In Defense Of Trigger Warnings

If you read any articles about college campuses, you have a very different idea about college culture than you would if you if you were actually on a campus.

College students are apparently coddled and babied and given handouts and sheltered from the world. They drive people who dare to have differing opinions off of campus and protest the most innocent of flubs.

Ask the 1 in 4 college women who will be confronted with rape during their time at school or the countless other people who face catcalling, living below the poverty line, mental illness, stress and pressure of their studies, and they will tell a totally different tale.

College is a tiny microcosm of the real world, where there are cliques and politics and arguments and bad things and good things. Despite these articles about how no one cares about differing opinions, I was nonetheless bombarded with stupid and hateful opinions from both liberal and conservatives and everyone in between during my time at college. College is weirdly filled with a lot of idealistic people who do want to make safe spaces against racism and sexism and rape culture because for a lot of them, they’re just hearing about this stuff. And they want to help.

To the rest of the world, this can seem silly and unnecessary and even damaging to young adults about to enter a real world that is cruel and mean. Trigger warnings are mocked and seen as this giant hinderance to learning and growing. To them, the professor or poet or writer who includes them screams about triggers for 20 minutes and forces everyone out the door, depriving them of necessary information so that they are coddled like little special snowflakes.

For those who have never had a trigger warning in class, this is what it usually sounds like. “We’re going to be watching a documentary, it explores *whatever topic.* Quick trigger warning, this does contain a graphic scene and I’ll give a quick wave when that’s coming up in case you’ll want to leave the room and come back when it’s done.”

That’s about it. It’s four seconds at the beginning of class. It’s one line at the beginning of a blog post. It’s not exactly a new thing. People have been doing it for years during news broadcasts, in ratings for movies and in warnings to their friends.

And it’s helpful, really helpful to people like me. I’m the person that those against trigger warnings love to write think pieces about. I’m a survivor of both sexual assault and dating violence. I have lived in a place with people that not only don’t believe me, but don’t care. I use trigger warnings, not as a way to get out of things, but as a way to prepare myself. I like the quick heads up that what I’m watching could bring back horrific memories or make me feel ill or trigger a panic attack. Those six seconds that a professor or writer takes can save me an even longer time of dealing with my anxiety.

I don’t believe I’ve ever walked out of a class because of a trigger warning, and honestly I haven’t seen too many people leave either. But I have heard thank you’s, I have seen sighs of relief, I have seen allies holding their friends’ hands. And that, to me, is worth it. It’s not meant to shelter people or make people soft against atrocities. That would be counterintuitive.

Trigger warnings do not mean and should not mean not allowing someone of a different political party to speak. I don’t think that anyone should be silenced and I think that I’ve learned the most when confronted with a wildly different perspective.

But I don’t think many people are arguing that, or at least not as many as people would like you to believe. And the ones that are may be a little confused. I think where that fear lies is that someone who speaks extremely passionately against women’s rights or gay rights, may say something derogatory that may trigger people. But most of us have heard that kind of language before. And their names and their affiliations are a trigger warning within itself. We know what we’re signing up for when we go see a conservative pundit speak about sexual assault on college campuses.

There is a line in which we must endure hearing about and seeing cruelty. I have sat through classes feeling sick after seeing films about female genital mutilation, rape in the military, violence against trans people and many more horrible things. I have learned from them, I have talked about them afterwards, but I appreciated the quicks heads up that this was going to be hard. Buckle up. But, I stayed and I listened. I wouldn’t judge anyone that couldn’t.

I’m not a weak person. I’ve been through hell and back. No one coddled me when I was abused, and I felt every inch of it. In fact people will barely look me in the eye when I share it with them. I’m not going to take responsibility because you feel like I should buck up. Most people who leave because of trigger warnings are stronger than you know. They have looked horror in the face and not only lived to tell the tale, but get up every day and learn about more horrors.

Instead of ranting and raving about people who include triggers, ask yourself why in the world you care. Have you ever closed your eyes at a movie or complained that something came on way too fast? Have you ever wished you had a little warning? Why would that really be so bad?

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