Many campuses are now encouraging “trigger warnings” on lectures and class materials that may elicit post-traumatic stress responses. Those students need to grow tougher skin … unless they’re white males. (More)
(Warning: White males who find discussions of white male privilege uncomfortable may wish to skip this lecture. So might those who have had bad experiences skiing, or on waterslides, or driving on an icy hill, or similar experiences. Those who choose to skip this lecture will get full class credit, if they leave macadamias outside the door.)
Right Blogistan has gone apoplectic over proposed “trigger warnings” on lectures and class materials that may elicit post-traumatic stress responses:
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 practice apparently began on some blog sites, as a courtesy to readers who might be upset by graphic descriptions of traumatic events, and students at the University of California, Santa Barbara have requested similar warnings for course materials:
The Associated Students Senate and Office of the Student Advocate General are working together to implement a guideline advising professors to alert students of class content that can potentially “trigger” symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in those who have experienced traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse or fighting in war.
The goal of the policy – enacted by an A.S. resolution passed last week – is to protect students with PTSD who may be harshly affected by content, such as video scenes, and it would allow these students to miss classes containing such material without losing course points. The proposal does not require that professors alter their planned course material, but that they include in their syllabi “trigger warnings” – a term for a warning label on content that might trigger a traumatic response.
Bailey Loverin, the co-author of that proposal, explained her reasoning for the New York Times:
“Trigger warnings” are a way of identifying what may cause someone who recently experienced trauma or has post-traumatic stress disorder to relive their trauma. They are the equivalent of content warnings on CDs, video games, movies or the nightly news, and are especially useful in classes where traumatic content is unexpected.
Supporters contend that they allow survivors the chance to prepare to face the material, adding new perspectives. Without a trigger warning, a survivor might black out, become hysterical or feel forced to leave the room. This effectively stops their learning process. However, with the trigger warning they would be prepared to face uncomfortable material and could better contribute to the discussions or opt to avoid them. These warnings are less about protection and more about preparation, but the recent spread of university and college students requesting trigger warnings has caused an unnecessary panic over free speech.
Campus discussions about trigger warnings have lead to widespread discussion and debate on P.T.S.D., mental health and classroom content. So far, there is no official policy, no punishment for teachers and no censorship. Don’t lose sleep over fear mongering and slippery slope arguments.
But soon the practice metastasized. Trigger warnings were provided for an ever-increasing, and ridiculous, list of “triggers.” For example, one website offers a trigger warning that it contains images of small holes, lest it terrify people suffering from trypophobia, which is – you guessed it – a fear of clusters of small holes. Another website warns visitors that it will not tolerate any debate over the validity of its trigger warnings for, among many other things, trypophobia, pictures from high places, audio of snapping fingers or images or discussion of spiders, food, escalators or animals in wigs.
And now the cancer has spread to to the college campus.[…]
I have no problem with expecting professors to warn students that some material may be graphic or upsetting, and my hunch is that most professors do that already.
But as is so often the case, common sense is barely a speed bump for the steamroller of political correctness. Oberlin College’s Office of Equity Concerns advised professors to avoid such triggering subjects as racism, colonialism and sexism. They soon rescinded it, perhaps because they realized that if such subjects become taboo, much of their faculty would be left with nothing to talk about.
We lose the ability to make distinctions between phenomena when we treat something uncomfortable as something that must be avoided. This has always been the most vicious consequence of speech codes and the demand for them. They don’t protect anyone, in the end; they simply push to the side what people will encounter anyway, assuring that people who work or study under their protection are less prepared to assertively and confidently handle difference. Our bodies and minds are not fragile, until we treat them as fragile.
But if indeed it is a privileged perspective to not be indelibly harmed by experiencing something raw from literature, then that’s a privilege I hope to extend to everyone, and not to erase.
Oh dear. He used the P-word, and that may upset white males:
There is a phrase that floats around college campuses, Princeton being no exception, that threatens to strike down opinions without regard for their merits, but rather solely on the basis of the person that voiced them. “Check your privilege,” the saying goes, and I have been reprimanded by it several times this year. The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung. “Check your privilege,” they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.
And as Bill O’Reilly explains, asking white males to consider how white and male privilege has eased their paths through life is too horrific to contemplate:
I’m a really white guy. When I was in Hawaii last week I couldn’t go in the sun. If I was in the sun for three minutes my ears would fall off, all right? Now, I’m from Leavittown, out on Long Island. And my parents didn’t have a lot of money, all right? Do I have white privilege? Am I privileged in any way under this banner?
I didn’t experience that when I worked in Carvelle, painted houses. I’m going to have to exempt myself under that white privilege banner.
This is a Very Big Deal because the Harvard Kennedy School of Government wants to encourage students to discuss diversity:
The school currently offers a number of opportunities for students to discuss and learn about issues of diversity. Learning to have constructive conversations in the context of differences in race, gender, cultural background, political viewpoints and many other perspectives is important in any graduate school particularly one dedicated to preparing its students to be effective leaders and policymakers.
That program was erroneously reported as a ‘mandatory’ course titled Checking Your Privilege 101. As later updates from the Harvard Kennedy School made clear, there won’t be a mandatory course and no seminar titles have been finalized.
Still, asking Harvard graduate students to consider white male privilege could leave some students too upset to concentrate while skiing in Aspen or St. Moritz, and we can’t risk that kind slippery slope.
But if a graphic lecture or classroom video leaves a rape or child abuse survivor in tears, well, college is supposed to confront you with ideas that “make you squirm” …
… unless you’re a white male.
Good day and good nuts