Trigger warnings are disclaimers intending to alert an audience of potentially harmful or sensitive material. They are usually established to protect people who suffer from trauma. However, some students have begun to use them to censor material that may make them uncomfortable.
Topics requiring trigger warnings shouldn’t be discouraged from the classroom setting as classrooms are regulated spaces meant to foster learning. It is a student’s responsibility to not abuse this system. This can risk devaluing another person’s experience or the power of a trigger warning.
There have been a number of instances recently in which trigger warnings have been misused that have sparked controversy. At Duke University, a student refused to read an assigned book because it depicted lesbian sex. This instance is not a true trigger warning because the student was not triggered by the material but was made uncomfortable by it.
Dallas Killeen, Plan II and business honors freshman, said he believes trigger warnings can become problematic when not used correctly in a classroom setting. He said he believes that trigger warnings should be suggestions, not requirements.
“The idea of trigger warnings is in essence very good,” Killeen said. “People are also using trigger warnings to avoid conversation about even subjects that are uncomfortable to think about. I think trigger warnings can only be a suggestion.”
Professors have the option to label certain aspects of the class with a trigger warning on their syllabi. Steven Sanders, an Indiana University law professor and a panelist at UT’s Freedom of Academic Speech series, said trigger warnings should not be mandatory but should be an option for professors who wish to signify sensitive material.
“The idea is that you don’t want to spring something on someone that they did not know was coming,” Sanders said. “You don’t know what they could have in their background that would make them especially sensitive or likely to react badly to something.”
A line must be drawn between censorship and trigger warnings. Campuses should not censor unpopular opinions or uncomfortable topics. However, proper trigger warnings are necessary because they protect students who are susceptible to panic attacks or anxiety as a result of not being prepared to engage with traumatic topics. They should not be taken advantage of.
College is a place intended to prepare young adults for the real world, and the misuse of trigger warnings can prevent important dialogue. College provides a diverse and safe environment in which to discuss these issues, and, as such, trigger warnings must be used properly.
Kashar is an English freshman from Scarsdale, New York. Follow Kashar on Twitter @leahkashar