that’s all about emphasising how caring and intersectional and social justice-y it is in theory, thus leaving me no space to actually protest the bi-weekly racism and neo-colonialism of the class, because don’t I understand how knowledgeable and caring and prejudice-free everyone is in there?

      I always hesitate to tell stories like this because I’m genuinely worried that they’ll come across as feminist-bashing and privilege-denying, but in my limited personal academic experience, I’ve encountered that same juxtaposition all the time.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 6:11 pm |

        Most angry-making stuff I encountered was in a supposedly feminist class, yep.

        1. karak
          karak March 5, 2014 at 8:48 pm |

          I think the betrayal is what makes it so much worse.

          And the weird, suffocating, coercive niceness of the silencing. In a weird way, verbal violence and outright hostility are easier to navigate.

        2. ldouglas
          ldouglas March 5, 2014 at 9:27 pm |

          And the weird, suffocating, coercive niceness of the silencing. In a weird way, verbal violence and outright hostility are easier to navigate.

          Not to start a kerfluffle, but this is (part of) why I despise Shakesville.

  18. Tim
    Tim March 5, 2014 at 6:36 pm |

    There was a case at the U. of Iowa where a couple of German instructors showed undergraduate German language classes Taxi Zum Klo as an in-class exercise, no warnings of any kind. It eventually led to a statewide uproar for weeks, against which people were claiming academic freedom defenses, but it really was just bad teaching. I was also in a class where the professor assigned James Baldwin’s short story “Going to Meet the Man.” I had no idea about it and it was horrifying to read, but I really did feel for the sole black student in the class who seemed pretty messed up about it. I don’t see how at least brief ones would be a problem.

    1. karak
      karak March 5, 2014 at 8:50 pm |

      I just wiki’ed “Going to Meet the Man” and what the everloving fuck, why in the name of God would you spring that on someone.

  19. Andie
    Andie March 5, 2014 at 6:57 pm |

    I have a problem with this:

    Students should – and do – have the right to walk out of any classroom. But students should also accept the challenge of exploring their own beliefs and responding to challenges

    It seems to work on the assumption that people requiring trigger warnings are simply uncomfortable with experiences they’ve not had, or with being challenged (such as, say, a white student who has never had to deal with some of the more brutal realities of racism), whereas I’ve understood the need for warnings to be for people who have had to deal with these things, to the point where it can evoke a very visceral and damaging reaction.

    I definitely agree that there are some triggers that may be too specific and personalized to account for (I had a friend in HS who had an abortion and was triggered by the many mentions of embryos and accompanying imagery in Brave New World, which I could see a teacher not necessarily making that connection) but I do think that some of the general isms can and should at least be mentioned.

    As far as “spoilers” and the idea of colouring ones experience of a work, don’t book jackets and other synopses do similar?

    1. EG
      EG March 5, 2014 at 7:49 pm |

      Book jackets tend to go out of their way not to spoil plot points.

    2. PrettyAmiable
      PrettyAmiable March 5, 2014 at 9:09 pm |

      It seems to work on the assumption that people requiring trigger warnings are simply uncomfortable with experiences they’ve not had, or with being challenged (such as, say, a white student who has never had to deal with some of the more brutal realities of racism), whereas I’ve understood the need for warnings to be for people who have had to deal with these things, to the point where it can evoke a very visceral and damaging reaction.

      I have a rant in moderation where I get exceptionally pissed at the conflation of triggers with what seems like “making people deeply uncomfortable.” No. Big no.

      1. trees
        trees March 6, 2014 at 8:45 am |

        I have a rant in moderation where I get exceptionally pissed at the conflation of triggers with what seems like “making people deeply uncomfortable.” No. Big no.

        But I suspect that this is exactly how it would function, with those of relative privilege wanting to avoid stories of oppression.

        1. PrettyAmiable
          PrettyAmiable March 6, 2014 at 9:12 am |

          I have faith that bigots are successful in avoiding stories of oppression very well without the presence of TWs. I honestly thing the good they do deeply, deeply outweighs the bad.

        2. trees
          trees March 6, 2014 at 9:22 am |

          I imagine that it would be these very folks pushing hardest for the trigger warnings. For me personally, the content of a course has been the least of my problems. My issue has been with how the material is taught, classroom dynamics and the comments of fellow students. None of this stuff would ever get a trigger warning.

        3. PrettyAmiable
          PrettyAmiable March 7, 2014 at 5:25 pm |

          I hear you, but I’ve literally never come across anyone using them that way online (I say online because I’ve never personally seen a trigger warning used in person, which might make a difference when I reference the classroom – I’ve been out of school for three years and don’t see myself going back soon). I’m open to the idea that it could be used in a way that hurts other people in the way you describe, but what it comes down to is this: I am completely against people misusing “triggers” and “trigger warnings.” I am completely for people using trigger warnings correctly.

    3. PrettyAmiable
      PrettyAmiable March 5, 2014 at 9:09 pm |

      It seems to work on the assumption that people requiring trigger warnings are simply uncomfortable with experiences they’ve not had, or with being challenged (such as, say, a white student who has never had to deal with some of the more brutal realities of racism), whereas I’ve understood the need for warnings to be for people who have had to deal with these things, to the point where it can evoke a very visceral and damaging reaction.

      I have a rant in moderation where I get exceptionally pissed at the conflation of triggers with what seems like “making people deeply uncomfortable.” No. Big no.

  20. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable March 5, 2014 at 9:01 pm |

    Trigger warnings are largely perceived as protecting young women and, to a lesser extent, other marginalized groups – people of color, LGBT people, people with mental illnesses. That the warnings hinge on topics that are more likely to affect the lives of marginalized groups contributes to the general perception of members of those groups as weak, vulnerable and “other”.

    This is the crux of the issue that I have with this article.

    1) I don’t really give a fuck how neurotypical people understand triggers or trigger warnings. They are not for you. They are only for people who are mentally ill, whatever other class of people they may also fall into.

    2) Triggers are things that incite a Post Traumatic Stress reaction. They are not there because you might have to encounter difficult material and that might make you feel queasy (whatever your experience with trama may be). They are things that cause you to have symptoms of your PTSD – anxiety attacks, flashbacks, etc.

    3) All trigger warnings do, when effective, is serve as a tool for someone with this mental illness (diagnosed or undiagnosed) to decide for themselves whether they can participate in a discussion or read a document or whatever.

    4) The argument that college should avoid trigger warnings because “Universities and blogs do students no favors by pretending that every piece of offensive content comes with a warning sign” is so ridiculous that I don’t know where to begin. You know who knows the real world doesn’t come with a trigger warning? The entire populace of people with PTSD. Did you honest-to-god come across someone with PTSD who was shocked – SHOCKED – that zie got onto an elevator with a bunch of dudebros who made a joke about rape and then got upset because in college, zir professor slapped a content note on zir syllabus? What a strange straw man (but congrats! bc you knocked that guy empty).

    5) The only reason trigger warnings exist is to make the lives of people with a mental disorder slightly easier. If you don’t want to do it, don’t. Despite this screed, I couldn’t give much of a shit how considerate people are of one another (probably because if I did, I’d be consumed by sadness every moment of every day, as 7 billion of us run around trying to throw one another under a bus). It only pisses me off when you publish something like this which, despite protestations that this will be unpopular, seems like a vehicle for a giant circle jerk of smugness. (See: “Trigger Warning: this piece discusses trigger warnings.”)

    6) This isn’t addressed, but I feel like it’ll be something that comes up, if only because you link to Shakesville which is very trigger happy – is there a way to hit every possible trigger? No, of course not. Literally the only trigger I have anymore is running into people who have a very specific, hipster-esque look. It makes me panic and wonder if it’s my attempted rapist (who, notably, lives in DC and not NYC where I am now). If I get triggered by a Cracked article that makes fun of hipsters and uses a stock photo of a guy who looks like him, I don’t blow up the comments with commentary about how they didn’t warn me that I might see a guy who looks my attempted rapist. …It’s almost as if people with PTSD are regularly triggered in the real world and aren’t confused when trigger warnings aren’t tacked onto every goddamned thing that moves.

    And if your argument is that the presence of trigger warnings dampens a reading for people without PTSD as well as those with PTSD who are comfortable navigating every aspect of life without a trigger warning, I’m literally happy to put you into the same class of people who also think that folks who need ramps in order to ease their access to a building or single mothers who need work that offers additional leave to take care of their children should buck the fuck up, because we could spend the money on that ramp or leave elsewhere (i.e. in a way that also benefits the respective non-oppressed class).

    To the folks with PTSD agreeing with Jill (ldouglas and Comrade Kevin, among others), I hear you. I do. If it helps, I posted a rant two nights ago on the Spillover thread about how much it pisses me off when people call me brave for having been sexually assaulted for what looks like partly the same reason you’re giving here (i.e. it’s strangely infantilizing to me). I just can’t get behind you because when I see a trigger warning for sexual assault (as opposed to vaguely hipster-looking guys as noted above), I think “Oh. This isn’t about me.” and move on. They did help me back when any graphic discussion of SA would trigger me, however, and when it comes down to a utilitarian approach, having them does more good than not having them. Your opinions matter to me, and I respect your position though I don’t think we’ll see eye to eye.

    And of course, everything mac said.

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 10:01 pm |

      And if your argument is that the presence of trigger warnings dampens a reading for people without PTSD as well as those with PTSD who are comfortable navigating every aspect of life without a trigger warning, I’m literally happy to put you into the same class of people who also think that folks who need ramps in order to ease their access to a building or single mothers who need work that offers additional leave to take care of their children should buck the fuck up

      Yes to everything you said, but especially especially especially to this.

      1. PrettyAmiable
        PrettyAmiable March 6, 2014 at 1:34 am |

        Pfft. It’s because I agreed with everything you said above, right? :) But seriously. When I went through this thread the first time, we were 45 comments deep. I refreshed, and couldn’t get through the next 30. Thank you for saying everything you said above.

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 6, 2014 at 1:27 pm |

          Nah, you raised a bunch of points I didn’t even know how to articulate! It’s a beautiful comment, really.

    2. Denise Winters
      Denise Winters March 5, 2014 at 10:26 pm |

      Wonderful comment. I am really confused by the people who seem to be arguing that those who could benefit from trigger warnings might not realize that the “real” world (which is a term that is often used to paint an idealized version of the college experience that is only really available to a select privileged few imo) people are not that considerate or they might run into triggers anywhere and anytime. I trust people who can benefit from trigger warnings might know something about how terrible and triggering the world at large can be at times, and feel that shouldn’t be used as a reason for not applying trigger warnings in some settings, even if it is something as passive as letting everyone know from the beginning they can contact you if they feel material might be triggering and then giving a content synopsis for materials studied.

      I also find the apparent assertion that minorities shouldn’t take measures to prepare ourselves as best as possible for material that may hurt or trigger us because of how it might affect oppressors opinion of us and our struggles to be odd. It seems like it is centering the needs of oppressors and those with privilege.

    3. Ally S
      Ally S March 6, 2014 at 12:40 am |

      *slow clap*

      Awesome comment.

    4. Whosagooddog
      Whosagooddog March 6, 2014 at 10:49 am |

      Thanks for posting this comment, PrettyAmiable. I typed out a comment last night about the difference between people with PTSD being triggered and people without PTSD being really upset or disturbed. I deleted it without posting, though, because I was afraid it would come across as some variation of oppression Olympics or something, but I think your comment was spot on. That said, my thought process actually led me to a conclusion closer to Jill’s than yours, so I guess I will go ahead and voice my thoughts after all.

      My objection is that the increasingly ubiquitous use of trigger warnings, or rather, their application to a broader class of potentially unsettling content, tends to erode awareness of the very distinction you highlighted. PTSD is typically caused by specific and intense events of trauma. More diffuse experiences are much less likely to rewire the brain into PTSD mode. That’s not to say PTSD can never result from diffuse experiences, just that it’s less common.

      With that in mind, I think it’s much more probable that a person will develop PTSD (and thus be potentially susceptible to triggers) from an acute trauma like rape than from the experience of a contextual oppression like racism, classism, colonialism, etc. The latter are undoubtedly (and entirely justifiably) deeply scarring for many people who experience them, but those scars are categorically different than PTSD, and encountering reminders of those experiences is likewise categorically different than encountering a PTSD trigger. (Caveat: specific acts of trauma can certainly be accompanied by and associated with broad-based oppressions – e.g., violent hate crimes – but in that case, it’s likely to be the specific trauma, not the motivating context, that leads to PTSD.)

      Nonetheless, it’s quite common in social justice circles (and per Jill’s article it’s beginning to seep into more general settings) to provide “trigger warnings” for diffuse oppressions right alongside the warnings for common PTSD-inducing traumas like rape, child abuse and other specific acts of violence. In my view, that inevitably conflates the two in people’s minds, making it that much harder for folks with actual PTSD to get the consideration they should.

      So, in short, while I’m inclined to think trigger warnings for common PTSD-inducing traumas is often a good thing, I think that expanding the universe of content that gets such warnings does more harm than good.

      1. EG
        EG March 6, 2014 at 11:20 am |

        Well, to argue on the other side, the reason I try to (and don’t always succeed) in giving my students’ heads-ups about encountering racism in the texts we read (particularly in books that explicitly or tacitly endorse the racism), is that otherwise, my students of color are going along reading a book, maybe Nesbit’s The Story of the Treasure Seekers, and get smacked in the face with some pretty nasty racism at the end (well, and anti-semitism in the middle, as well). I want to make it clear to them that my classroom does not find that OK or something to just glide past or a minor issue, because I don’t want them to skip the class on the assumption that they’re going to have to sit there uncomfortably and pretend that there isn’t this giant racist elephant in the room. For me, that’s part of doing my best to make my classroom an anti-racist space.

        And I now realize that I’m arguing all sides of the question. So for clarity’s sake, I think the following:

        1) I think teachers should give students’ heads-ups about disturbing readings, and, if necessary, provide alternate assignments.

        2) I think college students also have the responsibility to look up books on the internet if they know that they have triggers, particularly triggers that are not as overt as sexual violence etc., because not only are professors human and inclined to forget things or not realize something could be triggering, even with the best notes, but also because they, the students, are adults and need to be looking out for themselves.

        3) I think teachers should mention the possibility of alternate assignments, but that it is on the students to approach the teacher and request such if needed; I also think that if students find themselves doing this more than once or twice a semester, they need to consider the possibility that they should drop the course, because nobody should be expected to have a back-up syllabus.

        4) I think administration needs to stay the fuck out of it, because more and more administrators have never set foot in a classroom from the other side of the desk and don’t know what they’re talking about and their priority is to smooth things over and that suggestions that the preferred solution is to drop potentially triggering material from the syllabus are completely unacceptable.

        5) I think that professional organizations, like unions, AAUP, AAUW, and MLA need to be adopting guidelines instead, and that these guidelines need to not take Oberlin as their model.

        6) Apropos of nothing much, I think that teachers should make similar provisions for students with social anxiety issues who simply cannot speak in front of the class, so that those students don’t have to take a brutal hit to their class participation grade.

        Thank you and good-night.

        1. Ally S
          Ally S March 6, 2014 at 12:00 pm |

          Apropos of nothing much, I think that teachers should make similar provisions for students with social anxiety issues who simply cannot speak in front of the class, so that those students don’t have to take a brutal hit to their class participation grade.

          Man, this would have made my global studies course in community college so much easier. Accidentally blocking the screen for the presentation, visibly shaking due to anxiety, knowing that I’m the only 17-year-old in the class, repeating things excessively, etc. – it was a nightmare. X_X

        2. PrettyAmiable
          PrettyAmiable March 6, 2014 at 12:55 pm |

          EG, just to be clear, if a professor stated in their syllabus or in class the first day that some texts and discussions will cover disturbing materials, including XYZ thing, I consider that sufficient for the duration of the course. They can reach out to you if they want to participate but will need to know information about specific lectures, can google the course material on their own time, and so on. Any kind of warning means they can make arrangements for themselves (or pull out if the class wasn’t the challenge they were expecting/needing at a given point in their education).

          6) Apropos of nothing much, I think that teachers should make similar provisions for students with social anxiety issues who simply cannot speak in front of the class, so that those students don’t have to take a brutal hit to their class participation grade.

          Totally agree with this. After my SA, one of my classmates told me “No doesn’t always mean no to friends” despite knowing what had happened to me and continuing to grab my ass. This happened in the first week of my MBA program, and I was done for the next 1.5 years. I had classes with this kid where we had forced participation (up to, no lie, 40% of my grade in one required course). I’d raise my hand, say something, and then would physically shake for the remainder of the period. I’m fine now, obviously, as mentioned above, but effed if that wasn’t incredibly damaging.

        3. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 6, 2014 at 1:26 pm |

          I want to make it clear to them that my classroom does not find that OK or something to just glide past or a minor issue, because I don’t want them to skip the class on the assumption that they’re going to have to sit there uncomfortably and pretend that there isn’t this giant racist elephant in the room.

          This happens to me a lot, so thank you for doing that. I wish more people did it.

          i agree with your ideas completely, with the caveat that I donèt know how you expect someone who won’t pay attention to codes of conduct imposed by an employer to pay attention to codes of conduct recommended by a union.

          Also re: 6) – if I had three credits for every class in which I lost a letter grade because I had to miss classes due to illness, I’d be able to graduate this year. tl;dr participation reqs make my head hurt and my GPA lower.

        4. EG
          EG March 6, 2014 at 1:37 pm |

          Yeah, I don’t think those jerks would pay attention; it’s just that then it would be clear it’s not part of a power-grab on the administration’s part (my university’s Board of Trustees is in the middle of pushing through a major power-grab regarding curricula).

          What has to happen regarding asshole faculty is closer scrutiny of their teaching prior to tenure. And actually, I do think that’s happening now, for given values of the word “closer,” but given the givens, there are plenty of faculty still around who got tenure before anyone in power gave two shits about sexual/racial harassment.

        5. EG
          EG March 6, 2014 at 1:38 pm |

          And yeah, when a student lets me know that they may have a high number of absences due to a health situation, what I usually do is base their participation grade on their participation when they are there. In extreme cases, as when a student of mine was diagnosed with leukemia, I just drop it.

        6. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm |

          And yeah, when a student lets me know that they may have a high number of absences due to a health situation, what I usually do is base their participation grade on their participation when they are there.

          God, wouldn’t that be lovely.Of course, last term I got a C for participation and an A+ on everything else for a course, which dragged my score down, so I’m just bitter. >.>

  21. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable March 5, 2014 at 9:03 pm |

    I have a long and ranty comment awaiting publication, but the short version is “all the things mac said and a couple of my own.”

  22. Miranda
    Miranda March 5, 2014 at 9:49 pm |

    So most of the people thus far have been talking about classes in which they were already dealing with potentially disturbing material.

    I’ve definitely been in multiple classes in which the prof. brought in very violent, disturbing, sexualized material with seemingly no awareness that it would upset students; when it was superfluous; and when he/she could have almost always made the same point in a less upsetting and startling way. I happen to think that in all those cases, the professors were mostly clueless white dudes who didn’t understand the ramifications of how they were presenting certain topics. I also happen to think that if you don’t really need the highly sexualized, highly violent graphic domestic violence movie clip to make a point about lament in Homeric poetry, you should probably think long and hard about the cost/benefits of using it.

    1. epinetron
      epinetron March 5, 2014 at 11:52 pm |

      Yep, I’ve definitely encountered this. And definitely having some sort of a trigger warning policy would cause the clueless white dudes who do this to think twice, which would be good. Although I’m not sure I’m as optimistic as you as to the proportion of trolls vs. clueless dudes among professors who do this kind of thing. And a trigger warning policy would not actually stop the trolls without being really invasive and putting a fair amount of extra work on all faculty.

      (And I’m not just complaining about extra work because I am an academic– current grad student, but hopefully future professor. The extra work would fall disproportionately on adjuncts and other members of a faculty who are already overworked and exploited.)

      And aspects of the Oberlin policy are just silly– I mean, if Things Fall Apart is taught in, say, a postcolonial literature course, are you still gonna need to give it a trigger warning for colonialism? Even if every single book in the course is about colonialism? (this last point not related to your post, Miranda– just something I thought of while writing it!)

      1. Miranda
        Miranda March 9, 2014 at 4:51 am |

        And a trigger warning policy would not actually stop the trolls without being really invasive and putting a fair amount of extra work on all faculty.

        I mean, I’m actually still in academia as well, and I’m not seeing where all this extra work would come in, or necessarily why it would fall on adjuncts and grad students, but I could have had an unusual experience thus far in academia.

        1. EG
          EG March 9, 2014 at 10:34 am |

          Because a policy would have to be policed and enforced, and that would fall on full-time faculty. And adjuncts are often teaching much higher teaching loads than full-time faculty, so they’d have a much higher proportion of trigger warning work to do.

        2. epinetron
          epinetron March 9, 2014 at 8:57 pm |

          Yep, what EG said. I don’t think it would give extra loads to grad students (although it might be work that some profs would farm out to their TAs, which may or may not be against union rules at some institutions). But certainly it would be a lot of extra work for adjuncts, just because adjuncts already have big teaching loads and it’s extra work you have to do for each course you teach.

      2. Donna L
        Donna L March 9, 2014 at 10:28 am |

        [content note: discussion of graphic representations of genocide.]

        if Things Fall Apart is taught in, say, a postcolonial literature course, are you still gonna need to give it a trigger warning for colonialism? Even if every single book in the course is about colonialism?

        I would hope nobody, even the Oberlin administration, is suggesting that that would be necessary, any more than a college-level history or literature course about the Holocaust would necessarily require individualized trigger warnings about the degree of graphic description in each reading or film, or, God forbid, would have administrators demanding the removal of graphic materials as if it were a primary or secondary school class. (In some states, Holocaust education is mandatory at different levels of primary and secondary education, but from what I remember from when my son was growing up in New Jersey, the readings are rather sanitized, especially, of course, for younger children.)

        That’s understandable at that level, but I think when it comes to elective classes at the college or graduate level about the Holocaust or any other genocide, there shouldn’t be any holding back if people want to try to understand what actually happened to people at more than a statistical level — keeping in mind, with apologies for straying from the topic of this thread, that there’s an entire body of academic work about Holocaust representation, including about the desensitizing and dehumanizing effect of all those graphic documentary black-and-white films showing huge piles of skeletal dead bodies. Viewers don’t necessarily see them as actual people, especially given the distancing effect of that particular type of film in the first place to audiences 70 years later.

        For many people, and certainly for me (I’m not that visual a person), written descriptions — for example, Vasily Grossman’s 1944 account of Treblinka, based on the eyewitness testimony of the few survivors — can seem far more immediate and real. By contrast, I did not think Schindler’s List was particularly effective, although I’m sure it was different for those with less pre-existing knowledge. (I do remember that some Christian religious fundamentalist groups in the USA complained about the movie — not for the graphic violence and death, but, believe it or not, for the nudity, because naked Jews being sent to their death was apparently such an erotic sight.) My main problem with that movie was that I actually thought it was far too sanitized and whitewashed, and that Spielberg made far too many choices to make what happened seem horrifying — but not too horrifying. Like the scene with people herded into a shower that turned out to be shower, not a gas chamber. Never mind that the only real truth about the Holocaust is the millions who died, not the few who lived — not hope but the absence of hope, which is why The Diary of Anne Frank, in its rather Christianized dramatized form, can be so pernicious.

      3. Donna L
        Donna L March 9, 2014 at 10:30 am |

        [I'm breaking this comment up into two sections to try to avoid having it go into moderation, as it did as one comment.]

        [content note: discussion of graphic representations of genocide.]

        if Things Fall Apart is taught in, say, a postcolonial literature course, are you still gonna need to give it a trigger warning for colonialism? Even if every single book in the course is about colonialism?

        I would hope nobody, even the Oberlin administration, is suggesting that that would be necessary, any more than a college-level history or literature course about the Holocaust would necessarily require individualized trigger warnings about the degree of graphic description in each reading or film, or, God forbid, would have administrators demanding the removal of graphic materials as if it were a primary or secondary school class. (In some states, Holocaust education is mandatory at different levels of primary and secondary education, but from what I remember from when my son was growing up in New Jersey, the readings are rather sanitized, especially, of course, for younger children.) >

        1. Donna L
          Donna L March 9, 2014 at 10:31 am |

          That’s understandable at that level, but I think when it comes to elective classes at the college or graduate level about the Holocaust or any other genocide, there shouldn’t be any holding back if people want to try to understand what actually happened to people at more than a statistical level — keeping in mind, with apologies for straying from the topic of this thread, that there’s an entire body of academic work about Holocaust representation, including about the desensitizing and dehumanizing effect of all those graphic documentary black-and-white films showing huge piles of skeletal dead bodies. Viewers don’t necessarily see them as actual people, especially given the distancing effect of that particular type of film in the first place to audiences 70 years later. >

        2. Donna L
          Donna L March 9, 2014 at 10:32 am |

          For many people, and certainly for me (I’m not that visual a person), written descriptions — for example, Vasily Grossman’s 1944 account of Treblinka, based on the eyewitness testimony of the few survivors — can seem far more immediate and real. By contrast, I did not think Schindler’s List was particularly effective, although I’m sure it was different for those with less pre-existing knowledge. (I do remember that some Christian religious fundamentalist groups in the USA complained about the movie — not for the graphic violence and death, but, believe it or not, for the nudity, because naked Jews being sent to their death was apparently such an erotic sight.) My main problem with that movie was that I actually thought it was far too sanitized and whitewashed, and that Spielberg made far too many choices to make what happened seem horrifying — but not too horrifying. Like the scene with people herded into a shower that turned out to be shower, not a gas chamber. Never mind that the only real truth about the Holocaust is the millions who died, not the few who lived — not hope but the absence of hope, which is why The Diary of Anne Frank, in its rather Christianized dramatized form, can be so pernicious.

          Apologies for the digression.

  23. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie March 5, 2014 at 10:36 pm |

    I’m just hammered from drinking a shot every time someone in the comments used a form of the word “pedagogy.”

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune March 5, 2014 at 10:51 pm |

      Do you want a pedagoggie?

      1. tinfoil hattie
        tinfoil hattie March 6, 2014 at 7:02 am |

        Will it help,with a hangover?

  24. gratuitous_violet
    gratuitous_violet March 6, 2014 at 2:13 am |

    I admire(d) the professors and academics who choose preface content out of concern for their students in a thoughtful, open way.

    I am terrified by the thought of an institution requiring anyone to preface a text or work, unless the policy is done really damn well.

    As a former protesting UC student and graduate, and college sexual assault experiencer, I sure as hell don’t trust universities and educational institutions to do so.

    Power and consideration tends to only flow one way. And it ain’t usually down.

    (Or, in much finer words, everything in TressieMC’s article EG posted upthread.)

  25. Jess
    Jess March 6, 2014 at 7:11 am |

    I’m a current lit student, and my university’s method seems to be to have angrily defensive sections of lectures about previous complaints, and that’s how we get our warnings, which I don’t think is adequate. This term, it’s been complaints about rape in Sarah Kane’s “Blasted”, and male students upset by the forced sex reassignment surgery in “The Passion of New Eve”. While I appreciate the explicit explanation of why they’re choosing to include certain challenging texts, it would be nice if they made a bit less about them and the criticism they face. I have no problem with trigger warnings in this context, because at least with these texts, it’s nothing you don’t get from reading the back cover. And the acknowledgement that it may be particularly hard going for some makes me feel much more supported as a survivor.

    1. Donna L
      Donna L March 6, 2014 at 9:39 am |

      the forced sex reassignment surgery in “The Passion of New Eve”.

      A/k/a the repulsive transphobia permeating that book — which is what I would want in any trigger warning or content note for it. (I know how popular Angela Carter is as a feminist writer, but that book was my first exposure to her, and it will be the last.)

  26. Against Trigger Warnings | Women: Relationships...

    […] Here is one that I imagine will be thoroughly unpopular around these parts: Why trigger warnings are a bad idea on college campuses. To be clear, I think trigger warnings in online feminist spaces serve an important purpose.  […]

  27. LotusBecca
    LotusBecca March 7, 2014 at 8:34 am |

    *****TRIGGER WARNING: ATTACKING JILL’S EGO, CONTRIBUTING NOTHING “POSITIVE” TO THE DISCUSSION*****

    The linked article is typical liberal crap. It draws on mind-numbing cliches about free speech and preparing people for “the real world” to obscure a pretty basic truth: social hierarchy and differences in power are actual things. They are also bad things. Sorry that being reminded of this disturbs your bullshit meritocratic worldview, Jill. Sorry that thinking about this makes you feel vulnerable. But next time you feel all vulnerable and stuff about that recognition that you are oppressed for being a woman, that being a woman is always something that can be used against you, no matter how far you rise, just think about all the privileges you DO have–a skinny, cis, straight, white lawyer who lives in Manhattan, writes for the Guardian, and has her own bottled and branded version of feminism. You should feel powerful again in no time, revving back at all 8 cylinders. You know how it’s done.

    1. TimmyTwinkles
      TimmyTwinkles March 7, 2014 at 12:07 pm |

      Feel better? Self righteousness to the nth degree

      1. PrettyAmiable
        PrettyAmiable March 7, 2014 at 4:48 pm |

        1) So you don’t see the irony in posting that (that is to say, speaking of self-righteousness)?

        2) Jill’s article is a lengthy version of “fuck you, acknowledging your needs might negatively impact my wants” to people who have PTSD. It uses terminology she clearly doesn’t understand (she continuously misuses “trigger”), and then uses her ignorance to justify behaviors that reinforce a power structure that is already deeply skewed against people with mental disorders. It’s a giant ableist fail. Maybe you can cut the tone policing shit out when people take offense to it.

        1. TimmyTwinkles
          TimmyTwinkles March 7, 2014 at 5:26 pm |

          Please refrain from tone policing the way I tone police. As a veteran commenter and someone who apparently otherwise experiences oppression on multiple axes, in the context of a social justice blog you actually have overwhelming privilege and are thus oppressing and attempting to silence my voice and lived experience as someone who dislikes sanctimonious rants. So please: feel free to check your privilege.

        2. trees
          trees March 7, 2014 at 6:33 pm |

          2) Jill’s article is a lengthy version of “fuck you, acknowledging your needs might negatively impact my wants” to people who have PTSD. It uses terminology she clearly doesn’t understand (she continuously misuses “trigger”), and then uses her ignorance to justify behaviors that reinforce a power structure that is already deeply skewed against people with mental disorders. It’s a giant ableist fail. Maybe you can cut the tone policing shit out when people take offense to it.

          I strongly disagree. I have a PTSD diagnosis with a grab bag of triggers that impacts my everyday life. I also face oppression on multiple axis. As I said up thread, trigger warnings on content would have done little to assuage the misery of my undergrad education because I would be dealing with the same instructors and the same student body. I probably would have considered trigger warnings patronizing in that setting. I’m happy to hear that others with PTSD benefit from this new policy, but I can’t stop thinking about all the Nice White People I know who won’t read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee or Beloved, or watch 12 Years A Slave, ’cause it’s all just too upsetting. Well read liberal intellectuals who say it’s just “so sad”. Their conservative cousins are the very folks who would clamor the loudest, and whose parents would write letters to trustees, demanding trigger warnings on stories about the female coloreds.

        3. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 7, 2014 at 6:46 pm |

          @trees – I hear you about the student body and the method of instruction being awful as often as/more often than the course material. I really do. I flat-out stopped attending several classes for that reason. But if I had to deal with that AND with unwarned-for shit I know I’d be attending substantially fewer classes.

          can’t stop thinking about all the Nice White People I know who won’t read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee or Beloved, or watch 12 Years A Slave, ’cause it’s all just too upsetting.

          Fair enough, and I never argued for DROPPING those materials, only WARNING for them. (THough I admit I have different feels about reading about Auschwitz from a Jewish survivor’s pov and reading Mein Kampf, you feel me?) I didn’t see anyone else say “well we should just stop teaching upsetting stuff” aside from Oberlin, and even the most die-hard pro-warning peeps on this thread think that’s a stupid, dangerous and censoring policy AFAICT. I certainly do.

        4. trees
          trees March 7, 2014 at 7:27 pm |

          But if I had to deal with that AND with unwarned-for shit I know I’d be attending substantially fewer classes.

          I’m glad to hear that at least in some small way, TW on course content makes it easier to get through the day.

          I didn’t see anyone else say “well we should just stop teaching upsetting stuff” aside from Oberlin, and even the most die-hard pro-warning peeps on this thread think that’s a stupid, dangerous and censoring policy AFAICT.

          I read Jill’s article as a direct critique of the Oberlin policy, and her perspective as worthwhile and not ablest. For me personally, I would be doing myself a disservice if I attempted to avoid all of my many triggers since I would have to live fully clothed in a sensory deprivation tank. (…no actually my claustrophobia would prevent that too, lol) It’s proven helpful for me to sometimes attempt some normalcy. Some triggers are actually less triggery. I have been able on occasion to experience the bittersweet joy of hearing the laughter of children, without feeling the automatic pang of memory of the BEAUTIFUL laugh of my own daughter who is now in a vegetative state.

        5. ldouglas
          ldouglas March 7, 2014 at 8:59 pm |

          THough I admit I have different feels about reading about Auschwitz from a Jewish survivor’s pov and reading Mein Kampf, you feel me?

          I have different feelings about them insofar as they’re different types of work, but I definitely think they both are worth reading/teaching about in the right context. Not sure if that’s agreeing or disagreeing with your perspective.

        6. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 7, 2014 at 9:14 pm |

          I have different feelings about them insofar as they’re different types of work, but I definitely think they both are worth reading/teaching about in the right context.

          In the context of my not being in any way affected by the Nazis, I’d consider myself to be entitled to be upset as fuck by reading accounts of Auschwitz (but not allowed to abstain from reading about them because they upset me). OTOH I don’t see why I should have to subject myself to an extended racist tirade IF the class is not going to deal with the racism in any meaningful way, and would likely duck out on doing that reading. (And yes, I dealt with several horrifically homophobic/transphobic/racist texts this year that were presented uncritically, so I do know whereof I speak.)

        7. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 7, 2014 at 9:15 pm |

          Too soon post: the doesn’t mean I think MK should never be taught in a class, just that how it’s taught makes all the difference.

        8. ldouglas
          ldouglas March 7, 2014 at 10:28 pm |

          In the context of my not being in any way affected by the Nazis, I’d consider myself to be entitled to be upset as fuck by reading accounts of Auschwitz (but not allowed to abstain from reading about them because they upset me).

          I agree; nobody should ever be forced or feel like they have to force themselves to read something triggering.

          I do want to point out- and I don’t think you were saying otherwise- that understanding the Holocaust means a ton of different things. while it’s critical to study accounts of people who actually experienced it, it’s equally important to read (for example) Martin Luther and MK, to get a historical and ideological perspective.*

          I absolutely agree how it’s taught makes a difference; I’d hope that MK is so famous as a blatantly racist work that nobody would present it uncritically.

          *on a side note, one thing that often surprises people who haven’t read MK is how turgid it is. It’s such a famously evil book that people seem to expect it has some sort of hypnotic, irresistible persuasiveness; in reality it’s largely self-pitying whining.

        9. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 8, 2014 at 5:19 pm |

          It’s such a famously evil book that people seem to expect it has some sort of hypnotic, irresistible persuasiveness; in reality it’s largely self-pitying whining.

          Unpopular opinion time: people are rarely influenced by actually impressively persuasive writing/speech as they are by self-pitying whining AS LONG AS that self-pitying whining props up/justifies their own bigotry or victim complex. See also: Glenn Beck, Ayn Rand, Bible fandom a la Westboro Baptists, people who like to throw RSS ideology around in conversations about Hinduism.

        10. ldouglas
          ldouglas March 8, 2014 at 6:21 pm |

          Oh, I think you’re absolutely correct- it’s just that people are always surprised when they realize that so much of MK is composed of Hitler’s childhood and how mean people (Jews, yes, but also everyone else who didn’t recognize his brilliance immediately) were to him, how smart and tough his dad was and how mean people were to him as well (seriously), how democracy sucks because super-smart and tough men like him and his dad are burdened by the expectations of the little people, and so on.

          It absolutely contains a template for genocide, and is as profoundly racist, anti-semitic, sexist, and generally terrible as one would expect, but there’s nothing about it that would make it stand out from any of the other texts in the same genre (including those written in the US during/after Reconstruction) except that Hitler wrote it.

          I actually find demystifying the book is profoundly useful for a lot of students (some of whom have genuinely been afraid that reading it could persuade them to be racist- it sounds ridiculous but apparently this is a widespread concern), and it’s one of the reasons I think it was such a mistake for the German government to ban it.

          RSS ideology

          That’s Rashtriya Sevak Sangh, right?

        11. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 8, 2014 at 6:41 pm |

          That’s Rashtriya Sevak Sangh, right?

          Yyyyep. Fuckers. and I’d better stop there before I embark on a profanity-riddled novella’s worth of rage at what’s happening in India right now.

        12. PrettyAmiable
          PrettyAmiable March 8, 2014 at 7:02 pm |

          TT, maybe it’s a good idea for you to stop engaging without some 101 reading. I didn’t tone police you: I pretty much said you were an asshole for engaging in tone policing. And seriously, maybe you should think about cutting out all of your sanctimonious bullshit here. It’s unnecessary and derailing.

          Apologies for interrupting, trees & mac. trees, I mentioned above that I’d never seen trigger warnings mis/used in real life, so I’m sitting out from this particular aspect of the discussion and reading through this chain. I’m spending time thinking about it on my own as well.

        13. Cactus
          Cactus April 3, 2014 at 12:49 pm |

          Wow, TT is really on troll duty today…

      2. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune March 7, 2014 at 6:42 pm |

        Is there any actually wrong statement in that comment, or did you just want to sneer at someone for being accurate in an insufficiently humblebrag manner to suit your whitedudely tastes?

  28. Donna L
    Donna L March 7, 2014 at 11:04 am |

    You really have turned into an asshole in your old age, Becca.

    1. EG
      EG March 8, 2014 at 8:43 am |

      Seconded.

  29. BroadBlogs
    BroadBlogs March 7, 2014 at 7:42 pm |

    I think it’s really important to have these kinds of discussions, so thanks for offering the opportunity to think outside the box, whether or not, post-discussion, it still seems best to keep on providing warnings.

  30. Bloix
    Bloix March 7, 2014 at 8:13 pm |

    The Oberlin policy does not define trigger in terms of PTSD. It says:

    “A trigger is something that recalls a traumatic event to an individual.”

  31. ldouglas
    ldouglas March 7, 2014 at 9:07 pm |

    So would anyone object to a hypothetical policy where, at the beginning of each semester, professors said “there’s the possibility that some material we cover in this class may be triggering to people who’ve had traumatic experiences; if you’d like to discuss specifics I’m free during office hours, and I can provide a list of materials and common triggers associated with them for those who need it?”

    Seems like that pretty much avoids all the issues on all sides, as far as I can see. Anyways, that’s what I plan on doing when I start teaching Public Policy next fall- my seminar is on post-genocide governance, so we’ll be reading a lot of potentially triggering material.

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune March 7, 2014 at 9:18 pm |

      Your hypothetical warning is almost the perfect way afaict. Avoids spoilering the spoiler-haters, avoids coming off like you don’t give a shit how -ist your texts are, allows you to provide warnings for common triggers. That said, I would post that list of triggers on Blackboard, or wev your place has, though, because some people might be too anxious to ask for a list but would still want one. (Not everyone’s comfortable outing themselves as a survivor after all.)

      1. ldouglas
        ldouglas March 7, 2014 at 10:00 pm |

        That said, I would post that list of triggers on Blackboard, or wev your place has, though, because some people might be too anxious to ask for a list but would still want one. (Not everyone’s comfortable outing themselves as a survivor after all.)

        Absolutely- I don’t want to give the implication it’ll only be available if people specifically request it, for exactly the reasons your state. Thanks for the feedback!

        For my purposes, spoilers aren’t really the issue- we’re reading scholarly texts and primary sources. I’m more concerned with avoiding coloring student’s analysis head of time. For example, during our unit on Gacaca and the IFT in Rwanda, we’re going to be reading/watching some court proceedings. I want my students to be able to identify the ways in which the rhetoric used by various parties supports the supposed justification for the genocide without me, ahead of time, telling them that in my analysis a given speech contains specific problematic elements; however, some of those speeches do contain potentially triggering passages, so I can’t just do nothing.

        A different example is that we’re going to have at least one NDN speaker addressing the ongoing issues on reservations; I don’t want to re-victimize students, but I also don’t want to undermine the speakers’ pedagogy by simply distributing a summary of said issues ahead of time.

        I’m glad you think that’s an effective balance, and I’m wide open to feedback from other people as well.

        1. Trans Commie
          Trans Commie March 8, 2014 at 12:30 am |

          I’m afraid I don’t have much to say, but I’m really liking your suggestions so far.

          (formerly known as Ally S)

        2. EG
          EG March 8, 2014 at 8:42 am |

          But Ally, I thought you were an anarchist!

        3. EG
          EG March 8, 2014 at 8:46 am |

          Wait, hell. I’m sorry, Trans Commie. I didn’t mean to old-name you. It was just a gut reaction. I’m sorry.

        4. Trans Commie
          Trans Commie March 8, 2014 at 11:02 am |

          No, I’m still an anarchist, but I’ve always been a communist as well. Anarcho-communism is a strain of anarchism that is almost as old as anarchist thought – Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were anarcho-communists, and so was Peter Kropotkin. I chose “commie” because “communist” is too long and has worse connotations and because I can’t think of a good way to include the word “anarchist” in my nym.

          Anyway, I don’t want to derail too much, but I’m still totally okay with folks calling me Ally (or some abbreviation of this username). I just want to be a bit more low-profile.

        5. EG
          EG March 8, 2014 at 4:35 pm |

          You are…Tranarchiste (joking–not trying to rename you!)

          Thanks for the clarification!

    2. Annaleigh
      Annaleigh March 8, 2014 at 4:20 am |

      That’s pretty good, although I agree with mac that having the list of triggers online or accessible to students who don’t want to out themselves as survivors or as being someone triggered by something. It can be hard for people to pluck up the courage sometimes. I know there’s been times where something’s made me feel uncomfortable but I didn’t want to disclose the problem to anyone.

    3. PrettyAmiable
      PrettyAmiable March 8, 2014 at 6:51 pm |

      No – I actually think that’s perfect.

  32. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh March 8, 2014 at 4:04 am |

    College students are not helpless children whose eyes are being held open and who are being forced to read things.

    Sometimes it can be pretty darn close though, in a figurative sense, at least. The last time I was triggered by something in a college course was when I took “Hispanic Film” (books or reading material seem to be far less triggering to me than visual media like pictures or films) and we were required to watch to Apocalypto during the history segment of the course. Each segment had one required film everyone was expected to watch and we could choose another two films. I don’t do very well with graphic film violence so I generally don’t watch very violent films if I can help it. In this case, not only did I feel obligated to watch the film in is entirety because as a student I *don’t* like taking short cuts of the sort you’ve described, and because it’s hard to actually discuss the nuances of a film unless you’ve seen it yourself, but since the vast majority of the film was in a language I don’t understand (so I needed to read the subtitles), I was even limited in using one of the only coping mechanisms I had left, which is having the media player tab going in the background while I had something far more calming in the browser tab in front of me.

    What was very ironic about that course is that there were other films people could possibly find triggering or even just uncomfortable-making, violent films like

    Desperado

    (which I watched for the course, but I had the opportunity to choose the film for myself and be able to deal with the graphic violence because at least I understand English and Spanish and didn’t need to constantly have the media player tab in the foreground to read subtitles) or some films that are kind of sexually explicit and yet we were both given the option to watch or not watch those films, and we warned about content. Those films were in either or both English or Spanish. If anything

    Apocalypto

    should have optional if on the list at all (once I recovered from watching the film I was able to talk about how angry-making and what colonialist bullshit it was) since the vast majority of students taking the course will not speak or understand the language the film is in (Yucatec Maya) so they *will* be forced to watch the film without much relief from the screen violence because of the need of the subtitles.

    I guess I am ranting, but I think that if professors are going to assign material that has the potential for triggering, fine, in fact I disagree with Oberlin about yanking out materials altogether just because they are triggering, I agree with you that most professors don’t choose these materials for the shock value. But either a) give students options whenever possible, because sometimes students are willing to work through triggers to explore materials that intrigue them (i.e. me choosing to watch Desperado despite the violence) or b) for the love of something, don’t force students into situations where you are even limiting their abilities to cope with triggers.

    The only merciful thing about being forced to watch Apocalypto was that “Hispanic Film” was an online class and I was able to suffer through the film in the privacy of own room at home with a handy cat nearby. Having to go through something like that in front of others is the only thing that could have made it worse. I have not been so lucky always. The first time I was ever triggered by something in school was the pre and post rape scenes of a film version of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings back in junior high when I was being sexually abused. We watched that in a full classroom full of kids, and I didn’t know yet what triggers were. That was hell and the giggling of some kids in response to the scene didn’t help.

    Anyway, I think that basic discussion and understanding at the beginning of a course or the beginning of a new material that has the potential to trigger students and possible syllabus mentions and/or spoiler trigger handouts for those who want them is good, and along with my two points about giving people options and not making it harder for students to cope with triggers it would help.

    1. EG
      EG March 8, 2014 at 8:39 am |

      That sounds like a terrible experience. But it doesn’t sound to me like you were a helpless child being forced, even figuratively.

      I just googled Apocalypto. One of the first two hits is the Wikipedia article, which provides an extremely detailed synopsis, and quotes reviews as describing the film as “mercilessly bloody.” Rotten Tomatoes says the same thing. Third from the bottom of the first page is an article by an anthropologist specializing in the Maya called “Is Apocalypto Pornography?” which notes that

      The thrill of hearing melodic Yucatec Maya spoken by familiar faces (although the five lead actors are not Yucatec Maya but other talented Native American actors) during the first ten minutes of the movie is swiftly and brutally replaced with stomach churning panic at the graphic Maya-on-Maya violence depicted in a village raid scene of nearly 15 minutes. From then on the entire movie never ceases to utilize every possible excuse to depict more violence. It is unrelenting. Our hero, Jaguar Paw, played by the charismatic Cree actor Rudy Youngblood, has one hellavuh bad couple of days. Captured for sacrifice, forced to march to the putrid city nearby, he endures every tropical jungle attack conceivable and that is after he escapes the relentless brutality of the elites.

      How is all this anything but a trigger warning regarding the violence of the movie? The warnings were there. The knowledge that the movie required subtitles was in every single review–hell, it’s the one thing I did know about the movie (I avoid Mel Gibson movies on principle, because fuck him). You had all the warnings about the violence of the movie and that your usual coping strategies weren’t going to work at your fingertips. You say that you don’t like to take those kinds of shortcuts, but that’s not you being forced. That’s your call, and you decided to prioritize your preference for not taking those shortcuts over the risk of being triggered. But you’re unhappy that your professor made the same call. (Since you say you got warnings about other films, though, my guess would be that the professor just had a lot on his/her mind that day or at the moment of writing up that assignment and blanked out on giving a warning, which is another reason to google.)

      I can’t comment with any specificity over whether or not the course required Apocalypto, because I know nothing about Hispanic film. But if other movies were optional, and this one wasn’t, that sounds like a deliberate choice on the professor’s part–maybe this was the only movie depicting pre-colonial culture, maybe it depicted it in a particular way that needed to be discussed, I’m almost sure it’s got to be the only movie using pre-colonial language, maybe it was the best example of the kind of colonial ideology you found so obnxious. Or maybe your professor did just choose at random, as unlikely as that seems to me, or because he/she’s a shit, though that seems unlikely if warnings were given on other films.

      But you could also have turned it off and just not added much to discussion that week, also. God knows students do that all the time for much worse reasons. And that was also your call. If you’d developed food poisoning or a bad flu or God forbid something more serious that week, you wouldn’t have been able to watch the film; emotional health matters as much as physical in my book.

      You weren’t a helpless child being forced. You weren’t in junior high being shown a deeply disturbing movie in class well before your peers were of an age when they could have been relied on to respond well, which should never have happened. That’s the experience I, personally, find far more unforgiveable on the part of the teacher, who should have known better.

      1. Annaleigh
        Annaleigh March 8, 2014 at 7:51 pm |

        I guess in my case I should clarify that I knew about the graphic violence, especially since it’s Mel Gibson we’re talking about and in an earlier life I was an evangelical being pressured to watch The Passion despite my explaining that it was probably going to trigger me. I think perhaps I haven’t explained myself very well, in this case maybe it’s not so much that I knew nothing about Apocalypto going into it, because we did receive warnings, but that this was one film was required, not just for a class discussion but was expected to discussed as 1/3 of a 2,500 word paper. The nature of the film being in an uncommon language required me to pay a lot more attention to the screen than if it had been a language that I understood without the help of subtitles.

        Basically, I don’t believe college professors should have throw out disturbing or challenging material, but maybe I’d like them think about it more. Maybe my Apocalypto situation is too unusual and rare compared to what is featured in other courses, so I would be willing to say it certainly doesn’t apply to every course. But it has formed my belief that the students should have options and the chance to empower themselves to make a decision of how to approach the material or whether to approach it at all.

        Exploring challenging material is very important to a great education but there are times when it is too much for people and a little room to deal with that is so appreciated, I would think.

        1. Annaleigh
          Annaleigh March 8, 2014 at 8:01 pm |

          Whoops, my last paragraph should have read that I believe in having the empowerment to decide how or when to engage with disturbing material and the same with triggers.

          You do have a point that I just could have slacked off on part of the segment. I just don’t think that I should have to do that when it was relatively important to my grade and because I pride myself on working hard and also trying to push myself if something is difficult (not just triggering material but also things like courses which stretch my comfort with my social skills, etc.). I don’t think it’s right to leave a student that wants to engage with the course and do the work and the due diligence and to challenge themselves, be unable to complete certain coursework or objectives over something that could be helped (not just on the part of the student but on the part of the course or instructor).

        2. Annaleigh
          Annaleigh March 8, 2014 at 8:08 pm |

          I should also add that you’re correct that films likeApocalypto which depict the pre-Columbian Maya and other peoples especially in their languages is really rare so in that sense I can’t blame the professor for wanting people to watch the film. I’m just not sure it was very kind to require everyone to watch it and write part of a paper on it (honestly I might have skipped the film if all we had to do was discuss in the class forums) when other films throughout the course that either had potentially triggering material or sexually explicit material that kind of offended a few students in the class were not required of us to watch.

      2. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune March 8, 2014 at 8:05 pm |

        (Since you say you got warnings about other films, though, my guess would be that the professor just had a lot on his/her mind that day or at the moment of writing up that assignment and blanked out on giving a warning, which is another reason to google.)

        So, this is the second/third time in the thread you’ve mentioned that professors might “just forget”, and every single time, I’m left with more and more of a bad taste in my mouth about what the hell kind of callous, unprofessional shithead just haha-forgets about triggers, and why the hell someone who can’t remember the direct contents of the thing they are immediately about to teach (unlike your example upthread, where you hadn’t read The BLuest Eye in literally decades) should be taken seriously, much less paid. If I turned up at my tutoring job and claimed I “just didn’t remember” the rules of writing a paper, or justified giving people horribly wrong information that destroyed their academic ability/emotional health by saying “I had a lot on my mind”, I’d be fired in a day, and I wouldn’t even protest it. What in the flying fuck makes y’all so golden that you aren’t held up to the standard of minimum competence/basic human decency? I’m genuinely sickened and frustrated by the defense you’re mounting and that academics all over the thread seem to be unquestioningly supporting.

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 8, 2014 at 8:15 pm |

          Like, do you accept “whoops, had a lot on my mind” as an excuse for someone suddenly shoving food to which you’re allergic into your mouth? Would you accept “just having a bad day” from a mechanic who’d damaged your brakes? “Well, I don’t really remember everything about how incisions work because I’m usually super-focused on the rest of the procedure” from a surgeon just about to cut into your body?

          If you’re so fucking incompetent that you literally do not remember your own material, and so fucking stupid that you can’t draw up a list of triggers before you start teaching a class and double-check if all your texts are on there, go do something harmless like weed small decorative lawns for a living. Why in the fuck should I sign up to be taught by someone who’s so completely cruel, callous and ignorant that the experience is literally worse for my mental and academic state than if I just sat and read a book by myself? What fucking use is a teacher who doesn’t know what they have the unmitigated gall to expect a salary for teaching? I might as well decide that I should get paid by Congress for my hard work of writing blog comments about US politics.

        2. BBBShrewHarpy
          BBBShrewHarpy March 8, 2014 at 11:24 pm |

          If you’re so fucking incompetent that you literally do not remember your own material, and so fucking stupid that you can’t draw up a list of triggers before you start teaching a class and double-check if all your texts are on there, go do something harmless like weed small decorative lawns for a living. Why in the fuck should I sign up to be taught by someone who’s so completely cruel, callous and ignorant that the experience is literally worse for my mental and academic state than if I just sat and read a book by myself?

          I don’t think you understand what a professor is, Mac, or what their training is actually meant for. Why would you leave preparing for your self-care in the hands of someone whose training is not geared to look after your mental health? Get a list of course materials and use google. University students are not children.

        3. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 8, 2014 at 11:52 pm |

          Maybe you’re right and I’m too stupid to understand why professors should want to look out for their students.

          Why would you leave preparing for your self-care in the hands of someone whose training is not geared to look after your mental health?

          Believe me, I’m not. My contention is that if the ACTUAL DEFENSE of professors is not “well, I don’t have an obligation to help with your self-care” (which is asshole, but at least competent) but “well, professors don’t actually remember their texts” then why the hell are these people paid to teach these texts?

        4. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 8, 2014 at 11:55 pm |

          I don’t think you understand what a professor is, Mac, or what their training is actually meant for.

          Does it include “knowing what the hell you are actually paid to teach”? Because if you can ACTUALLY FORGET THE CONTENT OF YOUR TEXTS, ASSHOLE, YOU ARE TOO STUPID TO BE TEACHING THEM.

          But yeah, clearly it’s that I’M too stupid to understand what a professor is and what their training is meant for. From this thread, it seems like professors get degrees in apologism and strong minors in incompetence.

        5. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 9, 2014 at 12:24 am |

          Reading comprehension, get you some. I hear you can google that, too.

        6. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 9, 2014 at 3:00 am |

          Okay, having re-read the thread, I’m bowing out. I just want to make it clear that I am NOT talking about failing-to-warn as incompetence; I am talking about the “just forgot” and “can’t remember what’s in a text I’m teaching” excuses that are being slung around in the thread. I’ve had plenty of profs who sprung triggering materials on me as “surprises”; they were assholes, not incompetents. OTOH I have had profs who didn’t know the contents of the texts they assigned (hi, yes, Jo March had biological children, you would think you’d know that from assigning the Little Women series in class, they’re main characters in the third and fourth book FFS), or who hadn’t finished reading the text to begin with by the time we got around to discussing that text in class(“so what happened in the end”? my ass!!!!!) – and yes, I do think that is incompetence and no, I am never going to be talked out of this POV. In that light, I’d better STFU because I have shot my commently bolt.

        7. EG
          EG March 9, 2014 at 10:29 am |

          Because if you can ACTUALLY FORGET THE CONTENT OF YOUR TEXTS, ASSHOLE, YOU ARE TOO STUPID TO BE TEACHING THEM.

          I don’t know what to tell you, mac, because I gave you an example upthread on my completely not remembering whether or not a character in Turn of the Screw commits suicide or not, despite having read it and taught it not two months ago. I an remember lots of textual details–some I can quote verbatim–but suicide wasn’t on my mind as I was reading it, it’s neither a plot element that upsets me much nor a topic I’m fascinated by, so it wouldn’t necessarily stick with me, and if it is in there, it’s not a major plot point. That’s a fact. I also know that I forget to do/say things that are on my to-do list all the time, no matter how many times I consult it. That’s another fact. And I know, for a final fact, that I’m very, very smart, and very, very good at what I do. I do have ADD, and that may influence my experience of how easy it is to forget things, I suppose, but I wouldn’t assume professors are neurotypical in that way, as ADD is pretty common among them.

          If I went to a restaurant and didn’t tell the waiter that I was allergic to something, and they put it down in front of me (not shoving it in my mouth–again, professors do not force students to read anything) without spontanteously running down a list of potential allergens, I would not blame them. If I took a car to my mechanic and didn’t tell them that there was something wrong with my brakes, no, I wouldn’t expect them to spontaneously know something was wrong and to fix it. And what was the final example, a surgeon? Bad analogy. An incision is part of the usual course of surgery. Contemplating trigger warnings is not part of the usual course of analyzing literature.

          So sure, if a student asks me about triggers in a given text, just as you tell the waiter what you’re allergic to and tell the mechanic that there’s something wrong with the brakes, I will remember to answer. But if the issue is can I be relied upon to spontaneously announce trigger warnings and remember every possibly triggering event in every text without being asked? The answer is no. Just as I not infrequently forget to go over the handout on paragraph structure because we get caught up talking about narrative technique in Peter and Wendy. Just as I very occasionally forget to take my meds in the morning. Just as I sometimes can’t find my shoes in the morning.

          Because that’s life, specifically my life. Quite frankly, I can’t imagine what life is like when you don’t routinely forget things that you wish you hadn’t. It sounds nice, but it’ll never be my life.

        8. Donna L
          Donna L March 9, 2014 at 10:58 am |

          EG, I don’t think you be forced to defend yourself this way, regardless of how well you did so. What Mac wrote came across to me as a flagrant personal attack on you, and it was entirely uncalled-for. God forbid a professor should be human, and not have a perfect memory, or perfect knowledge of everything that might be triggering — especially since as a practical matter people do often use “triggering” to mean “upsetting” rather than its true meaning. (By the way, even though I’m not a professor, I’m reasonably intelligent myself, and I can’t remember the details of plots of novels I read — or, as a lawyer, cases I worked on — two months ago. Which may be because I read too many books and work on too many cases, but whatever the reason, it’s true.)

          I do have a handful of genuine triggers, namely scenes in books or movies involving car accidents (given what happened with my mother all those years ago), certain scenes in hospital rooms, especially involving people being told they’re about to die (since that happened to me in 2004, although I didn’t), and scenes about child molestation (because that also happened to me). Scenes like that tend to be not just upsetting, but to bring me back to the actual events in a visceral way.

          But even though I think it’s great when professors make a good-faith effort to mention things that obviously might be triggering in advance — especially common and obvious triggers; I certainly wouldn’t expect someone to think of car accidents unless I brought it up, which I would have been way too embarrassed to do anyway — I wouldn’t blame them for forgetting. Perfect recall of plot details is not a professor’s job. I could those from Cliff Notes (do those still exist?). A professor’s job with individual students is not in any way analogous to that of a physician with individual patients. Professors don’t have individual files for each student that they review before each class.

        9. Donna L
          Donna L March 9, 2014 at 11:03 am |

          And mac, you do have a very bad habit of attacking people here — even people you know very well — when they disagree with you.

        10. EG
          EG March 9, 2014 at 11:48 am |

          Yeah, I’m still not thrilled that your go-to on my comment about the consumer model of education was to assume that I was being an asshole, rather than that there had been some kind of misunderstanding or that your comment hadn’t posted before I started responding. I thought you were really unnecessarily nasty, mac.

        11. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 9, 2014 at 2:11 pm |

          Coming back to say I slept on it, and Ièm sorry it came off as an attack. Again, your example of things you forgot, EG, is of a POSSIBLE event in an AMBIGUOUS novella in your own words, so I didn’t think of it as remotely relevant to the points I raised. I am sorry. I did not mean to attack you there; I got pissed off at BBSH and was completely not thinking about what the hell I was saying. It was mean and I am sorry and I will try not to do it again. I’d been getting better, I thought, and I really should stick to it.

        12. piny
          piny March 9, 2014 at 9:00 pm |

          I just drafted and deleted about thirty different comments, but it seems like the best thing to do is just say this as succinctly as possible:

          One big reason I don’t comment here any more is you.

          You went off on me too many times. And one of those times involved you accusing me of crying rape all over a comments thread. (I’m still mad at the mods here for letting those comments stay there. They should have been deleted right away.)

          I feel better about myself and my safety the less I comment here; I would feel even better if I had not shared so many deeply personal things in a forum that feels so treacherous right now. None of that has to do with you.

          But this thing you do where you just go off on people? And say all kinds of really screwed up things? I was in hysterics, and you just would not fucking stop. You didn’t even seem aware of what you were actually saying. You also don’t seem aware of the difference between swearing at people and attacking them in really vicious terms.

          I’m a little afraid to say this because I’m afraid it will set you off again. Or that EG and Donna L will decide that I’m not allowed to say these things for whatever handy reason, because you all do take a very proprietary attitude towards criticism, and it creates space for this behavior.

          If this is you in a responsive mood, please do try to not ever do this again. Please try and succeed.

        13. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 10, 2014 at 1:27 am |

          @piny I’m listening. Don’t want to comment further but I’m listening. And the last thing I want is to make this space unsafe for you. I’ll stop commenting now.

    2. JalapenoMel
      JalapenoMel March 9, 2014 at 11:31 am |

      To second EG’s point—hopefully, I’m not stepping on your toes—about professors sometimes forgetting things about texts, teaching classes is just one part of the job we’re required to do. Committee work and the unrelenting drive to publish ever more stuff are huge parts of the job, especially for those on the tenure track or seeking promotion. These are huge stresses that can really press down on people and suck a lot of time. I guess you could still say, ‘so what? That’s your job, don’t be incompetent at it!’ But it’s more that ‘just’ teaching.

      For the record, I always give warnings about the content of the texts at the beginning of every semester. But during the thick of a semester, I may not remember to preface every upcoming book for all my courses.

      1. Nobody
        Nobody March 9, 2014 at 12:48 pm |

        Also, keep in mind how many books we’re talking about. I teach science these days but I was also an English major back in college. The reading for a typical 1 semester class would include 7 – 10 books. Now consider a professor teaching a 4/4 load. That’s a sh*t load of texts to keep track of.

        I wouldn’t call an instructor “incompetent” for not having every potentially triggering incident in 80 + novels filed away and readily accessible in her head.

  33. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh March 8, 2014 at 4:05 am |

    Ooook. I blockquoted movie titles when they should have been in italics. Sorry, it’s been a long day.

  34. lapidary6
    lapidary6 March 8, 2014 at 1:40 pm |

    As an art history prof, my contemporary art class in particular deals with all kinds of fucked-up situations. I start my semester with a paragraph and announcement in my syllabus that the course is going to cover art that deals with all kinds of social justice issues, art that is purposefully shocking or offensive, and art that is really graphic and disturbing. I tell students that I will warn them when things are coming up that are really graphic and disturbing, and that I won’t penalize or judge if they need to check themselves out for a little bit, but that we’re not going to not talk about those works, because they’ve got important things to say, and I don’t want to avoid the issues of racism, sexism, violence, classism, discrimination against mentally ill folks, etc.

    One semester, I wrote the trigger warnings on the board, just as a way to prep students for what was coming, and I had a couple of students who had kind of gross reactions like “oh yeah, class is super hardcore today!” There was this kind of fetishizing of the traumatic material that I felt like was really counter to what I wanted to convey, which was that I respected the people who needed to do some self-care around difficult material. Now I mostly give warnings verbally at the beginning of class on days where triggered trauma seems most likely. I’m sure I miss some, and there’s things I just don’t think about until after the fact (student who left while we were looking at Rembrandt’s Side of Beef).

    In the next couple of weeks, we are talking about Funk art, especially the work of Ed Kienholz which is really really graphic and disturbing. Like, full scale tableau of lynching and castration disturbing (5 Car Stud). He does it for a reason, but I also think there’s a good debate to be had about the reasons, and the success of the piece. I try to get my classes to think about the effectiveness of the artwork as a piece of advocacy work, as well as what Kienholz was trying to do and why he was urgent about it. So there’s a situation where I always always warn people ahead of time.

    On the other hand, I often show Dali/Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou in my Baroque to Surrealism class, and there I usually DON”T warn before about the graphic scene of the eyeball slice, because I think the film loses a lot of potency if you know what’s coming. However, by that point, we are already familiar with the sexism and graphic sexualized violence of Surrealism, and I do say that there’s some graphic violence (but that no women or live animals were hurt during the filming).

    I agree with a lot of what EG is saying about common sense, and also resisting the dictates of administration. My experience of faculty is that the very people who could most use a dictum about TWs/CNs because they are assholes who get off on shocking students are the ones who will never ever include these things, and unless you are going to make it part of evaluations and disciplinary proceedings (which I would STRONGLY resist) you’re not going to get them to do it, and the policy becomes a way for the institution to cover its ass, more likely to be used against profs who are trying to engage with students in ways that make the students uncomfortable in challenging their deeply held racist, sexist, etc. attitudes.

    So, short version: the Oberlin policy is a bad policy but would be great as a “best practices” or roundtable teaching discussion or professional development activity.

    1. PrettyAmiable
      PrettyAmiable March 9, 2014 at 1:36 pm |

      As an aside, I never took an art history class while in school, but I think the idea of using art history to examine social justice is absolutely fascinating. I get that this is a bit of a derail, but could you maybe point me to some texts (either ones you use in class or otherwise) that you’d recommend? Ideally, something that would be accessible to a beginner, but I’m interested in anything you’ve got.

      1. Jennifer
        Jennifer March 11, 2014 at 9:29 am |

        Not the OP, but take a look at Suzanne Lacy’s work (Wikipedia or others)

      2. lapidary6
        lapidary6 March 12, 2014 at 3:40 pm |

        It depends on your preferred subject, but I really like Peter Selz and Susan Landauer’s Art of Engagement: Visual Politics in California and Beyond. I’ve heard really great things about Frances Pohl’s Framing America: A Social History of American Art, but have not yet read it. I really love Hal Foster’s collected essays, The Return of the Real, but he is in no way an easy read, and I think it may require a higher level of familiarity with art theory than the general public might have.

        You might also like After the Revolution: Women who Transformed Contemporary Art, edited by Heartney, Posner, Princenthal, and Scott.

  35. Fergie
    Fergie March 9, 2014 at 9:39 am |

    Surely college level students opting for courses in History, Political Science, Classics, Literature etc. know what’s in the course? Medical students know they have to handle cadavers. There is some entry-level exposure provided in High School courses, surely?

  36. Carolyn
    Carolyn March 9, 2014 at 6:40 pm |

    An interesting read! I write for a blog at my University and we have to use trigger warnings but this article made me think about it in a different way.

  37. Blog Profiles: Women’s Blogs | Beyond Bylines

    […] and thought-provoking include Eating Disorder Awareness: Myths, Facts, Truths, and Anecdotes and Against Trigger Warnings, which tackles whether it’s OK to post a warning when subject matter can be particularly […]

  38. John
    John March 21, 2014 at 4:45 pm |

    And yet another reason Jill is right on this. A UC Santa Barbara professor stole and destroyed an anti-abortion protester’s sign and probably assaulted her. Charges have been filed by the DA. her excuse? She was “felt triggered” because the signs were “insensitive to the community.”

    Now, I don’t agree with the protester’s message or methods, but there is nothing on a sign, ever, that justifies criminal actions. The term “trigger” has become so diluted that sign was used as a justification to commit a criminal act.

    1. EG
      EG March 21, 2014 at 5:04 pm |

      there is nothing on a sign, ever, that justifies criminal actions.

      Oh, I disagree. I can think of plenty of signs that would justify criminal actions in my opinion.

      1. ldouglas
        ldouglas March 21, 2014 at 5:45 pm |

        Sure, for certain values of criminal action (I’m pretty much ok with, say, graffiti). But I agree with John that physical violence is totally unjustified.

    2. Echo Zen
      Echo Zen March 21, 2014 at 5:23 pm |

      Well, hey, the meaning of “rape” has become so diluted by people saying “I just got raped by that exam!” or “we totally got raped by the home team” that it’s a meaningless word to a hell of a lot of people.

      But in no way does that mean it’s a pointless word to use.

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