If you take away the media hysteria surrounding trigger warnings, you’re left with a mode of conversational priming that we all use: “You might want to sit down for this”; “I’m not sure how to say this, but…” It’s hardly anti-intellectual or emotionally damaging to anticipate that other people may react to traumatic material with negative emotions, particularly if they suffer from PTSD; it’s human to engage others with empathy. It’s also human to have emotional responses to life and literature, responses that may come before, but in no way preclude, a dispassionate analysis of a text or situation.What's so impressive about the hype is that it's found homes in the bastions of the status quo; high profile, mostly white, male-dominated, traditional publications. One got an Atlantic cover story. Another a New York Times Sunday op-ed. Chait, in NYMag, has wide readership. They function as a kind of bias confirmation for white liberals, especially, telling us that we're the good ones and the guardians of free speech in society, never mind that by asking for trigger warnings, students are exercising speech. And for conservatives, of course, PC culture is what's wrong with America, so they too are thrilled with the "liberal media" makes their argument for them.
All of which is to say: Trigger warnings sell clicks.
Here's the real threat that I haven't seen anyone articulate. I'm not worried about students asking for trigger warnings. Students ask for many things and, handled well, they provide a chance for dialogue, teaching, and learning (for all of us!). Here are some tweets about the real danger:
The only real problem with trigger warnings is when craven administrators use them as a tool to undermine academic freedom.— David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) August 15, 2015
You can read the #Salaita story through the trigger-warning lens, because "uncomfortable students" was the reason Wise gave for firing him.+— David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) August 15, 2015
When Phyllis Wise explained the firing of Steven Salaita, she said that a student might feel uncomfortable if they couldn't be sure Salaita would speak respectfully and with civility at all times.Of course, we know now ... and we knew then ... that "uncomfortable students" was bullshit. It was high-impact donors and the BoT.— David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) August 15, 2015
The important thing to remember is that she was lying.
If you are concerned about about trigger warnings, about PC culture run amok, about coddling minds, about all these issues - focus on fighting craven or corrupt administrators, the politicians and their appointed cronies who both enable and threaten them. Fight for academic freedom and whatever slivers of governance we still maintain or might be able to restore.
And dear hugely popular high status high prestige media - STOP PUBLISHING TRIGGER WARNING ARTICLES. We get it. You'd like the kids to get off your porch. If you hate having to think about the impact of language on people, maybe you should take up a career other than writing?