Trigger Warnings in College

The “trigger warning” below is a quote from Jonathan Rauch, a first amendment scholar and best-selling author who spoke at Chico State in 2016 (video here). He advocates for free speech and recommends that every university add this statement to their course catalog, website, and publicity materials…

 “Warning: Although this university values and encourages civil expression and respectful political behavior, you may at any moment without notice, encounter ideas, expressions, and images that are mis-taken, upsetting, dangerous, prejudice, insulting, or deeply offensive. We call this “Education.”

Do you think Chico State should include a trigger warning in our catalog?

Would you include a trigger warning on your syllabus?

Do trigger warnings threaten your academic freedom or ensure it?

9 thoughts on “Trigger Warnings in College

  1. While I believe that the first part of the quote is a fair-warning. The passive-aggressive tone of “We call this ‘Education’.” is not appropriate on a syllabus or catalog. I would recommend advocating for our students rather than telling them to deal with it.

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  2. If content contains violence, a trigger warning should be issued. If the content is merely controversial, a trigger warning is not necessary. A “trigger” is something that can cause extreme mental distress to someone who suffers from PTSD. It is not something that some people may find offensive.

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  3. It’s not MY academic freedom at risk from so-called trigger warnings but my students’. I just finished talking today in Mass Communication Law about the freedom to know as a corollary of the 1st Amendment. If the state imposes a limit on knowledge or discussion, it harms everyone engaged in a democracy and the democracy itself.

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  4. Occasionally I will. I don’t see a problem with it. I just advise folks that some might find some language expressed, or images shown, offensive in some way. I recall doing this when controversial media photos were examined in my course to determine “ethical” content in light of legitimate questions surrounding what constitutes “news.”I agree with Stephanie regarding avoiding passive-aggressive tone while trying to ensure a stable learning environment.

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  5. I would hate for the university to condone a statement such as this with an obvious misspelling. What are we teaching our students? I do not know what “mis-taken” means, but perhaps there should be a trigger warning for people who are scarred by bad grammar. If we want to protect students from unsettling ideas, we will need to shrink-wrap their minds.

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  6. Also, “prejudiced” would be the correct form in this context.

    I have a slightly different take on this in my syllabus. It’s a request to speak up if you are offended by or feel uncomfortable about anything that happens in class or think important perspectives are not being considered fairly, or that the discussions or texts are in some way biased, and to use it as an opportunity for education–of the other students in class and of me.

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  7. Offensive ideas and triggers are not the same thing. I agree with the comment about violence and PTSD – that is a trigger situation. The bottom line is that being offended happens and we would have to put a warning on life itself. If I need to present something that may be offensive in class to make a point, I am clear that the material does not represent my own feelings. A education includes exposure to differing and even offensive ideas. Learning how to unpack and deal with those ideas is part of life.

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  8. Stephanie above voiced my opinion quite succinctly. The section at the bottom is passive-aggressive and suggests that students will not be warned or supported at all in this process. I am an advocate for trigger warnings, so this passive-aggressive statement does not reflect my personal or professional stance here. Therefore, I would be pretty upset if this statement was included on our course catalog website as is. Instead, I recommend that the statement ends before the sentence, “We call this ‘Education.'” Stopping there would allow for professors to either use trigger warnings in their course or not.

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  9. It seems to me that the point of this disclaimer is not so much to warn students, but to open their minds. I hear something more akin to “When you are exposed to ideas that illicit feelings of deep opposition, it is a sign that further learning and higher education is afoot”. Meaning, rather than shut out all that you disagree with, seek out the opportunity for growth instead.

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