Trigger warnings–the authoritarian left’s latest attempt to patrol speech at college campuses–have been on the radar of civil libertarians for some time, but now even The New York Times is upset about them.
In a news article titled, “Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm,” NYT writer Jennifer Medina bemoaned that students at many campuses are eager to force professors to post warning labels on their syllabi:
Should students about to read “The Great Gatsby” be forewarned about “a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence,” as one Rutgers student proposed? Would any book that addresses racism — like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “Things Fall Apart” — have to be preceded by a note of caution? Do sexual images from Greek mythology need to come with a viewer-beware label?
Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.
The Times notes that University of California-Santa Barbara students have been most successful at pushing trigger warnings, though notable calls to embolden the speech police have come out of Rutgers University, Wellesley College and George Washington University as well. (RELATED: Trigger warnings: New wave of political correctness hits campuses)
The idea behind trigger warnings is to protect students who may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. But since anything and everything could trigger a PTSD person, designing a suitably accommodating set of warnings is futile–and even dangerous, said Marc Blecher, an Oberlin College professor and vocal opponent of trigger warnings.
“If I were a junior faculty member looking at this while putting my syllabus together, I’d be terrified,” said Blecher in a statement. “Any student who felt triggered by something that happened in class could file a complaint with the various procedures and judicial boards, and create a very tortuous process for anyone.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has long complained that trigger warnings serve an anti-educational purpose, because they shield students from controversial and offensive ideas. But the very purpose of higher education is to provoke discussion and examination of controversial subjects, said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff.
“It is only going to get harder to teach people that there is a real important and serious value to being offended,” said Lukianoff in a statement. “Part of that is talking about deadly serious and uncomfortable subjects.”
Student leaders, however, increasingly support making it harder to teach controversial subjects to their easily offended peers. Justin Peligri, a GWU student and opinion editor of the GW Hatchet, wrote last month that professors should include trigger warnings for students who may have been sexually assaulted. A Greek mythology professor slated to give a lecture on the works of Homer should feel obligated to warn his students beforehand that rape, by necessity, will come up in discussion, for instance.
On its face, adding language into sexual assault policies encouraging faculty to be mindful of their students’ sensitivities sounds wise.
Given that one in five college-aged women experience sexual assault, according to federal studies, pushing for heightened sensitivity toward these survivors’ hardships on college campuses is the responsible thing to do.
Many experts consider the 1-in-5 statistic to be blatantly and absolutely false, however.
“Bending the world to accommodate our personal frailties does not help us overcome them,” she wrote. (RELATED: White House Report On Sexual Assault Gets Major Facts Wrong, Threatens Freedom)