A Traumatized Reader Discusses Trigger Warnings

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Recently we were talking about the trend on campus to require “trigger warnings” — warnings on material assigned for class that could potentially traumatize a student by triggering a flashback on some misery endured. We also discussed “microaggressions” — the idea also newly popular at college that students’ casual remarks could be construed as aggressive, so it is up to everyone to make sure they offend no one with whatever they happen to say.

The amazingly honest letter below explains the problem with this assumption of fragility. The Free-Range Kids angle is simple: From dumbed -down playgrounds where kids can’t enjoy a merry-go-round anymore, lest they fall off, to dumbed-down conversations in the classroom, where students can’t openly express their thoughts anymore, lest someone feel aggrieved, the starting point is the same: A belief that this generation of young people is so easily bruised, physically and emotionally, we must anticipate their destruction at every turn and do everything possible to spare them.

When you look at life through that lens — the lens of what could conceivably hurt even one person, some way, somehow — nothing seems safe enough. Not childhood. Not college. Not normal human interactions and activities. Nothing.

Dear Free-Range Kids: The biggest problem with trigger warnings is that there is no way to know what can trigger someone, and I will use both myself and my husband as an example.

My husband is a veteran who suffers from PTSD. He is triggered by a whole host of things; loud noises, crowded spaces, not being able to clearly see the exit to a room, a room not having two exits, people talking about medical or forensic related subjects (as he had to document bombing victims he gets very sensitive to any in depth discussion about anatomy and physiology).

I have a history of OCD and anorexia. I can get triggered by any conversation regarding food or weight or exercise. There are other things too, but numbers are also very triggering for me. I used to obsess over numbers in terms of calories eaten and burned, miles run on a treadmill, the number of corn kernels I had just eaten, etc. Because of this, any discussion of numbers at all could get me thinking about numbers as they relate to my eating and exercise.

We both went to college while we were still quite ill and dealing with these issues, but it was before trigger warnings were even a concept. So we were forced to develop coping mechanisms for dealing with triggers we would regularly encounter in our day to day lives. Every once in awhile we couldn’t deal, and had to excuse ourselves from a situation. Still, at the end of the day, neither of us expected the world to cater to our neuroses, and instead we forced ourselves to learn to deal with the reality of existence. Years later, neither of us are 100% “better,” but we are well adjusted and are rarely triggered, despite being constantly exposed to things that used to trigger us regularly.

The fact is literally anything in the world can be triggering to someone depending on their experiences and illnesses, it isn’t just obvious stuff like rape. Numbers are often a trigger for people with OCD and/or eating disorders, should every use of math or statistics come with a trigger warning?

I just don’t think it does anyone any good to seek to cater to our weaknesses and isolate us from things that may disturb us. instead, those affected need to try and learn how to deal with trauma or mental illness in a way that doesn’t include denying reality.

I have a close friend who was kidnapped and raped. This was of course a terrible experience that will always stay with her, but she was determined to not let it inhibit her or change her behavior. She still dates, still has an active social life, is able to watch or read stories of rape or kidnapping. Occasionally she does have to hard a time with things, and needs some space and understanding, but for the most part she is able to cope well and deal with life. Another acquaintance of mine had her purse snatched once, no physical attack was involved. She is completely crippled by the experience and relates it as being a deep, unsurpassable psychological trauma that makes her incapable of dealing with a vast array of social situations or experiences. I know which of these two people I would rather be.

That is not a judgement on people who are profoundly traumatized and who can’t recover despite their best efforts. It’s that I simply do not respect the idea that someone who has gone through a hardship or trauma should be treated as forever ruined and incapable of overcoming obstacles. – Samwise

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CAUTION! Warnings about trauma may be insulting and counter-productive.

CAUTION! Trigger warnings may be insulting and counter-productive.

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146 Responses to A Traumatized Reader Discusses Trigger Warnings

  1. Katie August 27, 2015 at 7:17 am #

    Her first sentence (before the comma) sums up perfectly why trigger warnings should go away. When material is likely to be disturbing, as she mentions, letting people know is wise, but let’s do away with the term.

  2. Randy August 27, 2015 at 8:04 am #

    There is a time and a place for everything. The biggest problem I personally have with trigger warnings is how often they are used in academia. If you’re at a university pursuing a degree, you should expect to be challenged in many ways, and working with emotionally charged content is one of those ways, as in the following:

    1. Human sexuality classes will include discussions of less typical sexual behavior that not everyone will engage in or support.

    2. Abnormal child development / child psychopathology classes will include discussions of all sorts of abuse and neglect.

    3. Medical courses and practicums will involve exposure to injuries and illnesses.

    I really don’t understand how someone could go into higher education and expect to be wrapped up and protected from the VERY CONTENT WHICH THEY ARE PAYING TO BE EXPOSED. It’s just baffling, but it seems to be the place where these “trigger warning” conflicts seem to come up the most often.

  3. Beth August 27, 2015 at 9:01 am #

    What I don’t understand is this – black students allegedly need warnings about content that involves slavery, and female students need warnings about misogynistic content. But today’s average college student has most likely never been a slave or lived in a time when women were second class citizens. So why is this material going to trigger such a violent reaction that they need to be protected against it?

  4. BL August 27, 2015 at 9:02 am #

    “I really don’t understand how someone could go into higher education and expect to be wrapped up and protected from the VERY CONTENT WHICH THEY ARE PAYING TO BE EXPOSED.”

    What’s amazing is that, in the US, the big increase in college enrollment began after World War 2 with the GI Bill. So here were colleges flooded with men who had been shot at, wounded, seen their fellow soldiers killed, killed enemy soldiers themselves, walked into the aftermath of Nazi death camps, been prisoners of war, etc. And so on with Korean War and Vietnam vets as well.

    And somehow they didn’t need trigger warnings, but moderns do. Or say they do.

  5. Greg August 27, 2015 at 9:16 am #

    The phrase “trigger warning” brings thoughts of gun violence to mind so I demand a kinder and gentler name be used for the warnings. Thank you. I’m going to go to my safe space until it’s changed.

  6. Alex August 27, 2015 at 9:27 am #

    These concepts are not commonly practiced at a proverbial 99% of colleges or universities, most places still rely on personal judgment and relative “common sense.” Meaning, for example, before discussing the holocaust an instructor would note that the images they will see could be upsetting. People on this site should stop exaggerating.

  7. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    “somehow they didn’t need trigger warnings, but moderns do.”

    I think you’re confusing “didn’t get them” for “didn’t need them”.
    The notion that (some) soldiers returning from war had psychic damage is not a new idea. Shell Shock, Battle fatigue…it has a lot of names.

    Anyways, we know full well that some people are affected in ways that other people are not. Some people experience horror and spring back, other people experience only a tiny bit, relatively, and struggle to recover. Telling them “just get over it” is not at all helpful. The fact that some people are, in fact, fragile, is an observation, not a generalization.

  8. Joan August 27, 2015 at 10:11 am #

    ” I simply do not respect the idea that someone who has gone through a hardship or trauma should be treated as forever ruined and incapable of overcoming obstacles.”
    This, exactly, is the problem. If you keep treating someone as a victim, that’s all they can ever be. People who experience trauma may certainly need support, but surely it’s more helpful to assume that they will eventually get better, and not reinforce for them the idea that because something bad happened to them, they are never, never going to be okay again. It’s not just insulting, it’s crippling.

    As far as trigger warnings, beyond a generalized, MPAA rating style notification of commonly disturbing subject matter, triggers are almost always so unpredictable that there’s no way to guess what should have a warning. After my father died, for the next year or so, the song “Brown Eyed Girl” would send me into a fit of tears. Even I don’t know why, but my brain had somehow made that association. For everyone else, it’s just a catchy song. Who would put a warning there?

  9. Derek August 27, 2015 at 10:17 am #

    Read up people:

    http://www.vice.com/read/microaggression-a-stupid-word

    Also, in college…never seen a so called trigger warning that wasn’t a basic…extremely bad stuff ahead. Be aware. Like when you watch the Sopranos on HBO, “viewer discretion is advised…”

  10. pentamom August 27, 2015 at 10:23 am #

    James, it’s true that a lot of the men of that era didn’t get as much help as they needed, and suffered for it.

    It’s also true that the university system didn’t come crashing down due to mass panic on the part of the hundreds of thousands of men who returned from combat and enrolled in college and studied history, psychology, and classic literature (among other things that might now be considered “triggering”) without being given trigger warnings.

    So the point stands — by and large, they coped without the warnings.

  11. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    “It’s also true that the university system didn’t come crashing down due to mass panic on the part of the hundreds of thousands of men who returned from combat and enrolled in college and studied history, psychology, and classic literature (among other things that might now be considered “triggering”) without being given trigger warnings.”

    Yes, indeed, the system of not giving “trigger warnings” worked out just fine for the folks who didn’t need them. Whatever happened to the ones who did?

  12. Neil M August 27, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    I don’t think that trigger warnings are *necessarily* catering to the idea that people are “forever ruined and incapable of overcoming obstacles.” I think that, properly, implemented, they can be a nice way to show sensitivity to others. For example, if I invited the letter writer and her husband to a party, I’d want to mention there will be a crowded space there. This is not an assumption that her husband is fragile; it’s part of an honest desire to make sure my guests are comfortable. After all, isn’t it nice to spare people unnecessary discomfort?

    I realize, however, that any courtesy can be absurdly extended, and trigger warnings are no different. Maybe the solution is for trigger warnings to be voluntary; as Randy said upthread, there is a time and place.

  13. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 10:51 am #

    Look at “trigger warnings” in a non-academic context. Broadcast news will occasionally include images which might be disturbing to “fragile” people, so they tell people about it before they show them. “Listen”, they say, “we think think these images are important and newsworthy, so we’re going to show them to you. They also might be disturbing to some people, so if you’re the type of person who doesn’t want to see them, turn away now or turn off your TV.” This lets people decide for themselves if they want to take in the (important, but disturbing) images. If they do, they keep watching, and if they don’t, they don’t. Exactly which societal ills is this indicative of? Is it the treatment of all TV viewers as infants, incapable of confronting disturbing thoughts and images? The wussification of America? Is it a sign that broadcast executives have been sheltered all their lives, and now they can’t even imagine showing images to Americans that might challenge their self-beliefs?

  14. A reader August 27, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    Older generations definitely had PTSD and stuff, they just didn’t know how to treat it back then. My great-grandmother’s first marriage was to a WWI vet who had a very severe case and committed suicide a few months after the wedding. My great-grandfather was also a vet and also suffered, but was able to live a normal life until WWII when the Nazis cut it short. My grandmother, his daughter, survived the Holocaust and she came to America and built a wonderful American-dream life after having lost everyone and everything in Europe. She has a few triggers for sure. Tattoos are deeply distressing to her because she has a number in her arm. She gets upset whenever she sees someone with a tattoo. But, well, if you leave the house, you’re gonna bump into people with ink sometimes, there’s no trigger warning for that. She does just fine. She lives her life, gives speeches, is very active in the field of Holocaust education, and while seeing a tattoo may raise her blood pressure, she does not faint or fall apart from it.

  15. Hancock August 27, 2015 at 10:57 am #

    Tlthose who label trigger warnings and micro aggressions. make the strange assumption that college is for adult children who are socially crippled and easily provoked. Hate to break it to the social justice warriors, but if normal human interaction and classic literature is offensive and triggering, then it’s not college the young adult needs, but a mental hospital and lisenced therapists.

  16. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 11:16 am #

    USA network is delaying the airing of an episode of Mr. Robot, apparently, because it has elements too close to the recent on-air shootings in Virginia. After 9-11, Sony withdrew the trailer for Spider-Man because it featured an image of the World Trade Center towers covered in webbing.

    After the Vietnam war ended, a lot of veterans had trouble re-integrating with American society. “Troubled Vietnam vet” was trope all over popular media. This was not surprising… their war was not popular, and so neither were they. We just wanted to forget we’d ever heard of a place called “Vietnam”, much less fought a war there. Fast-forward a couple of decades, to the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. This time, Americans were united behind their soldiers. Some opposed the wars (some quite bitterly) but all agreed that it was not the soldiers’ fault that we were at war. The blame (if blame was due) belonged to the politicians who made the decision to go to war. So… this time, the returning veterans received the honor that was due them for standing up to fight when called upon? Hell no, we cut funding and imposed new restrictions on them. This was a scandal across both political parties, partisans, not something that “the other guys” did. By the time the wars wound down, they were unpopular, and we went back to trying to pretend we never sent any soldiers off to war.

  17. Warren August 27, 2015 at 11:41 am #

    They want to plaster the world with trigger warnings, content advisories, comment cautions and so on, go for it. The funding for such should come from the victim groups directly related to that issue. This is not the school’s, or wherever’s responsibility.

    I do have a problem with places that will allow students to opt out of that material. It is part of the course you signed up for. Either you do it or you fail.

    On a personal note, please everyone do not let this thread be derailed into a discussion about the treatment of veterans and veterans rights, as James is clearly trying to do.

  18. Shelly Stow August 27, 2015 at 11:43 am #

    “[We have] A belief that this generation of young people is so easily bruised, physically and emotionally, we must anticipate their destruction at every turn and do everything possible to spare them.”

    The best phrasing describing this trend that I have seen to date.

    “…the idea that someone who has gone through a hardship or trauma should be treated as forever ruined and incapable of overcoming obstacles.”

    The best summary of those who adhere to the “perpetual victim” theory; this idea or belief is at the heart of some “victims’ advocacy” groups. They do as much, if not more, harm to the former victims than the original trauma did.

  19. Kimberly August 27, 2015 at 11:47 am #

    Much like how the term “Free Range” is the new term for what we once called “childhood”, the term “trigger warnings” is just a new name for an age old phenomena in which teachers would inform their students that particular material might be disturbing.

    With the exception of one professor, I never had a teacher that didn’t give us a heads up that the movie we were about to watch, or the book we were about to read, might be disturbing to some people. My 5th grade teacher recommended that the girls bring tissues when we watched “Where the Red Fern Grows”.

    The problem with trigger warnings in their new evolution is that students aren’t satisfied with a general warning for material that might be upsetting for the majority of the students. They are now looking for specific warnings that might be upsetting for a very small minority. Warnings regarding Holocaust material for those who might have had families that suffered or died in the camps. Warnings regarding slavery for those who might have had families that suffered through enslavement.

    Duke University is now at the center of this debate because a student took exception to a book on the recommended reading list for incoming freshman. I mean, why is this even news? It was a RECOMMENDED book, not required. But he’s filed a complaint and it’s now made national news.

    And while it’s true that 99% of the college campuses aren’t actively practicing these new trigger warnings, the fact remains that if left unchecked and accepted, they soon will be. All one needs to do is look at the evolution of school dress codes over the last 20 years.

    My senior year (1993), a group of friends decided they would dress up as Pimps and Hos for Halloween with the girls being the “pimps” and the boys being the “hos”. No one batted an eye. Then again, back then the dress code basically said that kids had to come to school with clothes on. Today, we have (public) schools with dress codes that require students to cover up their collar bones. My son’s middle school doesn’t allow the students to wear clothing that represents sports teams. It didn’t matter that the Giants had just won the World Series and EVERYONE was wearing Buster Posey jerseys. My daughter’s high school has a much less prohibitive dress code that more resembles the dress code I had to follow with the exception that students can’t come to school dressed in all red or all blue, and prohibits the visual carrying of anything else that might signify gang affiliation.

    My daughter is reading Romeo & Juliet this year. Should the teacher warn them that the book contains suicide? My area also has an extremely high population of Indians and Chinese. Should the teacher also warn the students that the play deals with child brides?

    Schools need to focus on providing an educational experience for the majority of their students which can’t happen if they are second guessing every little thing in their curriculum with the worry of potentially harming the emotional health of the minority of their students.

  20. John August 27, 2015 at 11:47 am #

    Obviously for a recovering alcoholic, it is best to avoid environments where there is lots of alcohol such as nightclubs and bars. BUT that’s entirely on him! He could not expect people to abstain from drinking alcohol in restaurants just because he’s present nor for that liquor store across the street from where he lives to close just because he’s tempted by it. You’ve got to learn how to deal with those temptations that you are not able to eliminate!

  21. Heather Head August 27, 2015 at 12:06 pm #

    I do in fact use trigger warnings in my writing from time to time. For instance, if I will be graphically describing violence, or, especially, suicide. Suicide is known to be “contagious.” One suicide tends to have a chain reaction that echoes through the victim’s social circles and can contribute to additional suicides. When famous people die by suicide, it tends to cause a rash of suicides in the general population.

    So I am careful with those topics.

    Additionally, I find it appalling when people post extremely graphic video and/or images in a public place that anyone might casually happen upon without warning (for instance, my Facebook feed or, to cite an actual experience I had, in a church service to which children were invited). It’s disrespectful.

    Of course, I also think it’s disrespectful to post movie spoilers without warning! (SPOILER ALERTS, PEOPLE: USE THEM.)

    So, having said all that, you might think I’m a fan of trigger warnings everywhere. On the contrary.

    What your reader here describes is a known phenomenon in the professional treatment of trauma. Protecting oneself from exposure to triggers leads to ever-increasing levels of anxiety, and will eventually result in the inability to function.

    Effective trauma treatment involves guided exposure to triggers, along with a process of examining the emotional response, the beliefs that contribute to that emotion (for instance, for your reader the belief might be, “I’m not safe here”), and then examining that belief against reality (what evidence do you have that you are not safe? What evidence do you have that you are safe?).

    The current trend, to offer up trigger warnings on every last thing and provide college students (and everyone else) the option to “opt out” of anything that might upset them, is exactly the opposite of helpful. It will, by all known understanding of psychology, create more trauma and disability rather than less.

    Instead of opting out and retreating to quiet “safe places,” far better for college students to experience the triggers and have an opportunity to work through them and examine their reactions and beliefs against the evidence. That is how you grow a healthy population of adults.

  22. John August 27, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

    Ok people, I have a question here. How do you respond to people who believe in the evils of microaggressions and trigger warnings?? For example, if I’m engaged in a very nice conversation with a person of the Asian race and who speaks with an obvious accent and as we’re conversing, I ask him, “Say, where are you originally from?” just because I am interested in his background and culture? I would certainly not consider that an invasive question as I have been asked that many times myself in my frequent visits to foreign countries which I then reply, “Oh I’m from the United States”.

    BUT then all of a sudden, I get a stiff and patronizing reprimand by a person overhearing our conversation telling me, “You know, that’s a very rude and personal question to ask”. The person could be somebody I know or a perfect stranger overhearing our conversation.

    So my question is, how do you respond to a reprimand like that? Do you say, “It’s none of your business” or maybe “You’re being ridiculous”! ?

    Basically how do you respond to clowns like that?!!

  23. MomOf8 August 27, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    Greg. I’m laughing my butt off. Stay safe. Just stay in that place.

  24. Sukiemom August 27, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

    John, as the mom to 2 Asian daughters, I cringe when I hear that question. It is intrusive. I have a friend with a baby and she has been asked by strangers if the baby was delivered vaginally or cesarean.

    Trust me, it is intrusive.

  25. Liz August 27, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

    “So we were forced to develop coping mechanisms for dealing with triggers we would regularly encounter in our day to day lives. Every once in awhile we couldn’t deal, and had to excuse ourselves from a situation. Still, at the end of the day, neither of us expected the world to cater to our neuroses, and instead we forced ourselves to learn to deal with the reality of existence.”

    Exactly, they had to learn how to cope. Seeing someone can help, but if you do not learn how to cope, or are unable to, it should not be the world’s responsibility to cater to you. I am sorry, but it should not. People need to learn to cope. By all means, they should also get the help they need when it is necessary, but learning to work in different uncontrollable situations is what it is like to be an adult and a contributing member of society.

  26. BL August 27, 2015 at 12:32 pm #

    “Yes, indeed, the system of not giving ‘trigger warnings’ worked out just fine for the folks who didn’t need them. Whatever happened to the ones who did?”

    I’m not sure anyone needs trigger warnings, a mostly bureaucratic creation of recent vintage and not a naturally occurring phenomenon.

    In fact, if the studies cited by Lenore showing the desirability of desensitization are accurate, trigger warnings may be positively harmful.

  27. Powers August 27, 2015 at 12:35 pm #

    Once again, protesting stupid and obvious trigger warnings becomes a crusade against any sort of disclaimer that might allow a person to judge for him or herself whether he or she is capable of dealing with?

    Why are so many of you against the very idea of a literature professor saying “This book deals with sexual assault and contains a semi-graphic depiction of an attempted rape” at the beginning of the semester?

    What’s that, you say? You’re not against that? Then you’re NOT AGAINST TRIGGER WARNINGS.

  28. Donna August 27, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

    “I think that, properly, implemented, they can be a nice way to show sensitivity to others. For example, if I invited the letter writer and her husband to a party, I’d want to mention there will be a crowded space there. This is not an assumption that her husband is fragile; it’s part of an honest desire to make sure my guests are comfortable. After all, isn’t it nice to spare people unnecessary discomfort?”

    Actually, if it were me, it would make me extremely uncomfortable that you are even concerning yourself with my mental health at all. It shows that you view me as some damaged person that needs special treatment. It would be the EXACT reason I would be hesitant to say anything to anyone if I had a trauma in my life – the idea that I am now to be treated differently. This specific example also implies that you think I am a total idiot.

    In other words, simply invite me to a party. It is likely not the first ever party for me. I do understand that they often involve crowded spaces. I am capable of deciding on my own whether I can handle parties. I am also perfectly capable of asking questions about any issues concerning the party that may impact my decision – inside v outside, how many people invited, etc.

  29. JulieC August 27, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    I think some of this has to do with this notion of ‘safety’ (at all costs) that the current generation of kids has had drummed into them. That’s why the idea of ‘safe spaces’ is so silly to me. The author Christina Hoff Summers came to Georgetown and a few other universities to give a talk (which was obviously completely optional to attend!) and student groups felt the need to offer a safe space for students traumatized by this woman’s mere presence on campus.

    In other words, students who demand trigger warnings are demanding safety from unpleasant thoughts and ideas.

    My son is in college at a small liberal arts school. In one of his seminars last year, a girl jumped up and ran out of class during a discussion of Dante’s Inferno, shouting “I don’t feel safe!”.

  30. BL August 27, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

    Maybe I should demand trigger warnings for all mention of potatoes.

    After all, my great-great-grandmother only survived the Irish potato famine by emigrating to the US as a 13-year-old indentured servant.

    I think I’ll faint dead away the next time I’m asked if I want fries with that.

  31. Kimberly August 27, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    Sukiemom,

    Maybe I’m a complete idiot, but to me, there is a vast difference between asking someone where their accent comes from and whether they had a child vaginally.

    To me, a better comparison would have been asking a person of Asian descent where their accent is from versus asking any person of Asian descent where they’re from.

    I find accents and cultures fascinating. Yet it would never occur to me to ask someone without an accent where they (or their family) are from — even though that can have a really surprising and interesting answer as well.

    One of my daughter’s best friends is ethnically Chinese. She was born in United States. Her parents, on the other hand, were both born in Africa but grew up in Brazil where they still have family and visit regularly. The family is very polite and have always spoken English in front of me, but there have been a few times when they’ve busted out in Portuguese when they’ve reprimanded their daughter for something.

    I find that spectacularly awesome.

  32. Donna August 27, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    Sukiemom – It is certainly improper to ask someone where they are from based solely on their race, however, I think you missed the part of John’s example where he said “who speaks with an obvious accent.” If you are insulted to have someone pick up on the different accent and ask where you are originally from, you are EXTREMELY oversensitive.

    Having lived in Georgia for much of my life, I have somewhat of a southern accent. It isn’t super strong due to not being a native southerner and living in a town with a diverse population, but it is easily identifiable to those outside the south. Anytime I leave the south, I get asked where I am from. It certainly gets tedious to answer it repeatedly, but that is not the individual askers fault.

  33. Nadine August 27, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

    The big problem I have with there always having to be trigger warnings and people having to be mindfull of those with a trauma is that it creeps into everything in that relationship or situation.
    It’s not just that my trauma is something that I have to cope with and be responcible for. it’s my experience when I share my story to broadly with the people around me it first sucks all the air out of the room… It’s all that excists about me..it becomes the biggest part of the narrative about me. A framework in wich everything I do as an everyday person is weighed as being a always traumatized person in everything. A narrative that is easily used against me when it’s convenient to do so. To learn a child to find coping mechanisms that also protect from the overly caring, overly worried, that take over your problem and advertise it for their own gain or overtly agressive and patronizing or just plain vicious and poisonous is creating a strong and independent person that can protect, cares for and soothes themselves.

    Growing up all crazy behaviour as a teen was seen through that lens of trauma, instead of just being a annoying but very normal teen. Everything I did made alarm bells go off because I was the traumatized one. The most important thing I learned growing up is that it’s my trauma and mine to deal with and manage. It’s not that I never asked for help but that I learned to be very selective about who I ask and what I ask.

  34. Elizabeth August 27, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

    I am a college professor and I have had students with trauma come to me to discuss their triggers when they have been presented in class. I am also an adult with PTSD. From both perspectives I have to say that this issue is not as black and white as people want to make it.

    There is nothing wrong with showing courtesy and warning people when something potentially difficult is coming their way. No one can learn when they are reliving trauma in your classroom.

    I personally hate it when a friend posts an article on FB, for example, with a comment like, “This is a must read!” and then when I click the link I am blindsided by my trauma being triggered. A little warning would be nice so I can be the one to decide what I’m exposed to when.

    The issue here isn’t really about whether we should be giving warnings or not. The issue is about where the responsibility lies. Is it on the individual to say this is too much for me right now I need some space and understanding? Or is it on everyone else to never mention anything?

    We can’t possibly know what will trigger everyone or exactly on which occasion the exposure will cause a problem versus when it won’t so banning entire subjects, or words, isn’t practical or helpful.

    But saying something like, “hey, next week we’re going to be covering overdose deaths in class,” as a warning so an individual can make an informed, in the moment, decision about their own well being isn’t unreasonable.

    When a student came to me and said, “I am a recovering herion addict and I can’t write the paper on The Basketball Diaries because trying to watch it is triggering me and I really don’t want to relapse” I told him/her to stop watching it and not to write the paper. I told him/her to write a paper on his/her recovery and the things s/he does everyday to keep him/herself sober. I gave full credit for that assignment.

    At the same time, I taught the material to everyone else with no incident.

    There’s too much “there’s only one way” in the discussion of trigger warnings without any attention to the subtleties of individual settings, situations, and circumstances.

  35. Sukiemom August 27, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

    Donna/Kimberly

    I appreciate that you understand that asking someone without an obvious accent who is Asian where they come from is very insensitive. I wish other people did as well. My beautiful teenaged daughters have been approached by all kinds of morons asking where they were born. It embarrasses them no end, and one day I’m going to strangle one.

    Most of the people asking the question are male, but recently I had an idiotic woman ask in front of them, “couldn’t you adopt an American child?”

  36. Kimberly August 27, 2015 at 1:19 pm #

    Also, I want to add, that as a white, anglo-saxon Athiest, born and raised in California, I have been asked hundreds of times where I or my family is from. What I find more offensive is the staggering ignorance people have regarding the differences between nationality, culture, ethnicity, and race.

    My nationality is “American”. Culturally, I identify as Irish and Italian American even though ethnically my family comes from most of Western Europe, some of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa.

    While a few people might be interested in your nationality, I find that most people are actually interested in your ethnicity. And as a genealogist, I find ethnicity seriously fascinating. I also don’t think that a few ignorant or racist people shouldn’t bar everyone from learning about someone’s ethnic background.

  37. Sukiemom August 27, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

    Kimberly,
    You’ve been asked hundreds of times about your ethnicity? Really? I’ve probably been asked a dozen. I find that very unusual.

    You may not mind being asked so many time about your ethnicity, but a lot of people who were born elsewhere find it intrusive and unwelcoming. I am involved in many foreign adoption groups and I assure you that is very common feeling for children born elsewhere.

  38. Steve August 27, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

    The Nocebo Effect and Trigger Warnings

    http://www.antidepressant-dangers-non-medical-alternative.eftisland.com/html/nocebo.html

    There’s a phenomenon called the Nocebo effect that shows up throughout life, and this effect is essentially The Power of Suggestion. If you hear about how other people behaved in a given situation, you are much more likely to respond the same way. It happens all the time in the field of medicine. A doctor tells you about “possible” side effects, and you then experience some or all of them. It is not unusual for people who get cancer to die, not from the cancer, but from their belief that cancer is a death sentence.

    In one nocebo study, asthmatics who were exposed to saline solution but were told they were inhaling irritants developed full-blown attacks that were relieved by the same saline solution presented therapeutically.

    Think about that – These people with asthma only “thought” they were being exposed to allergens. Their “thoughts” – not the substance – caused their asthma attacks.

    Dan Ariely, in his book: “Predictably Irrational,” tells of an experiment in which people were given a choice between two kinds of beer being offered free of charge. One had a small amount of balsamic vinegar blended in, and the other did not. If the subjects were told about the vinegar “before” they tasted the offerings, even though they did taste both before choosing what they wanted, MOST chose the beer without the vinegar. BUT, if they tasted both beers and were NOT told about the vinegar, most chose the one WITH the vinegar.

    So, what was happening was essentially a trigger warning.

    As Dan says: “If you tell people up front that something MIGHT be distasteful, the odds are good that they will end up agreeing with you.”

  39. Anna August 27, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

    Has all of this come about because we live in such a highly litigious society? I suppose so.
    : (

    Kudos to you two!
    And thank-you for writing (and publishing) this article.

  40. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    “I’m not sure anyone needs trigger warnings, a mostly bureaucratic creation of recent vintage and not a naturally occurring phenomenon.”

    The name is new, the phenomenon is not. They’ve been used in broadcast television for the entire history of broadcast television. They were known as “viewer advisories” and later as just “ratings”.

  41. Jana August 27, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

    Good point, Beth. Sometimes one feels as if she/he is walking between sharp shattered glass. Life is not easy-better deal with this fact…

  42. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

    “Maybe I should demand trigger warnings for all mention of potatoes.
    After all, my great-great-grandmother only survived the Irish potato famine by emigrating to the US as a 13-year-old indentured servant.
    I think I’ll faint dead away the next time I’m asked if I want fries with that.”

    Good news! McDonald’s now offers apple slices and yogurt as options in Happy Meals.

  43. Papilio August 27, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

    I agree that asking people *without an accent* where they are from (as opposed to their ancestors) is just weird, but if they do have an accent, I actually think it’s quite normal that this question comes up sooner or later in the conversation.

    So, John, if someone would interrupt the conversation saying how rude a question that is, I think I’d just look from them back at the person I’m talking to to see how they feel about the question.

    Sukiemom, if you’re white, my first thought would probably be that your girls’ father must be Asian…

  44. BL August 27, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    “The name is new, the phenomenon is not. They’ve been used in broadcast television for the entire history of broadcast television. They were known as ‘viewer advisories’ and later as just ‘ratings’.”

    Not sure what you’re calling advisories, but ratings like TV-Y7 only go back to 1997, far from the entire history of broadcast television.

    I really can’t imagine viewers of “Gunsmoke” in the 1960s were being warned that OMG there might be GUNS in this TV show OMG OMG!

  45. JKP August 27, 2015 at 2:38 pm #

    Powers – “Why are so many of you against the very idea of a literature professor saying “This book deals with sexual assault and contains a semi-graphic depiction of an attempted rape” at the beginning of the semester? What’s that, you say? You’re not against that? Then you’re NOT AGAINST TRIGGER WARNINGS.”

    Actually I am against exactly what you describe, mostly because it could also be considered a SPOILER for the story and ruin it for the 99% of the students who don’t need a “trigger warning” just to appease the 1% who claim they do need a warning.

    I love to read, and I HATE how “trigger warnings” have crept into everything. There have been many times I have wanted to read something, but then after seeing the big trigger warning at the front, I haven’t read it. Not because I didn’t feel comfortable reading the content, but because the trigger warning spoiled a huge plot point and ruined my opportunity to enjoy the book. I don’t want to know if there’s a rape in the book, or a murder, or a suicide, or graphic violence, etc before I read the book. I want to enjoy the book UNSPOILED.

    I don’t think there should be any trigger warnings, because I think the rest of the world should be able to read a story without being spoiled to major plot points.

    Especially now with the internet, anyone who needs a trigger warning can do a quick google search before any movie, book, etc, and find out if it contains the specific thing that would make them uncomfortable.

  46. Buffy August 27, 2015 at 3:13 pm #

    “personally hate it when a friend posts an article on FB, for example, with a comment like, “This is a must read!” and then when I click the link I am blindsided by my trauma being triggered. A little warning would be nice so I can be the one to decide what I’m exposed to when”

    Everyone on your friends list knows your exact trigger and should be cognizant of it with every FB post? Maybe YOU should be the one not clicking on random links. I know I’m sounding harsh, but this sounds like you are expecting the world to conform to you, instead of vice versa.

  47. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 3:40 pm #

    “Not sure what you’re calling advisories”
    That would a short tag that would run before each segment of a program with a warning that some people might find them unsuitable. These go back to the very beginning of broadcast television.

    The need for them was supplanted when TV ratings came out.

    “ratings like TV-Y7 only go back to 1997, far from the entire history of broadcast television.”

    Once more, “viewer advisories” have been used for the entire history of broadcast television. They were originally called “viewer advisories”, and later “ratings”.

    “I really can’t imagine viewers of “Gunsmoke” in the 1960s were being warned that OMG there might be GUNS in this TV show OMG OMG!”

    No, but when the news came on, and the guns weren’t pretend any more, and the dead bodies weren’t pretend any more, you got viewer advisories.

    Gunsmoke didn’t get them (I’m pretty sure.. wasn’t watching TV in the 60’s), but “The Day After”, in 1983, sure did.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbgejAu2y4Q

  48. BL August 27, 2015 at 3:48 pm #

    “No, but when the news came on, and the guns weren’t pretend any more, and the dead bodies weren’t pretend any more, you got viewer advisories.”

    What did these consist of? Describe them. I was watching news well before 1997 and don’t know what you’re talking about.

  49. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

    “What did these consist of? Describe them. I was watching news well before 1997 and don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    The newsreader talking head turns to the camera and says some variation of “the following video may be disturbing for some viewers. If you do not wish to see these images, turn away now.”
    Sometimes it would be phrased as “may not be suitable for all viewers”, or “may not be available for children”.

    You didn’t watch the link I provided in my last comment, did you?

  50. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

    Oops. “May not be appropriate for children”.

  51. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 4:10 pm #

    Also, this one:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_DIY7AZbKg

  52. BL August 27, 2015 at 4:11 pm #

    “The newsreader talking head turns to the camera and says some variation of ‘the following video may be disturbing for some viewers. If you do not wish to see these images, turn away now.’
    Sometimes it would be phrased as ‘may not be suitable for all viewers’, or ‘may not be available for children’”.

    I really don’t remember those.

    “You didn’t watch the link I provided in my last comment, did you?”

    Yeah, I did. As I recall, that was considered pretty extraordinary at the time, and much derided as being overwrought anyway. And they could hardly preface individual news stories with that sort of warning – the news would consist of little else.

  53. BL August 27, 2015 at 4:13 pm #

    “Also, this one:”

    You’re still way more recent than the beginning of broadcast television – right after WW2, I believe, at least regularly.

  54. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

    “You’re still way more recent than the beginning of broadcast television – right after WW2, I believe, at least regularly.”

    Yeah. Because although they were giving these sorts of warnings (they were common in Vietnam War coverage, but also with some of the more violent demonostrations) nobody had VCRs to record them and save them yet.

  55. Liz August 27, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

    In the classes I’ve taken the “trigger warnings” come attached to the most asinine places, namely the stuff that has to do directly with the CLASS TOPIC- sex, war, death, etc. If you signed up for the class, you’ve signed up to deal with that topic. You shouldn’t be warned and let out of the material because suddenly you’re being faced with it. You knew that was coming, you agreed to covering it.

  56. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 4:42 pm #

    “In the classes I’ve taken the “trigger warnings” come attached to the most asinine places, namely the stuff that has to do directly with the CLASS TOPIC- sex, war, death, etc.”

    In second-semester Constitutional Law, there is a whole class lecture that covers how the Constitution was found to permit people to engage in the sorts of sex acts they find appropriate, (mostly) without the government being able to criminalize it. Amusingly, this topic also came up on the day of the “off-site” class meeting, which is held in a public place rather than in the lecture rooms at the law school.

    In first-semester Con Law, the topic of torture came up several times, because the Supreme Court was, at that time, deciding some important cases on the detention and treatment of “enemy combatants”.

    Obviously, both are covered under the umbrella of “Constitutional Law”, but neither is essential to an understanding of it. Either or both might have justified a “trigger warning”. Two semesters of Con Law are required of every student attending an ABA-approved law school. And attendance at an ABA-approved law school is required by nearly every state for issuance of a law license and admission to the bar.

    “You shouldn’t be warned and let out of the material because suddenly you’re being faced with it.”
    “Warned” and “let out of the material” are two hugely different things.

  57. Edward Hafner August 27, 2015 at 4:42 pm #

    “trigger warnings” (I won’t dignify the term with capital letters even at the beginning of a sentence) are present day society’s way of blaming anyone and everyone for an individuals inability to cope with everyday life – and, oh yes; criminal activity, war and acts of the God of your choice ARE everyday life on the planet Earth.
    Some of you wish there were another term for this nonsense. Read the original letter again. It’s right there – “neuroses”!
    Psychotherapists must be having a drastic drop in new patients and this is how they are drumming up new business.
    Your life is no one elses fault. Learn to deal with it. (There; I just saved you $30,000.00).

  58. pentamom August 27, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

    On accents — my kids sometimes get asked where they’re from.

    They’re white American kids who still live in the city they were born in. I think they might have a slightly odd speech pattern because I sort of adopted one because I didn’t care much for the regional/ethnic accent I grew up with, my husband came from a different regional background, and they were all homeschooled through middle school, which in their case meant they learned a lot of words (through reading) before they heard many other people say them.

    Asking a person with a different speech pattern where they’re from is showing interest in the person. Asking a person in America in the 21st century where they’re from because of how they look isn’t, IMO, so much racist (I can’t see how it implies animus in itself), as ridiculously ignorant of the fact that we live in a very diverse society.

  59. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

    “Asking a person in America in the 21st century where they’re from because of how they look isn’t, IMO, so much racist (I can’t see how it implies animus in itself)”

    I believe the interpretation is “where are you from” implies “because you don’t belong here.” White folks don’t interpret it that way because we don’t get the “you don’t belong here” message as often, so we aren’t attuned to it. YMMV.

  60. Catherine Scott August 27, 2015 at 5:30 pm #

    We emcourage people to bond to their trauma, and in some cases people will seek a trauma to bond to. I have an acquaintance who very early in our relationship told me she had breast cancer. Poor woman I thought. Turns out she had had a benign lump removed. The cancer survivor identity was attractive it seems.

  61. Catherine Scott August 27, 2015 at 5:39 pm #

    As usual The Onion says it best: http://www.theonion.com/article/parents-dedicate-new-college-safe-space-honor-daug-50851

  62. Jason August 27, 2015 at 5:53 pm #

    Commonplace small talk questions like “where are you from?”, “where did you go to school?”, and “what do you do for a living?” are considered rude and intrusive in many cultures and societies when asked by a stranger.

    If someone tells you that, then you could thank them for enlightening you so you won’t make that mistake in the future.

    But, if you think that being sensitive to others’ feelings and cultural differences is going to result in America becoming a nation of wimps, then just continue to assume that you – and you alone – set the standards for acceptable behavior.

  63. Sukiemom August 27, 2015 at 6:00 pm #

    “I believe the interpretation is “where are you from” implies “because you don’t belong here.” White folks don’t interpret it that way because we don’t get the “you don’t belong here” message as often, so we aren’t attuned to it.”

    well said. Thank you James

  64. Andre L. August 27, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    The problem with trigger warnings in higher education instruction is not the advisory part (though it can become bloated, quickly), but the almost certain chilling effect it produces.

    Giving a “heads up” or inserting a line on a syllabus on content that would normally be disturbing to mainstream society isn’t a serious hurdle on itself. The real problem is the creation of a general expectation of having all sorts of upsetting or ‘triggering’ scenarios, events, themes, elements that could possible exist be accounted for and previously announced.

  65. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

    “The problem with trigger warnings in higher education instruction is not the advisory part (though it can become bloated, quickly), but the almost certain chilling effect it produces.”

    Actually, it is REMOVING “trigger warnings” that creates a chilling effect.

    If you have warnings, you can then go on to things that are troubling to (at least some part of) the student body. If you drop the trigger warnings, then there’s pressure to make sure whatever’s left isn’t troubling for anybody.

    Compare two eras of American Film.. the current era, which we’ll tie to the existence of film rating systems, and the Hays era, when films didn’t have ratings… or objectionable themes. Videogames had a comparable dichotomy… in the late 80’s and early 90’s, games didn’t have ratings. But there was the Nintendo Content Code.

  66. Kimberly August 27, 2015 at 7:32 pm #

    Sukiemom,

    I don’t know if it’s because I work in the service industry so I come into contact with thousands of people a year or because I have a “Roman” nose, or both. But yeah, at least once a month, if not more, it comes up in conversation. For me, though, because I love different cultures and ethnicities due to my interest in genealogy, I don’t mind too much. That, and I figure that if you ask me that question, then I’m allowed to ask it right back.

    I do agree that it is not a permissible question with someone you just met or don’t even know. Mostly because you just don’t know who you are talking to and it could be a sensitive subject. There are a few people where I live that I’m guessing (by their accent) that they’re from Africa somewhere. But I won’t ask them because I worry that they might answer with “Sudan” or “Ghana” or one of the other numerous countries currently going through civil wars.

    I do understand your frustration though, about people’s ignorance. While it’s not nearly the same thing, I always get the “so who has the red hair? You or their father?” (both my kids are gingers). I usually just answer “their dad”, because it’s true. But what I really want to do is school them in the basics of genetics. My daughter, on the other hand, always has people who feel it’s okay to touch her hair without asking. There was a period there, for about a year, that she would actually flinch if someone moved suddenly in her direction, she was so tired of people touching her.

  67. Donald August 27, 2015 at 8:15 pm #

    Thank you so much for your letter! It’s one of the best (in some ways it IS the best) arguments against trigger warnings that I’ve read.

    I admire your strength. Even though you have OCD and anorexia you sound rational. That’s big! That shows to me that you have a hell of a lot more strength than many. There are a lot of people that have a lot less problems than you do but are less emotionally stable.

  68. Donna August 27, 2015 at 8:24 pm #

    “The issue is about where the responsibility lies.”

    Exactly. In my opinion the responsibility lies 100% at the feet of the people who have an issue to seek out information that will help them manage their own triggers and not on the rest of the population to make up random warnings that may or may not apply to the group that you are addressing. That absolutely doesn’t meant that you have to watch Basketball Diaries if it will trigger you. It means that you look at the syllabus, see that you are going to watch Basketball Diaries and research whether it might trigger you. It took me a grand total of 5 seconds to google Basketball Diaries and read the first sentence on Wikipedia to know that it is about a heroin addiction.

    “I personally hate it when a friend posts an article on FB, for example, with a comment like, “This is a must read!” and then when I click the link I am blindsided by my trauma being triggered. A little warning would be nice so I can be the one to decide what I’m exposed to when.”

    So all your friends are supposed to keep track of your triggers AND think about them regularly so that they can address them before posting anything on their own personal Facebook page? Wow, you expect a lot from your friends.

  69. Donald August 27, 2015 at 8:45 pm #

    How helpful are trigger warnings? We all decide how we react to a situation. However sometimes ‘helpful’ people influence how we respond.

    For example, a toddler is learning how to stand. He’s wobbly and falls down. Upon striking the floor, he hesitates momentarily then laughs. Laughing was his choice on how to respond. Now imagine a helpful person saying, “That must have hurt. You don’t have to keep a brave face. I’ll let you cry on my shoulder. Go ahead. Let it all out. You don’t need to be brave. I’ll comfort you.”

    The toddler then changes his mind and starts crying. The question is. Was this helpful person really helpful?

    A few years ago on the reality tv show Big Brother, a prank was blown way out of proportion. This prank was sort of like a wedgie. It isn’t like what a bully does to the school ‘target’. It’s more of a prank that friends do to each other. The prank was a ‘turkey slap. Three friends were goofing around when two of them held down the girl and she was slapped in the face with a penis.

    This prank was done on Big Brother and no malice or sexual gratification was intended. After the prank, the ‘victim’ laughed and wasn’t upset at all – or at least not until hours later when the network reacted as though she should be traumatised by it. The network talked her into being traumatised and their rating sky-rocketed. She had to have private sessions with a counsellor in the Big Brother house and was crying often.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8I5luYyKrw

    Trigger warnings don’t just warn people but they encourage people to be upset from the content.

  70. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 8:54 pm #

    ” It means that you look at the syllabus, see that you are going to watch Basketball Diaries and research whether it might trigger you. It took me a grand total of 5 seconds to google Basketball Diaries and read the first sentence on Wikipedia to know that it is about a heroin addiction.”

    So, if the line on the syllabus after “Date X – Film, The Basketball Diaries” is “This film is about heroin addiction”, you are somehow diminished?

  71. Donald August 27, 2015 at 8:57 pm #

    @ Elizabeth

    Do you want your friends to know you as Elizabeth or would you rather they know you for your list of triggers so that they can be cautious around you? If they know you for your list then you will become your list.

    However, I do agree with you that a message that says, “This is a must read” is annoying. I don’t click on it if it doesn’t have a subject.

  72. JKP August 27, 2015 at 10:22 pm #

    “So, if the line on the syllabus after “Date X – Film, The Basketball Diaries” is “This film is about heroin addiction”, you are somehow diminished?”

    YES, if that means that a major plot point has been SPOILED for me before the author/director intended it to be known. If the title of the movie was “Heroin Diaries” then the author/director wanted that known from the beginning. Otherwise, I would rather enjoy the book/movie as the creator intended, letting the plot unfold, surprises and all. The point is that art is supposed to recreate the experiences of life (where there are no advanced warnings for what is to come) and the unpredictability is part of the enjoyment. If it’s an assignment for a class, then obviously I’ll have to complete the assignment, but the experience of the piece can absolutely be ruined by knowing too much in advance.

    There’s a HUGE difference between the generic warnings (like on the news) “viewer discretion advised” which can let someone know they should look into it further before watching if they’re concerned versus a specific trigger warning: “this contains graphic descriptions of rape” or “this is about heroin addiction” or anything else specific that can SPOIL the material for the 99.99% who don’t need trigger warnings.

    If someone is so fragile as to need trigger warnings, then they should be 100% responsible for doing the research themselves and not expect books, movies, lecture material to be labeled with specific trigger warnings. In the internet age, this isn’t even a huge burden for them to be responsible for themselves and find the information they need themselves.

  73. Bob Davis August 27, 2015 at 10:27 pm #

    I tend to be a bit squeamish about blood and traumatic injuries. If somebody starts to go into detail about why their hand is all bandaged up, I will advise them that I have heard enough and wish them a speedy recovery. But I don’t have a problem with donating blood and even looking at the blood baggie that I’ve just loaded 500cc of O-Neg into. I guess that’s because this is an “under control” situation. When I had a day job, we had periodic safety meetings that sometimes included highway safety films presented by law officers. Some of these films (nowadays videos) were rather graphic, and, because the officers didn’t want to practice the first aid section on “fainting” or worry about someone losing their breakfast, they’d give us a warning like, “This next scene is kinda nasty” so we could look away or cover our eyes.

  74. James Pollock August 27, 2015 at 11:04 pm #

    “YES, if that means that a major plot point has been SPOILED for me before the author/director intended it to be known.”

    Rosebud was a sled. The ship hits an iceberg and sinks. She’s really a dude. He was dead the whole time. Leia’s his sister. Rocky loses, but wins in the second one, then loses again AND wins again in the third one. The Nazis lose (in everything except Triumph of the Will). Romeo and Juliet die. So do Butch and Sundance, Bonny and Clyde, and Thelma and Louise.

    If you didn’t want it spoiled, you should have gone to see it in theaters when it came out, or rented it before it showed up as a class assignment.

  75. Tanya August 27, 2015 at 11:42 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing this post and insights. As someone who has dealt with post-partum anxiety, I still get triggered by upsetting (even fictional) stories involving babies, toddlers, children, etc. Sometimes this reaches to the extent that I have to turn off a news story, but I also keep in mind that everyone has a right to share their story, especially the traumatic ones. Thank goodness for the people who can bare to listen to them and help – these are the people who we need to hear the stories and respond. And thank goodness to my therapist who taught me that it is OK for me to turn off the radio, tv, shut my computer down, or pause a conversation if it was too overwhelming for me. That is what I need to do for myself and sometimes it takes a ton of strength to not get sucked into a news story that will cost me a weeks worth of sleep. BUT, my needs should not prevent others from learning and responding.

  76. JKP August 28, 2015 at 12:25 am #

    James, you’re an asshole.

    I really wish this site had a filter so readers could hide certain people’s posts and not even have to look at them. I know I can scroll past them all, but when a certain someone responds to every single post anyone ever writes, it gets tedious to scroll past dozens and dozens of pointless stupid posts in order to read everyone else’s comments.

    Everyone discovers movies and books for themselves for the first time, even if it was originally written over 100 years ago or produced 50 years ago. And having taken many English classes, they don’t give away the end before students have read the material. Students read, and then discuss afterwards. To say “you should have read/seen it when it first came out” when that might have been years before the person was born just shows what a total moron you are.

  77. James Pollock August 28, 2015 at 1:21 am #

    “James, you’re an asshole.”
    From time to time. Sometimes I try harder not to be than at other times. Life’s like that. You’re hypersensitive. That’s all yours.

    “Everyone discovers movies and books for themselves for the first time, even if it was originally written over 100 years ago or produced 50 years ago.”
    Yes, they do. But rational people don’t complain that other people have talked about it and spoiled it in the intervening 100 or 50 years.

    ” And having taken many English classes, they don’t give away the end before students have read the material.”
    YMMV.

    To say “you should have read/seen it when it first came out” when that might have been years before the person was born just shows what a total moron you are.”

    To insist that other people may not talk about or discuss literary works until after YOU have seen them is, well, more than a little egotistical. Is it OK if I mention who won the 1967 Super Bowl? Because, after all, you might not have seen it yet. Can I compare the written and filmed versions of the Wizard of Oz? One’s over a hundred years old, the other’s ONLY about 75… you might not know the twist ending(s). Oops… have I said too much? Does this apply to current events, as well? Is it OK to talk about who won the Presidential election in 1960?

    Seriously. My premise is that there are a small number of people who might actually need a trigger warning. There’s a larger group of people who don’t need it, but might make use of it if it were available.

    Your counter-premise is “no, I don’t want them to have such a thing because it’s a spoiler for me.” And the reason you can’t, say, NOT FUCKING READ IT IF YOU THINK IT’S A SPOILER AND YOU DON’T WANT A SPOILER IS… well, you haven’t given this reason. I’m sure it’s a great one, though. There’s just GOT to be an obvious reason why your overriding desire to avoid spoilers extends to keeping other people away from information they might want, might even need, somehow doesn’t extend to something entirely within your control.

  78. James Pollock August 28, 2015 at 1:26 am #

    PS. To Kill a Mockingbird was pretty good. You might want to see it.

    SPOILER ALERT:
    Gregory Peck won an Oscar for it.

  79. sexhysteria August 28, 2015 at 2:06 am #

    I’m in favor of trigger warnings, breech locks, and chastity belts.

  80. Jens W. August 28, 2015 at 3:34 am #

    “I believe the interpretation is “where are you from” implies “because you don’t belong here.” White folks don’t interpret it that way because we don’t get the “you don’t belong here” message as often, so we aren’t attuned to it. YMMV.”

    That’s quite possible. But it boils down to the asked person misinterpreting an innocent question due to bad past experiences.
    How can we get over this without asking such questions, and without giving the asked persons positive experiences that someone may just be genuinely curious without negative implications? Avoiding asking about one’s heritage only serves to reinforces negative beliefs, IMHO.

    One might also return the question and ask the white person where he or she comes from. After all, all the white people in the USA are immigrants or descendents of immigrants themselves.

  81. BL August 28, 2015 at 5:14 am #

    “I’m in favor of trigger warnings, breech locks, and chastity belts.”

    And bullet-proof vests, in case someone actually uses those triggers, with or without warning.

  82. Fiddler'sWife August 28, 2015 at 9:58 am #

    Syllabus anyone? There has always been a syllabus, hasn’t there?

    Isn’t the syllabus a “fair warning”/

    Is this about semantics?

    Of course not! It isn’t about “trigger warnings” at all. It’s about the silly mess we have got ourselves in the past several decades running away from reality. And protecting our sweet babies (throughout their lives) from the truth about the human condition.

    I first noticed this about the time my son was in middle school. We lived in a “nice” suburb, with “great schools”. But my son broke down and cried one day talking about going to the town’s high school, which was rated one of the best in the country.

    That’s when it hit me: they are putting kids in boxes lined with the softest downy feathers. Boxes they couldn’t escape from easily. Looking back, this seemed a subtle means to iife long parental control of ever-more helpless kids.

    I was a vocational counselor, working in poverty programs, so I knew a “good job” when I saw one. I agreed with my son’s assessment that grooming all the kids for Harvard, Cornell and MIT was not the way to go. Especially since Harvard and most other universities had lately turned their backs on the Liberal Arts, and had become glorious vocational schools, where parents could send their kids for Engineering and Big Business, with a guarantee down the line that the kid would be self-sufficient, and help their parents in their old age.

    My son went to the high school of his choice. Which cost me every cent of the money I had saved for his college education. Because I believed him when he said, “If I have to to go to B______n High School, I won’t make it to college.”

    He did so well in the private HS that he got into a prestigious Liberal Arts College, called Bard, where the students didn’t need “trigger warnings”, because they were all free range kids who had trained their parents to leave them alone to learn, as mine trained me. And they understood how to read a syllabus.

    The letter in the heading is about truth and reality and maturity. If we think about it, we probably all know someone like the writer and her husband. My father earned a purple heart in the Second World War, and never told anyone a word about it. WWII Vets suffered PTS, I am sure of it looking back now.I was in a boarding school at age three and didn’t see any family for months on end because we were quarantined with one childhood illness after another–during the war. My father came home, and healed. I was reunited with my family, and survived additional periods of “traumatic abandonment”, as well.

    Treatment was non-existent then. I am deeply grateful it is available now. That more is needed is certainty.

    So what we have is–

    “Get over it! Get help if you need it. Call 211. Whatever it takes. ”

    Let them write what they please on the syllabus. It’s their call. It is partly to avoid lawsuits, don’t you think?

    And while we’re at, how about putting more “dangerous” liberal arts courses into the school curriculum at every level? So they can take some risks in a secure setting. And they can actually handle college when they get there. Sweet babies, that they are.

  83. John August 28, 2015 at 10:26 am #

    @Donna…..thank you Donna for stating my position so eloquently. I would NEVER ask a person of a different race (Arabic, Asian, etc.) where they were from if they spoke without an accent. Primarily because it would be a dumb question! If English is their native tongue, then obviously they’re from America and have just as much American blood in their body as I do, with extremely few exceptions.

    @Sukiemom…..Either you didn’t read my post closely enough OR you’re one of those hypersensitive people who believes in the evils of microaggressions, the very thing this article is debunking. I was referring to a person with an obvious accent (as I said in my post) and then we’d have to be engaging in pleasant conversation for a reasonable amount of time before I’d ask them where they were from. Anybody who would be offended by that question and me taking an interest in their roots and culture would be super sensitive! Goodness, it’s not as if I’d run up to them on the street and ask them, “Hey, where you from?” Perspective people! No different is the fact that I was born and raised in Wisconsin but I’m currently living in Alabama. Many times people ask me where I’m from because of my accent. So I proudly tell them that I’m a born and bred cheesehead and a Packer backer to boot! My roots are something I’m very proud of and I don’t believe it’s any different if you were born and raised in another country that has its own unique history and culture. The offense at a “Where are you from?” question would seem to imply that the person is ashamed of their birth country and roots, a bigoted viewpoint within itself.

    So my question is, how do you respond to clowns like that when they start patronizing you over that simple question?

  84. Sukiemom August 28, 2015 at 10:59 am #

    Anybody who would be offended by that question and me taking an interest in their roots and culture would be super sensitive! Goodness, it’s not as if I’d run up to them on the street and ask them, “Hey, where you from?” Perspective people! No different is the fact that I was born and raised in Wisconsin but I’m currently living in Alabama. Many times people ask me where I’m from because of my accent. So I proudly tell them that I’m a born and bred cheesehead and a Packer backer to boot! My roots are something I’m very proud of and I don’t believe it’s any different if you were born and raised in another country that has its own unique history and culture. The offense at a “Where are you from?” question would seem to imply that the person is ashamed of their birth country and roots, a bigoted viewpoint within itself.

    So my question is, how do you respond to clowns like that when they start patronizing you over that simple question?

    John, I assume you are referring to yourself as a clown which saves me the trouble. If you had bothered to read my posts, you would see that it is OFFENSIVE to approach my teenaged Asian daughter and ask her where she is from. She speaks perfect English and it is none of your f-ing business where she is from. She is an American and to ask her where she is from insinuates that she is not American and, subtly, that she does not belong here, as James Pollock notes.
    If you can’t see why this particular situation is different from you as a Cheesehead then all I can say is that you have lived a very sheltered life because it is INSULTING to go up to a person who is non-white and ask them where they are from. As another reader said, to understand that something is insulting to someone from another culture and then to keep doing it because you are an American and they just have to “get over it” is the mark of a boorish person.

    And I am anything but someone looking for microaggressions. I am, however, someone raised in the South and taught good manners. Someone I hope you pick up in your current home.

  85. Warren August 28, 2015 at 11:22 am #

    Am I the only one that believes that trigger warnings, a warning that the material may cause you problems, will prevent people from viewing the material, on the chance it MAY be a problem. When in fact, had they actually read, watched or listened to the material they would have been just fine?

    In this age where so many people play it safe instead of taking even small risks, I can see this happening a lot.

  86. Warren August 28, 2015 at 11:24 am #

    Sukie,

    Get therapy. You are way over the top. Unless it is overtly racist, there is no problem.

  87. Sukiemom August 28, 2015 at 11:32 am #

    Warren

    I can get therapy but there’s no cure for being an Ugly American.

  88. John August 28, 2015 at 12:23 pm #

    @Sukiemom………{{{ Sigh }}}, No, you need to go back and read MY post. I’m not talking about approaching your Asian teenage daughter who speaks perfect English and asking her where she’s from nor am I talking about “go(ing) up to a person who is non-white and ask(ing) them where they are from”. This should have been very clear from what I posted. I’ve already explained what I meant and I’m not gonna explain it again because obviously YOU can’t comprehend it.

    And YOU are among the clowns I’m referring to which also should have been obvious from my posts!

  89. LKR August 28, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

    The question “Where are you from?” is one of those “what might we have in common” questions. If it is asked after the first couple minutes of conversation, I’m not sure why one would be offended. I know many people of different ethnic backgrounds and I’ve never known them to consider it an offensive question – unless it’s the first thing someone asks.

  90. Warren August 28, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

    Sukie,

    For all you know the people asking are just trying to make conversation, maybe wondering since they have never met before, that the person is from one town over, another state or wherever.

    This is not their issue. It is your insecurities coming to the surface.

  91. hineata August 28, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

    @Papilio – it would be unusual. ..not saying impossible, but I think probably pretty rare…for a Eurasian kid to appear fully Asian, or fully white, for that matter. Personally if I saw an Asian child calling a European (white) person Mum, I would assume the child was adopted. At which point I, being fascinated by ethnicity too, would probably set to wondering which country the child was adopted from. Whether or not I then actually asked the question or not would depend entirely on circumstances.

    @Sukiemom – well, if your daughters are insulted by being asked where they’re from, then you have certainly succeeded in raising them as American. If they’d been raised by Asian parents I imagine that particular ‘insult’ would be miles down the list of things they’d be concerned about.

  92. hineata August 28, 2015 at 4:00 pm #

    @Sukiemom – whoops, just reread that and must apologize, that came across as harsh when it was meant to be on the funny side. Been around my husband too long, probably. ..!

    Any feeble attempts at humour aside, being a teen is hard, and your daughters would likely be insulted by something, regardless of their circumstances….if allowed to be. My wee one gets sick of being asked if Mum knows she’s out….my baby gets annoyed by being expected by others to be the one ‘in charge ‘ of her big sister. I just tell them to suck it up and get over it. It will likely happen until they’re adults and maybe beyond.

    Your daughters are adopted. …that’s a happy fact of life. They will likely face questions about their adoptions from genuinely interested folk for at least as long as they live at home with you. I suggest you tell them not to worry about it either.

    Which brings me to what I actually meant earlier about the American comment. …some Americans do sometimes seem to raise their kids a bit softer than other groups. My Asian husband would tear strip off the kids for worrying about something like being asked where they’re from – he would just tell them to ask the question back. Like Ken Tanaka does brilliantly in ‘What Kind of Asian Are You?’ on YouTube…..no idea how to link it.

  93. EricS August 28, 2015 at 5:28 pm #

    I think the mentality that schools, and parents should have with their kids (from the time they are able to comprehend what you are saying to them) is this… When these kids get older, when they are out in the real world working for companies, or even starting their own business. Dealing with all sorts of people with different personalities. Will they be able to deal with the ups and downs of this reality? What can we do so that they are very well prepared, mentally and emotionally to deal with hardships and disappointments. Because they WILL experience those, whether we want them to or not. It’s LIFE. And we all know, life is NOT fair. Life is never what we see through “rose colored glasses”.

    If these “educators” and parents can truly keep this in their heads, they will fully realize that sheltering these kids from “triggers” is a very ill thought out idea. They will realize that they are raising and educating kids to be FRAGILE. The saddest part of all this, it’s NOT really so much for the kids, it’s for the adults that don’t want to deal with backlash from parents, or authorities who have a bubble wrap mentality. Basically they are just covering their asses from litigation, and a mark on their reputation.

  94. EricS August 28, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

    @Alex: Give it time. Remember, this bubble wrap mentality never exited before. Or it was very, very minimum just 25 years ago and earlier. Most people had always had a “free range” mentality. But because someone, somewhere started to become overly protective. Used the internet to spread unsubstantiated opinions, it spread to another, then another, and so on. Until we see what society is today.

    It may only be a very small percentage of schools right now, but if this isn’t addressed, you will see that more and more schools will follow.

  95. Elf August 28, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

    I am, for the most part, in favor of trigger warnings. I do not like this growing notion that any content that deserves a trigger warning, should be removed.

    A class on human sexuality should contain in its description the fact that it’s going to involve some graphic content, potentially including descriptions of rape and abuse. People who cannot face such content at all should not take the class. People who sometimes cannot face the content should have more specific warnings–the teacher should be willing to say, “next week we’ll be discussing pregnancy and childbirth;” a student dealing with the aftermath of her own miscarriage might not be able to participate–and she can potentially skip that class, just as if she were ill. (Which is perhaps the case.)

    That doesn’t mean the other students shouldn’t be able to discuss the topic, or discuss it in front of her–a trigger *warning* is just that: Hey, gonna have some shocking content here soon; cover your ears if you’re likely to be bothered by the noise. Many people who’ve been through traumas can cope fine with the content if they’ve had some time to prepare themselves–which is the purpose of the warning.

    Microaggressions are not matters of casual speech being taken as offensive, but of, as the word says, aggressive content that’s considered so normal that most people ignore it. Often, this is because racist or sexist assumptions are built into the comment.

    In the context of this blog, microaggressions are comments like, “Don’t you think the children would be safer if you were with them?” or “I don’t know how any loving parent could leave their child alone for that long” or “I would never want my child’s teacher to be an unmarried man.”

    There’s no direct insult involved, but you can recognize that your parenting choices are being questioned and possibly even attacked.

    And while I don’t believe colleges should “stamp out” microaggressions, I’d like them to promote the idea that students should be aware of each others’ differences, and respect them, rather than assuming that their own upbringing was the normal-and-correct version and anyone different is weird or “exotic” or wrong.

    I’d like to see an end to “she was asking for it; look how she dressed!” and “how did a guy with cornrows even get into this college; he must’ve been on some affirmative action program”–as if assault were caused by clothing, or black boy can’t be smart enough to earn his way into college. But I don’t think banning such speech would end it; I’d prefer that colleges worked to increase awareness of the bigoted assumptions behind such statements–Just like I’d like communities to become aware that crimes against children are less likely than they were 50 years ago, and that one isn’t a bad parent for encouraging independence in a child.

  96. Daniel August 28, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

    I think recognising that somthing may be a trigger to somone is a good thing. Providing a suitable method for dealing with somone inadvertently triggered is a important thing to do, and should be done in Co operation with that person. i think somthing brief in a campus induction along the lines of some people may react strongly to things that are relevant to their past, if you need to leave a room in such a circumstance do so! It will not reflect badly on you… If you have any worries please speak in confidence to A your lecturer or B
    Is a sensible response to this.

    Prehaps warning people before anything particularly graphic (we were warned before being shown some safety videos that show real fatal accidents in graphic detail ) is a good idea

    Trying to absolutely remove the chance of triggering anyone by changing your course content is not the right thing to do, neither is peppering everything with so many warnings that important ones get lost in the noise

  97. Nicole August 28, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

    Now that we have trigger warnings, I wonder if trauma won’t become a little like allergies. A few decades ago, almost nobody had them. Now, everyone has them and expects them to be accommodated everywhere, and they are such a badge of honor that people without them seem to make them up just to fit in because who wants to be the only one who doesn’t need something special? Pretty soon you won’t need a trigger warning only if you actually experienced a trauma yourself. You’ll demand them because you have a cousin whose best friend was raped and told you about it, or you grew up with a kid who joined the military and lost a leg in Afghanistan and you saw a picture of him without his limb on Facebook, or you had a friend in high school who wore black a lot and it used to make you worry that he was depressed, so now just hearing the word suicide makes you anxious that maybe he ended up killing himself and you just never heard about it.

  98. Puzzled August 28, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    I suspect that part of what happens with this topic is that the phrase “trigger warning” conjures up a whole body of issues, particularly for those who get angry about them. I don’t have a huge problem with “this has a rape scene.” I do have a problem with letting law students not study rape law, but simple warnings seem fine to me – although if science tells us they are counterproductive, that might be a good reason not to use them.

    However, there’s a whole body of connected issues that come up. (In other words, as a professor, I feel triggered when trigger warnings are discussed.) There’s two main issues:
    1. The power differential that has developed, whereby any student, at any time, can claim to be offended and set off an investigation of a professor.
    2. The spread of trigger warnings from setting off PTSD sufferers to “you’re Jewish and this is about Anne Frank” and so on.

    What these two things have in common is that they aren’t about protecting anyone, they’re about silencing certain forms of speech. When correcting grammar is a micro-aggression, and we are not allowed to say “I believe the most qualified applicant should get the job” or “melting pot” we’ve gone beyond protecting PTSD sufferers to a stifling of dissent. Mostly, by the way, the students do this to themselves, going crazy when a movie is being shown or a speaker comes to campus. The school gets dragged along.

    Actually, a fairly good small-scale model is listening to the commentary on old WWF pay-per-views. The bad guy commentator will point out that the good guy is cheating, or praise the bad guy for doing something smart, and the good guy commentator will respond “you’re a real moron” or “will you stop it?” or “what is wrong with you?” Look how effective it was – in those days, everyone loved the good guys and hated the bad guys. Hulk Hogan, in addition to being a ridiculous jingoistic patriot, was a rulebreaker – he gouged eyes, scratched backs, attacked people with weapons, pulled people out of the ring after being eliminated at the Royal Rumble – and when Ventura called him on it, Ventura was portrayed as an idiot. (Even worse was Hacksaw Jim Duggan, whose entire character seemed to be that of a severely mentally disabled jingoist.)

    Anyway, you should know that we’re not supposed to call them trigger warnings. The following is from Everyday Feminism, and is in earnest:

    “Editors Note: Like this phenomenal article, Everyday Feminism definitely believes in giving people a heads up about material that might provoke our reader’s trauma. However, we use the phrase ‘content warning’ instead of ‘trigger warning,’ as the word ‘trigger’ relies on and evokes violent weaponry imagery. This could be re-traumatizing for folks who have suffered military, police, and other forms of violence. So, while warnings are so necessary and the points in this article are right on, we strongly encourage the term ‘content warning’ instead of ‘trigger warning.’”

  99. Buffy August 28, 2015 at 9:06 pm #

    I’m picturing a bunch of new dorm residents, on move-in day, not being able to ask their roommates or co-residents “where are you from?” for fear of offending someone or being accused of microaggression.

    Are they really supposed to remember EVERY SINGLE TIME they meet someone new to ask “what state/city/town/village are you from?” so it is very, very clear that they don’t have any interest in that person’s culture, accent, ethnicity, or appearance?

    I’m sorry, but I just can’t imagine your basic 18-year-old in a new environment, possibly far from all that is comfortable, not committing about 27 microaggressions per day.

  100. James Pollock August 28, 2015 at 9:20 pm #

    “Remember, this bubble wrap mentality never exited before. Or it was very, very minimum just 25 years ago and earlier”

    It’s not new. In the first three-quarters of the 19th century, the (American) people who wanted challenge and opportunity went west, and the people who wanted to play it safe stayed on the east coast. Heck, for past 250 years, the people who wanted challenge and opportunity came to America, and the ones who wanted safety stayed home (with some intermissions for giant multinational wars, of course.)

    There have been overprotective parents for, well, as long as there’s been parents.

  101. James Pollock August 28, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

    ” I do have a problem with letting law students not study rape law”
    Not only do law students not have to study rape law, you can earn a doctorate in law without even taking a class in criminal law. (You do generally have a mandatory class called “Criminal Procedure”, but it’s really a third semester of Constitutional law.) Criminal Law courses are electives.

  102. oncefallendotcom August 28, 2015 at 10:38 pm #

    I had a jar of peanut butter that had a warning that peanut butter contains peanuts. Well thank God I didn’t have peanut allergies because I’ve been eating a PB&J for years without being reminded the P in PB&J stands for freaking peanuts! Thank God for that trigger warning! [sarcasm for those who need a sarcasm warning]

  103. pentamom August 28, 2015 at 10:38 pm #

    “I believe the interpretation is “where are you from” implies “because you don’t belong here.””

    You believe wrong.

    Someone might intend it that way,but the logic of “where are you from” in no way implies “because you don’t belong here” nor is it remotely reasonable to conclude that most people mean it that way.

  104. oncefallendotcom August 28, 2015 at 10:41 pm #

    And PS: I only experience “microaggression” when trying to type on those tiny tabs on my smartphone because those freaking tabs are so microscopic!

  105. Beth August 28, 2015 at 11:26 pm #

    @Sukimom, so you never meet a new person and, in making getting-to-know-you conversation, ask “where are you from?” or “where did you grow up?”

    I find that kind of odd. But then it’s possible I’ve been microaggressing all over the place without knowing it. And just to be clear, I never meant You Don’t Belong Here when I asked it.

  106. Andy August 29, 2015 at 3:57 am #

    @James Pollock “Heck, for past 250 years, the people who wanted challenge and opportunity came to America, and the ones who wanted safety stayed home (with some intermissions for giant multinational wars, of course.)”

    The idea of Europe as a place of safety for past 250 years is not really historical. It is not only world wars, even French revolution falls into that period – one of the most bloodiest revolutions ever. While Europe is war free land now, it did not used to be. Plus, a lot of people went to America in order to escape religious (puritans) or political oppression at home. America had more opportunities then fixed European caste/feudal system, but Europe was hardly “safe” by any meaningful definition of “safe”.

  107. James Pollock August 29, 2015 at 4:47 am #

    “The idea of Europe as a place of safety for past 250 years is not really historical.”

    Two things: First off, people emigrated here from places other than Europe. (admittedly, some of them non-voluntarily).

    Mostly, though, you’re confusing physical safety for psychological safety. The “safe” option is to stay put, in familiar surroundings, with people who speak the same language you do, have the same cultural background you do, and so on. The “risky” move is to pull up stakes, leave everything you know, and go try again somewhere else. The upside is higher, but so is the possibility of failure. This is the nature of “risk”. Some people have an apetite for it, and some do not. This is not a recent invention.

  108. James Pollock August 29, 2015 at 4:58 am #

    “Someone might intend it that way,but the logic of “where are you from” in no way implies “because you don’t belong here” nor is it remotely reasonable to conclude that most people mean it that way.”

    Must be nice to live in a world of certainty.
    just because you didn’t consciously intend something doesn’t mean it isn’t there, just that you aren’t conscious of it.

    You’ve been told “when you ask this question, this is the message you send, possibly unintentionally” The choice of responses is “wow. I didn’t know it made you feel that way. I’ll keep that in mind for later” and “no, that’s not how you feel. You can’t feel that.”

    For the record, I’ve never intended it to be interpreted that way, either… but now that I know that it is, it may prompt changes is what I do going forward..

  109. BL August 29, 2015 at 5:59 am #

    “Now that we have trigger warnings, I wonder if trauma won’t become a little like allergies. A few decades ago, almost nobody had them. Now, everyone has them and expects them to be accommodated everywhere, and they are such a badge of honor that people without them seem to make them up just to fit in because who wants to be the only one who doesn’t need something special?”

    There are allergies and there are allergies. I’ve always had the seasonal hayfever thing, but it never required “accommodation”. Mostly OTC medicine and maybe a trip to the doctor for something stronger every few years.

    When I was in school, nobody freaked out at a student bringing some OTC medicine to school and taking it at lunchtime or between classes.

  110. Puzzled August 29, 2015 at 9:06 am #

    Clarification: Law students passing classes whose content includes rape law without learning rape law. By PhD I assume you mean SJD; I wouldn’t expect a PhD for non-lawyers to focus on law and lawyering.

  111. Donna August 29, 2015 at 10:56 am #

    “Not only do law students not have to study rape law, you can earn a doctorate in law without even taking a class in criminal law. (You do generally have a mandatory class called “Criminal Procedure”, but it’s really a third semester of Constitutional law.) Criminal Law courses are electives.”

    You are completely incorrect in the vast majority of law schools. Criminal Law is a mandatory 1st year class in every major law school that I know of, although I imagine that there may be a small number where it is not. Criminal procedure is mandatory in some law schools and elective in others. Even if criminal law is not required to graduate from a specific law school, you still need to know something about it as it is on the multi-state portion of the bar exam in every state.

  112. James Pollock August 29, 2015 at 11:20 am #

    ” Even if criminal law is not required to graduate from a specific law school, you still need to know something about it as it is on the multi-state portion of the bar exam in every state.”

    There’s at least one state that doesn’t require a bar exam for all candidates for a law license, and 50% of the people who hold JD degrees work in a job that doesn’t require a law license.

  113. James Pollock August 29, 2015 at 11:22 am #

    “By PhD I assume you mean SJD; I wouldn’t expect a PhD for non-lawyers to focus on law and lawyering.”

    Huh?

  114. Donna August 29, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    “So, if the line on the syllabus after “Date X – Film, The Basketball Diaries” is “This film is about heroin addiction”, you are somehow diminished?”

    As a student, yes, if I would prefer not to know this beforehand. I can avoid knowing most spoilers by simply not seeking them out. Ignoring the syllabus is not the best course of action if I actually would like to pass the class.

    As a professor, it is extra effort, however slight, that is simply not my responsibility. I have absolutely no problem with providing another assignment to a student who comes to me with an issue such as this. However, this is also probably going to be a once or twice in a career problem as college campuses are not teaming with recovering heroin addicts. Why should I warn every class, every year – thus spoiling the movie for a large number of students who know nothing about it – for the one former heroin addict every ten years who enrolls in my class?

  115. Donna August 29, 2015 at 11:50 am #

    “I do have a problem with letting law students not study rape law”

    Why? The vast majority of lawyers will never step foot inside a criminal courtroom. I would certainly suggest that someone not become a criminal attorney if she cannot hear the word rape without being triggered. Family law is probably not for her either. However, there is no reason why she could not become a highly successful attorney in any one of the many fields of law in which rape is almost never going to appear. For example, my friend who practices real estate law has never once needed to have even the slightest knowledge of rape law in order to do his job, just like I don’t have to have the slightest knowledge about easements to do mine.

  116. James Pollock August 29, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

    “Ignoring the syllabus is not the best course of action if I actually would like to pass the class.”

    Literally millions of students disprove this theory. Maybe 10% pay any attention to the syllabus beyond “when are the exams”, yet nearly all of them pass.

  117. hineata August 29, 2015 at 4:45 pm #

    @James – facts and figures on that please. In my 7 year equivalent of undergraduate and graduate study, my fellow students and I, past the first year anyway, generally paid a great deal of attention to the syllabus, so your statement reads like nonsense. However, we just might be exceptions, so if you have meta-studies to back up your contention, please share them.

  118. Beth August 29, 2015 at 5:23 pm #

    Just wildly hazarding a guess here that James will not be able to cite any studies that back up his assertion…….

  119. James Pollock August 29, 2015 at 6:37 pm #

    “Just wildly hazarding a guess here that James will not be able to cite any studies that back up his assertion…”

    Nor any contrary. Almost as if the people who conduct studies have better things to do. YMMV.

  120. Owen Allen August 29, 2015 at 8:11 pm #

    Lenore, i’m glad you are also adding this issue to Free Range. I guess the bottom line for me is the trifecta of empowered conversation including when people are having mental health challenges, listening for where others are and not just being a constant babble, and recognising that many of us have triggers and some social messaging can reinforce bad behaviour around anger triggers such as police officer assault and murders, but also how authorities are dealing with free range kids and families.

  121. JKP August 29, 2015 at 9:52 pm #

    Buffy – I think that the fact that James supposedly got a law degree and yet every time he cites any legal facts, Donna (the real lawyer) comes back to state that he’s completely wrong, plus the fact that after spending that much $ on a law degree, he works in IT, and now he states that you don’t have to look at the syllabus to pass a class… Makes me think that he’s proof that ignoring the syllabus has long term negative consequences.

  122. Jeff August 29, 2015 at 10:32 pm #

    A lot of the disagreement in the comments seems to predominantly revolve around person A trying to establish a general rule that person B does not agree with. The problem I see is that we do not interact with each other as groups but as individuals. If, for example, you do not feel that asking someone the root of their accent is offensive, ask but be prepared to accept whatever reaction you get just with every interaction. If the person you asked is offended, then they are free to express this and expect that their offense be honored by person A. This seems natural and leaves nothing for anyone except the two individuals involved to argue about or make general rules they think others should follow. The same seems to apply for trigger warnings. If you have a problem, tell the offending party and y’all work it out. If you think some subject may be alarming to some and you feel the need to announce it in general (ie. viewer discretion is advised) or specifically (this word uses the n-word a lot) , then do it. Send simple to me.

  123. James Pollock August 29, 2015 at 11:38 pm #

    “after spending that much $ on a law degree, he works in IT, and now he states that you don’t have to look at the syllabus to pass a class… Makes me think that he’s proof that ignoring the syllabus has long term negative consequences.”

    The problem with assuming things is, somebody might point out your errors.

    Such as:
    1) Spending that much $ on a law degree. All what $? I had a scholarship. I paid for a parking pass for 8 semesters.
    2) he works in IT. Yes, because that’s what 2 of my other degrees are in. It’s the field I worked in when I didn’t have any degrees, it’s the field I worked in when I only had one, non-technical degree, it’s the field I worked in when I had two degrees, one technical and one not. It’s the field I still worked in when I added an advanced degree in IT, and it’s the field I worked in while I was in law school, and afterwards, after I had a JD. I’ve been working in the field for, well, a really long time. It pays better.

  124. JKP August 30, 2015 at 9:48 am #

    “Spending that much $ on a law degree. All what $?”

    *Someone* spent all that money, even if it wasn’t *you*. Law school isn’t free, so I didn’t have to make any assumptions to know that a law degree is expensive. If you had no intention on actually being a lawyer, but remained in the same position you worked before law school, then SHAME on you for taking scholarship money that someone else could have used to actually become a lawyer and actually further their career just so you could inflate your ego.

    Not to mention that “time is money” and you might not have paid cash out of your own pocket, but you spent another form of currency in the time you spent going to school.

  125. James Pollock August 30, 2015 at 9:58 am #

    “If you had no intention on actually being a lawyer, but remained in the same position you worked before law school, then SHAME on you”

    Helpful tip: When attempting to shame someone, make sure they’ve done something shameful first.

  126. Andy August 30, 2015 at 10:04 am #

    @James Pollock Your definition of “safety” and “danger” is quite far from what those words usually mean. Are you really implying it is possible to be “psychologically safe” while being physically unsafe? The concept of psychological safety is a product of extremely safe world we live in now. People in physical danger care about that primary and move around a lot to avoid it.

    Old mass immigrations happened due to famines, revolutions, old school oppression and such. There is no “psychological safety” during either of those and good times immigration rates are much smaller. Changing life and moving elsewhere is not easy comfortable option and can be very lonely if you go alone, but it is far from being “psychologically unsafe” especially when your home situation is deadly. For that matter, many immigrants came together lessening the “unknown language and culture” problem to great degree. Which does not mean they did no faced great difficulties – they did. However, so did those at home and psychologically unsafe moving away was often out of hope for safer life.

    Majority of immigrants to states came from Europe and majority of Americans are still white. Unless we are talking about very recent immigration, it makes perfect sense to focus on Western Europe rather then Asia or Africa or even Eastern Europe.

  127. JKP August 30, 2015 at 10:55 am #

    “Helpful tip: When attempting to shame someone, make sure they’ve done something shameful first.”

    Or make sure they are not a psychopath without any sense of shame. That still doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel shame for taking scholarship money for an expensive degree and then doing nothing with it, thus wasting the money of whoever (government, employer, family, school, or whoever) did pay for it and could have spent that money on a degree for someone who would actually pursue a career in the field. If it was government money, then I’m offended that my tax dollars paid for your hobby.

    And I’m surprised that with two technical degrees plus a law degree that you stayed in IT rather than possibly becoming a patent attorney (which is what my boyfriend does, and his main difficulty in private practice is a shortage of patent attorneys to cover all the work for his firm. I’m sure he would wish that your scholarship money went to someone who would actually use it). That would definitely pay more than IT and make use of your technical and legal education.

  128. Puzzled August 30, 2015 at 11:06 am #

    Okay, bad example. How about this: I have a problem with students passing a class without learning the content of that class, because some portion of that content is deemed triggering.

  129. James Pollock August 30, 2015 at 11:17 am #

    “Are you really implying it is possible to be “psychologically safe” while being physically unsafe?”

    I’m saying it straight out. Are you saying it’s NOT possible to feel safe when you actually aren’t?

    Let’s switch to the field of sport for some illustrations, where it isn’t life and death.

    We’ll start with baseball. A runner who is on first base is, by the rules of the game, “safe” if they are standing on the base. If they are not touching the base, they are not “safe”, although they are also not “out” unless they are tagged or forced out. So, a runner on first has a wide array of choices. The most “safe” choice is to keep one foot on the base while waiting to see what happens. A less “safe” choice is to take a few steps toward the next base. This involves accepting some risk… it’s possible that the ball will be delivered to a defender who is able to tag the runner while they are off the base, but the runner accepts that risk knowing that there is a reward (they’re more likely to arrive at second base safely) and they can mitigate the risk (if the pitcher turns to first, the runner can retreat once more to a position of safety. Depending on the runner’s appetite for risk and self-belief, the lead off may be longer or shorter. Finally, the least “safe” thing to do is to attempt to run to second base while the ball is not in play. The psychological safety is reflected in how much of a lead off the runner takes. The actual safety may vary, and sometimes players get caught by a pickoff play.

    Moving on to football. If it’s fourth down, the “safe” play is to punt (when a punt is called for. I’m not trying to provide a tutorial on the game.). Sometimes, however, a coach will decide to “go for it” on 4th down. This is a risky play, because if it is unsuccessful, the other team gets possession of the ball at the point, whereas in a punt the other team gets possession of the ball quite a ways down the field (again, exceptions apply). The players may take the psychologically “safe” play (kick the ball away) or the less safe play (try to earn a new set of downs.) Football players are not physically safe any time they’re on the field.

    Or, consider this possible scenario. The team is behind by seven, and time is running out. They score a touchdown! Now they are behind by one point, which a choice to make… go for one point, to tie, or to go for two, and a win. The “safe” choice is to go for one. Kickers hardly ever miss, hardly ever get blocked. The play is so “automatic” that the NFL felt a need to mess with it to make it harder. On the other hand, going for two risks everything. If it fails, you lose. If it works, you win.

    This dichotomy is present in all sorts of situations. You can “play it safe”, and accept the known, or “risk it all”, and embrace the unknown.

    In Columbus’ day, most European sailors played it safe, and sailed for India by going around Africa. This didn’t mean they were physically safer… plenty of sailors died But they were willing to risk the dangers they knew about, rather than the unknown dangers they didn’t know about, by sailing west. And they were right to do so; Columbus’ men would have starved had they not had the fortune to hit some islands they didn’t know were there.

    There have ALWAYS been some people who prefer to stick to what they know (the “safe”) over the dangers they don’t know, and some people who prefer a life of risk (and reward).

    In investing, you can invest in “safe” things, or you can invest in riskier propositions. When they pay, the risky ones pay better; when they don’t pay, they don’t pay at all.

    Should a person take a job working for somebody else, or go into business for themself? The owner of a business gets to keep the profits… if profits there be. Risky.

    Driving the speed limit is safe. Speeding gets you there faster… unless you get pulled over. So most Americans speed.. but not by much.

    Staying where I am means that I know the dangers I face (odds of natural disaster? We don’t have hurricanes, we almost never get tornadoes. But the mountain rumbles, and occasionally explodes.) Our local economy is heavily dependent on cutting down trees, and fashioning them into products, notably sheets of plywood. When the demand is high, the economy does fine, when our trading partners decide they’d prefer to buy raw logs and do the fashioning themselves, the economy stumbled.

  130. Donna August 30, 2015 at 11:35 am #

    “Literally millions of students disprove this theory. Maybe 10% pay any attention to the syllabus beyond “when are the exams”, yet nearly all of them pass.”

    Although it is clear that you are doing what you usually do and making stuff up just to say something, today when college students are babied like grade schoolers that may very well be true. When I was in college reading the syllabus was the only way to know what books to acquire and what the assignments were. Professors didn’t hold your hand through a class and say “okay class tomorrow we will be discussing the Civil War so read pages 100-140.” They expected you to keep up with your assignments yourself.

  131. James Pollock August 30, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    “That still doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel shame for taking scholarship money for an expensive degree and then doing nothing with it”
    I’m not “doing nothing with it”, which is why your criticism remains uninformed.

    “thus wasting the money”
    Not wasted.

    ” of whoever (government, employer, family, school, or whoever) did pay for it and could have spent that money on a degree for someone who would actually pursue a career in the field.”
    It’s their money to decide what to do with. When I wrote my scholarship application, I was very specific about what I was up to. Go criticize them, if you want to.

    “If it was government money, then I’m offended that my tax dollars paid for your hobby.”
    Rest assured. The spigot of free government money stops when you get your first baccalaureate degree. After that, government money comes with strings attached. You’re currently contributed towards my daughter’s undergraduate degree, and, if you were paying taxes back in 1984, you contributed to mine. My first degree was in liberal arts (one of the original seven.) and, I’m sorry to say, that was a poor investment… I wasn’t a very motivated student back then, and put forth very little effort. No refunds.

    “And I’m surprised that with two technical degrees plus a law degree that you stayed in IT rather than possibly becoming a patent attorney”
    Because you’re uninformed. I’m not eligible to take the patent bar exam. I have neither a degree in, nor an academic minor in, science.

    “(which is what my boyfriend does, and his main difficulty in private practice is a shortage of patent attorneys to cover all the work for his firm.”
    Besides the fact that I’m inelegible to take the patent bar exam, there’s the fact that I have close to no interest in patent law.
    I finished my coursework in 2010. Most of the 2010 graduates STILL aren’t working in jobs that require law licenses, because there simply weren’t any to be had in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.

    “That would definitely pay more than IT and make use of your technical and legal education.”
    You are uninformed. Starting salaries for jobs which require law licenses average MUCH lower salaries than experienced IT salaries. And that’s when jobs are available to to people with new law licenses, which they were not in 2011. (One law firm got in trouble for offering a job that paid… $0. I don’t remember the details (which firm, which state) but it was extensively covered by the ABA journal. They had dozens or possibly even hundreds of applicants.)

  132. Donna August 30, 2015 at 11:52 am #

    “I have a problem with students passing a class without learning the content of that class, because some portion of that content is deemed triggering.”

    People pass classes without learning a portion of the content of that class all the time. No class requires 100% correct answers to pass. Most don’t even require 100% attendance. I have passing grades on my undergrad transcript for classes that I never actually attended except to take tests.

    If you sign up for a rape law class, you obviously should not be able to then opt out of all the assignments because they are triggering and still pass the class. If you sign up for a criminal law class that happens to discuss rape law for a day or two, there is no inherent difference in ditching that particular day for any reason whether it is triggers or a hang over from the party the night before. It may affect either person’s grade if rape law is covered on the final, but it is unlikely to be fatal.

  133. James Pollock August 30, 2015 at 11:53 am #

    ” When I was in college reading the syllabus was the only way to know what books to acquire”
    I’ve been in college off and on (as student and/or faculty) since 1984, and the way you knew what books to acquire was you went to the bookstore and read the shelf tags; you had your books before the first day of class.

    “and what the assignments were.”
    Well, let’s see. As an undergraduate, this information came from the “reading list”. When I was an instructor, this came from the Instructor (Every instructor who taught the same class used the same syllabus, but assigned different reading assignments… also, the college owned the textbooks and issued them to students… the cost of textbooks was rolled into the tuition price)
    By the time I was pursuing an advanced degree, everything was online.
    In law school, in roughly half the classes, the reading assignments were doled out about two weeks at a time.

    “They expected you to keep up with your assignments yourself.”
    In 90+% of law school classes, there is only one graded assignment, the final exam. My school allowed unscheduled exams, so you’d show up during finals, ask the registrar for the exam you were ready to take, go to an exam room, take the exam, and turn it in to the registrar. Repeat until all your exams are done. One year we had a massive ice storm during finals… there was about a foot of snow, followed by about an inch of freezing rain, and the college is on the top and side of a hill. Some people were still taking final exams as the new semester started.

  134. James Pollock August 30, 2015 at 11:56 am #

    “Literally millions of students disprove this theory. Maybe 10% pay any attention to the syllabus beyond “when are the exams”, yet nearly all of them pass.”

    ” I have passing grades on my undergrad transcript for classes that I never actually attended except to take tests.”

    So… it sounds like you are one of the millions.

  135. Donna August 30, 2015 at 12:07 pm #

    “Literally millions of students disprove this theory. Maybe 10% pay any attention to the syllabus beyond “when are the exams”, yet nearly all of them pass.”

    ” I have passing grades on my undergrad transcript for classes that I never actually attended except to take tests.”

    So… it sounds like you are one of the millions.”

    I said nothing about not reading the assignments or doing the work. I simply didn’t attend class. How exactly do you think I knew what was going to be on the test without attending class but for the syllabus?

  136. Puzzled August 30, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    I don’t require attendance (even though my employers continually urge me to institute an attendance policy.) You can pass my class, with an A, without coming – if you read the syllabus, and do your own research to learn the material I teach that does not come from the textbook (the syllabus shows you the topics, but rather broadly, so I guess you’ll need to learn the entirety of the material I just touched on, if you intend to be prepared for the exam.) However, suppose you don’t learn, say, linear regression, and don’t answer the questions on linear regression – then try to tell me that you didn’t answer them because the example I used on the exam was ‘triggering.’ Take your complaint to the dean, and you might well get away with it. That’s what I’m against. (My final exam has 4 questions.)

    Or suppose you say M&Ms are triggering, and I use M&Ms in my discussions about probability, so you don’t come while probability is being taught, then can’t do the probability questions, or anything depending on them, on the final – I’d say 3 out of the 4 questions depend on this material.

    You fail to learn some specific piece of information, sure, you can do fine. I’m talking about integral class components. Keep in mind that, in a math class, things are pretty tied together.

  137. James Pollock August 30, 2015 at 4:08 pm #

    “I said nothing about not reading the assignments or doing the work.”
    Nor I.

    It seems that otherwise you agree with me (people can skip class if they choose to do so, but they’re still responsible for learning what they need to learn) so what are you arguing about?

  138. Donna August 31, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

    Huh? Your last comment to me made absolutely no sense whatsoever. That said, I am not arguing at all. Just responding to comments directed at me by you.

  139. Donna August 31, 2015 at 6:13 pm #

    James, if syllabi are so unimportant that millions of students get through college without even reading them, why exactly do you support putting trigger warnings on them? Nobody who needs them is going to read them anyway because syllabi are simply worthless pieces of paper for which we have been needlessly killing trees for generations. It seems kinda obtuse to argue both that trigger warnings are necessary on syllabi AND that syllabi are unimportant and largely unread. But then you frequently argue inconsistent points so this should not surprise me.

  140. James Pollock September 1, 2015 at 12:24 am #

    “if syllabi are so unimportant that millions of students get through college without even reading them, why exactly do you support putting trigger warnings on them?”

    Mistake #1: That trigger warnings belong on syllabi (as opposed to other means of distributing information).

    “Nobody who needs them is going to read them anyway because syllabi are simply worthless pieces of paper”

    Mistake #2: Conflating two groups of people who, very likely, do not overlap. Millions of people can, and do, largely ignore syllabi. The much, much smaller group of people who need trigger warnings is not so fortunate; they actually have to pay attention to what’s in the class.

    ” It seems kinda obtuse to argue both that trigger warnings are necessary on syllabi AND that syllabi are unimportant and largely unread.”
    Agreed. Which is why I didn’t do that. Looking forward to yet another time when you complain about how wrong I am, and then largely say the same thing I already said.

  141. Linda September 1, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

    What a wonderful, insightful letter. Thank you for taking the time to write it and submit it.

  142. BL September 2, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

    “I agree that asking people *without an accent* where they are from (as opposed to their ancestors) is just weird”

    In the US (and not only in the US) people have regional accents.

    Asking “where are you from?” might mean “what part of the US are you from?” even though your folks may have been here since Colonial times.

  143. Jacob Mula September 3, 2015 at 10:06 am #

    Like this phenomenal article, Everyday Feminism definitely believes in giving people a heads up about material that might provoke our reader s trauma. However, we use the phrase content warning instead of trigger warning, as the word trigger relies on and evokes violent weaponry imagery.

  144. Papilio September 3, 2015 at 11:07 am #

    Uhm, BL, even in my tiny country people have regional accents. Regional languages, too. That’s what you get when most people have lived in their region for generations, especially in countries that also have a standard (/official) language.

    But a regional accent is still an accent 🙂

  145. BL September 3, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

    @Papilio
    “Uhm, BL, even in my tiny country people have regional accents. Regional languages, too. That’s what you get when most people have lived in their region for generations, especially in countries that also have a standard (/official) language.

    But a regional accent is still an accent :-)”

    Well, yes. I think we’re saying the same thing, aren’t we? I guess the only thing I’d question is your reference to people “without accents”. They don’t exist. Certainly not among English-speakers. We all have some sort of accent. I’m a guy with an upper Midwestern accent (Michigan) who has lived most of my life in Pennsylvania.

    Some people have told me I have a Canadian accent. I joke that Canadians don’t have accents, and neither do people from Michigan. 🙂

  146. King Buskirk September 5, 2015 at 12:01 am #

    Recently we were talking about the trend on campus to require “trigger warnings” — warnings on material assigned for class that could potentially traumatize a student by triggering a flashback on some misery endured.