This year’s tragedies include the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the mudslide in Washington state, flooding in Bosnia, the recent shooting in Santa Barbara, California, and so much more. And the year's not half over. Life isn’t easy or pretty or fair.
As adults, we have to prepare the next generation to navigate a world that's both glorious and treacherous. That’s why we must say no to “trigger warnings" for college texts.
Students at several U.S. colleges and universities and the student government at the University of California-Santa Barbara have called for trigger warnings or alerts for classroom material that may upset them.
The works trigger-happy activists think should come with warning labels include Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice with its look at anti-Semitism and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which addresses suicide. Read the New York Times article on the trigger-warning trend here.
Anti-Semitism was an issue in Shakespeare’s time and is one today. Slapping a warning label on books, plays, exhibits, and movies that depict it won’t make it go away. Confronting it, on the other hand, might change a few hearts and minds.
The suicide of World War I vet Septimus Smith in Mrs. Dalloway is relevant today as it was then. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a war wound that may not show on the outside but can cause more damage as a bullet. The number of male veterans under the age of 30 who commit suicide jumped by 44 percent between 2009 and 2011, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. We honor our vets by educating people about PTSD and erasing the stigma of mental illness. We dishonor them by slapping warnings on books that touch on the effects of war on warriors.
Education, be it via college or the school of life, exposes us to triggers. We’re supposed to be shocked disgusted, and angry. We learn how we think when we’re challenged.
In The Guardian, Jill Filipovic writes: “But the space between comfort and freedom is not actually where universities should seek to situate college students. Students should be pushed to defend their ideas and to see the world from a variety of perspectives. Trigger warnings don't just warn students of potentially triggering material; they effectively shut down particular lines of discussion with 'that's triggering.'"
Kristen Lamb, who teaches writers social-media skills, says writers should be as concerned by the call for trigger warnings as college professors. Here’s Lamb on the issue: “My fiction isn’t about rainbows and unicorns and the world holding hands. I don’t write My Little Pony. I strive to write about regular (often innocent) people thrust into the bowels of darkness who through sheer force of their humanity confront evil, grow into heroes and WIN.”
As you can tell, the trigger-warning movement triggered my anger. I’d be less a person if I hadn’t read certain books. How about you?