Trigger Warnings are Controversial
A University has now come out with the official statement that the movement to request trigger warnings in schools is an attempt to limit academic freedom. Neil Gaiman (whom I adore) has publicly mocked the idea of trigger warnings, explaining that being shocked by things is a really important part of life.
They’re missing the point.
The idea of a ‘trigger’ came out of the study of PTSD. Over 10% of the US population has PTSD at some point in their life. If you have PTSD you can often function, more or less normally, until something triggers you. Sudden, unexpected exposure to a trigger might produce flashbacks and/or some kind of psychotic break. Triggers are very specific to an individual, there is no such thing as a generic trigger, any more than there is a generic trauma.
In many circumstances it is possible for a patient and doctor to figure out a list of things which might trigger someone. If someone (for example a student) has a list of known triggers which could produce serious symptoms, and they go to a person in authority (for example a professor), and explain the situation it should be common practice to get warnings when triggering images will be presented. If an unreasonable number of people make this request (which seems very likely) it would be logical for the authority figure to ask for some sort of proof of diagnosis, such as requiring the request to come from the individual’s physician or other qualified professional. At that point, a refusal of the request is basically a refusal to make reasonable accommodation (because what is being requested is a warning, not a substantial change, because modern technology makes it trivial to provide that warning in a timely manner without affecting the environment of others – a text message warning the individual the day before isn’t asking much). So refusing to provide real trigger warnings, when they are requested, is probably a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Having said that, if we’re talking about general things which might make someone uncomfortable, or even give someone nightmares, that’s not just unreasonable, it’s asking the impossible. There is no way to label everything which might make someone uncomfortable. I mean, one of Dottie’s college roomates gets the heebie-jeebies every time she sees a frog. It really ruins her day. That’s unfortunate, but it’s not disabling enough to make a focused trigger warning reasonable, nor would a general .’trigger warning’ policy on campus do her any good at all.
People have always wanted to not be made uncomfortable, and I can only guess that the existence of trigger warnings as a ‘thing’ has made many people feel that they want them too, because if someone else gets them it’s ‘only fair’. I get that as an impulse, but not as a matter of course.
When Abby was a sophomore in High School she tore her ACL. She was on crutches during the school year, so she had another student carry her books and she got to take the elevator. That didn’t mean the entire student body did. Yes, the entire student body wanted to have an elevator pass. Yes, it would have made their school day easier. It made Abby’s school day possible.
Another example. Abby has a serious fear (not quite a phobia) of spiders. She was required to take an entomology class for her major. On the syllabus there was one lecture scheduled for arachnids. She, very sensibly, planned to skip that class and get the notes from another student. The professor ended up moving the schedule around and she ended up in that particular lecture. So she kept her eyes averted from the overhead, was very uncomfortable, and got through it. She was confronted by her fear unannounced, but no consequences were triggered. She would have appreciated a warning that the spidery lecture had been moved, but she couldn’t have gotten a trigger warning because no symptoms were triggered.
So yeah, trigger warnings are a thing. Those who need them should get them – it’s important. Those who don’t should be educated on what they are, and re calibrate their expectations a little bit.
Because I’ve picked on Abby enough in this post, there’s a creepy clown behind the cut. You might not want to look. It’s your choice, and you have been warned.