Ivy League Prof Calls Trigger Warnings ‘Serious Threats’

Rob Shimshock | Education Reporter

A Columbia University professor wrote an essay arguing that trigger warnings are “serious threats” in English courses, according to a Monday report.

Adam Wolfsdorf, the Ivy League English professor who authored “Reflecting On Functioning In Trigger-Happy America,” argues that trigger warnings can decrease students’ reflective functioning, or ability to manage their emotions, reported Campus Reform.

“If Aristotle – and Hillis-Miller years later – argue that literature must arouse and bring about catharsis, then proponents of trigger warnings are anesthetizing the power of words and watering down their ability to incite emotional responses and promote healing,” writes Wolfsdorf.

The professor lists six possible ramifications of trigger warnings, including their ability to “encourage students to avoid intense literary moments that they may perceive as too powerful” and “foster a culture where student fragility is promoted over the development of resilience.” He also asserts that the social justice tools could censor entire sections of curriculum.

Wolfsdorf spoke about two instances in which he has heard about the use of trigger warnings in the classroom in a conversation with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

He said that one graduate school professor received pressure from in-service English teachers for not providing a trigger warning before talking about suicide in the play “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett. Another time, a medical school psychiatrist received criticism after discussing relationships between developing infants and their mothers.

“After her talk, several of the medical students approached her with anger, saying that she should have given a trigger warning for the content and substituted the term ‘primary care giver’ for mother, because the word ‘mother’ was too gender specific,” Wolfsdorf told TheDCNF.

“I think what is needed is a deeper understanding of what happened to students who have trauma histories.  The trigger warning seems to me to be a band aid for a much more sophisticated and nuanced problem.”

Wolfsdorf has 18 years of high school English teaching under his belt, as well as four years of teaching the subject at Columbia.

“At the end of the day, we are trying to arm our students for reality—to build their resilience,” the professor told Campus Reform. “Being over-protective, even if well-intended, does more damage than good.”

Aside from trigger warnings, colleges have taken other approaches to bundling social justice in with the humanities. The University of Washington, Tacoma’s writing center declared American grammar a “racist,” “unjust language structure,” promising to emphasize “rhetorical situations over grammatical ‘correctness.'” A Kansas State University English professor asserted that reading children’s books featuring solely white males “risks creating arrogant, self-centered white boys.” (RELATED: Professor Investigates ‘Cat In The Hat’ As ‘Ideal Metaphor’ For Racism In Kid Culture)

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