Trigger Warnings and Respect in the Classroom
August 11, 2015 10:26 AM   Subscribe

An teacher's experience orchestrating student led trigger warnings in adult basic education. Story #1 Story #2
posted by klausman (117 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
This process is an improvement over the typical trigger warning method but it falls down if no one volunteers to preview the material or if the material is rejected by the preview volunteers for problematic or shallow reasons. the teacher has not given herself any authority to require preview or require well-reasoned if a rejection recommendation is made.

E.g. Imagine if a sex education/family planning video is to be shown in a class of students from at-risk or socially deprived environments. It's an embarrassing topic and the only volunteers for the preview are passionate conservative religious pro-life students, who are a minority at the school. They reject showing the video because it depicts and promotes students talking about using abortion and contraception - they argue this triggers offended anxiety about what they see as the desecration of life. The teacher accepts their decision. Total education fail.
posted by Bwithh at 10:56 AM on August 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


[Couple comments removed; maybe lets not turn this into a proxy version of a deleted post and just talk about the actual links in here instead.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:03 AM on August 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


The stories from the FPP are interesting, and I am very aware that this is a complex issue, but the question that leapt into my mind was what happens if her "preview group" says no, don't use this? I want to know how she would navigate that.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:06 AM on August 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Pro: this gives students political and democratic control over classroom content, which is a great idea

Con: this gives students political and democratic control over classroom content, which is a horrible idea, oh god no, salt the earth and walk away
posted by Avenger at 11:09 AM on August 11, 2015 [44 favorites]


The stories from the FPP are interesting, and I am very aware that this is a complex issue, but the question that leapt into my mind was what happens if her "preview group" says no, don't use this? I want to know how she would navigate that.

She decides to use something that doesn't offend the people she's trying to teach, I guess. I don't see how that's really a problem.
posted by Etrigan at 11:09 AM on August 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


Thanks for these links. It's refreshing to read something by a teacher about how she negotiates the issue in a charged environment, rather than the latest piece of punditry about how trigger warnings are out to steal our babies.
posted by Beardman at 11:10 AM on August 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


I want to know how she would navigate that.

I'm also curious about that, but I suspect she'd say "ok -- let's find something else to show/discuss". One point I took from the first story was that while some obvious trigger warnings were warranted, the teacher didn't see herself as the best fit for their delivery. She chose students for whom the material would likely be sensitive and asked their opinion. Believing she did this out of good intentions, I would suppose she'd listen to the students and ask their opinions on some other video, etc.
posted by klausman at 11:11 AM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I could tell from some of the comments above that not everyone has read the actual links, and a lot of people seem to be commenting about something other than how Kate Nonesuch teaches in her literacy/adult basic education classroom. Again: this is in the context of a literacy/adult basic education classroom--this isn't a university classroom.

Wretch729, I can't speak for the author (though I actually do know her professionally and respect her very much), but in the linked posts, she says every time, giving the students agency resulted in them choosing that the material be used. I think if a group uniformly said not to use the material she'd engage them in a discussion of why, and then try to find alternate material that addressed their concerns.

On preview: what Etrigan said.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:12 AM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


...the teacher has not given herself any authority to require preview or require well-reasoned if a rejection recommendation is made.

We actually don't know this. We haven't actually seen one of her preview groups reject a video yet, so we don't know how she will respond or if she'll require them to make reasonable arguments.

And in the first essay she refers to asking the preview group for "guidance about what to do, from the people most in danger of being triggered," as the "first step" towards making a safe classroom environment. Not the only step.
posted by zarq at 11:12 AM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't agree that giving students a preview and/or allow them to decide what gets shown is the best idea. Trigger warnings are fine, but I don't think her ideas are. It's fine to discuss content before you show it (and she should have shut down the racist comments as soon as they happened), but it's not okay to let anyone but adults decide curriculum.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:17 AM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is a pretty cool idea, and it sounds like it works not only as intended, but with the added bonus of connecting students to each other in useful ways. The one real flaw is that it seems like she just... expects people to essentially take over her job for a day, with no mention of any offer other compensation. If I had a teacher who solicited volunteer labor to watch a significant amount of insulting video (twice), on my own time, evaluate its educational value with a group of strangers, and prepare an introductory presentation for it on short notice - or risk being The Oversensitive _______s Who Are Killing Education and Free Thought - I wouldn't sign up for that.
posted by jinjo at 11:17 AM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


roomthreeseventeen: her students are adults.
posted by sciatrix at 11:17 AM on August 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: her students are adults.

Sorry, I didn't see that in either article. Even so, they don't get to pick.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:19 AM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why not?
posted by sciatrix at 11:20 AM on August 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


...even if they were traditional-age college students, A) they would still be adults and B) why would that make their concerns any less worth respecting?
posted by Lexica at 11:25 AM on August 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


One thing I've observed about the development of trigger warnings in the mainstream consciousness, is how much of it is wrapped up in misogyny and rape culture. Historically, the push for trigger warnings really originated with war veterans experiencing PTSD. As someone who frequently consults on accessibility, when I introduce trigger warnings in this context to people, no one really has any real objections to warning people that there might be gunshots or war scenes or blood - because hey, nationalism, we need to respect the folks who served our country. But veterans are not the only people who suffer from PTSD - the other really big demographic is women who have experienced rape or domestic violence. Yet, when we shift the dialogue from veterans to women, somehow trigger warnings become much more controversial. I don't understand why - this is a real medical condition, and trigger warnings are an accessibility accommodation that these people need. For some reason, the experiences of women regarding rape and domestic violence are considered trivial; they are told that they need to "suck it up" and be "exposed to get over it". The rhetoric is patronizing and retraumatizes women by stating to them that they cannot make consensual decisions about the experiences that they get to be exposed to. And time after time again, I keep making the same point to people who are opposed to trigger warnings about rape and domestic violence - this would absolutely not be something you would say about war veterans, so why are you saying this about women?

And on a larger scale, a lot of it is wrapped up in the dismissal of the experiences of marginalized minorities in general. People of color, queer people, disabled people all experience things in their daily lives that may be potentially traumatic to them. And yet, we always evaluate trigger warnings from the vantage of a white able-bodied cishet male perspective, and state that since these issues don't bother them, they should not be a priority for anyone else. This is why trigger warnings have become a social justice issue - because a trigger warning about racism or homophobia implicitly states that the white male viewpoint is not default. Why would a white guy be traumatized by the n-word? The trigger warning is not for them. And I am absolutely convinced by the sheer amount of pushback I get on this topic after working on it for so long, that the opposition to trigger warnings is a way to maintain that status quo - to state that even mere awareness that there might be experiences outside of the white male bubble is threatening, to the point that we're willing to expose women, people of color, queer people, disabled people, to trauma over and over again, just so we avoid giving the faintest whiff of the idea that some people in the audience may have experienced discrimination and violence alien to the experiences of white men.

This is the only conclusion I can come to because time after time again, when challenging me on implementing trigger warnings at their events and organizations, people have failed to give me any real concrete cost to having a five second warning at the beginning of a screening or a reading or a performance. It always reaches to the same old tired abstract points: "you're destroying intellectual thought" - no, you can still have your play or lecture or whatever with the exact same content, and if the whole value of your thing relies upon people not knowing the shock value going in, I'm going to say it's a pretty shitty play in the first place; "people with PTSD need exposure theory" - good, they can use your trigger warning to figure out what level of exposure it's at, and anyway, you're not their therapist; "youth are so spoiled these days" - yes, how dare youth have the audacity to complain about being raped and having racist slurs constantly yelled at them and needing accessibility accommodations to deal with the mental health issues they've developed as a result of that. And of course people who oppose it have to resort to abstract, nonsensical dogwhistles: there's no actual logistic reason to oppose it. It costs nothing, it barely takes any time, it's basically the most benign statement you could say about something - a vague snip of description about the content! The only explanation for a lot of the tired old excuses that I encounter is that perhaps people are opposed to trigger warnings because of engrained prejudice, and they need to scramble for some kind of rationalization to cover that.
posted by Conspire at 11:25 AM on August 11, 2015 [138 favorites]


I mean, I'm speaking as a student who has totally been triggered unexpectedly in classrooms by discussions about my identity that assumed I wouldn't be sitting in the room. I'd have loved something like this, which would have humanized people like me and reminded the class as a whole that I was in the goddamn room while giving me the weight of authority behind me. It would have minimized people treating my reality as a philosophical thought experiment.

It also would have let me focus in class and not freeze, hyperventilating, while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do or whether I could just stop listening altogether. I think I turned in a stream-of-consciousness "please do not ever do this again" plea instead of an in-class assignment on that one. Even just having the warning would have let me be prepared instead of being blindsided; having the teacher go "By the way, people with this identity are human, sciatrix would like to give you a quick reminder about that" at the front of the class would have been... man. People are way nastier if they think you're not around to hear them.

That was in a college class, by the way. And I was a legal adult, and I respected (and continue to respect!) the instructor a lot. But I really wish she had found some way to warn me on the syllabus when those topics came up so that I could at least grit my teeth and steel myself to listen instead of having an extremely quiet panic attack in her classroom. It certainly didn't improve my education any.
posted by sciatrix at 11:30 AM on August 11, 2015 [28 favorites]


[Folks, we're aware of the Haidt article in the Atlantic but it's not what this post is about and is likely to be a huge distraction; please don't toss it in here.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:43 AM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think this is an impressive way to empower a group of students that may have been repeatedly disempowered in the educational setting (Adult literacy students) and to deal with difficult content. My only hesitations were with the request of the students to publicly self-identify as someone who might be need a trigger warning.

At some level, part of the problem of having self-selected groups deal with the trigger warning is that you forcing those who don't want to deal with an issue to deal with it in order to protect or inform others. Those who didn't want to out themselves as welfare moms, in the second story, didn't volunteer and therefore still didn't have a voice about what content they did and didn't want to see.

There's no perfect solution to this, but at least this teacher is on the right path.
posted by teleri025 at 11:47 AM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


The only explanation for a lot of the tired old excuses that I encounter is that perhaps people are opposed to trigger warnings because of engrained prejudice, and they need to scramble for some kind of rationalization to cover that.

There's often some "suffering is good for the soul" thrown in as well. Because being forced to retraumatize yourself somehow improves education.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:49 AM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


And yet, we always evaluate trigger warnings from the vantage of a white able-bodied cishet male perspective, and state that since these issues don't bother them, they should not be a priority for anyone else.

This completely mischaracterizes the objections to trigger warnings in college classrooms. The mods have apparently decided that the current Atlantic article on the topic is not worth linking, but I recommend it as a good summary of the arguments against.
posted by echocollate at 11:49 AM on August 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


There's an important distinction and I nearly think that using the term "trigger warning" to describe with this author/teacher is doing muddies the water a bit.

She doesn't just offer trigger warnings, nor does she really hand control of the classroom over to the students. Rather, when there is sensitive material that runs the risk of sinking the educational environment and opportunity, she has students who identify with the material volunteer to review and present the material.

So, first, they're self-selected, not tokenized - so that's a nice pitfall averted. Secondly, it gives them some agency in framing how a group that they belong to is represented or framed in the class - and that's another important part of a classroom that respects many different people's experiences. and third - it works! The author seems to find that it works to preserve an educational environment that's at risk for conflict and a curious form of deflation.
posted by entropone at 11:49 AM on August 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Wow, this is the first article on trigger warnings that has convinced me they can be a good idea. I guess what rubs me wrong about many of them is that they are a unilateral declaration by the author/teacher about what should traumatize who. They often seem infantilizing. This approach seems strictly better.

Which got me thinking, why not apply this approach to other aspects of instruction? If I'm teaching, say, math, why not convince some student of the merits of what I want to teach, then let that student introduce the topic? If students are motivated from within their own milieu, they are more likely to pay attention and work hard. It is very hard to create that ethic by unilateral effort, no matter how charismatic you are as a teacher.
posted by andrewpcone at 11:52 AM on August 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


This completely mischaracterizes the objections to trigger warnings in college classrooms. The mods have apparently decided that the current Atlantic article on the topic is not worth linking, but I recommend it as a good summary of the arguments against.

No, it is not a good summary of the arguments against, because it misses the core of the issue here of what people are actually arguing for. The fact that the mainstream media keeps framing the concept of trigger warnings around "discomfort" and "offense" rather than panic attacks, PTSD, emotional fatigue, anxiety, traumatic stress - also reinforces just how much of the opposition against trigger warnings is meant to maintain the status quo. Of course privileged white dudes wouldn't understand the mental health issues resulting from experiencing trauma related to identity. So that's why it's always framed around "discomfort" and "offense" - because the rhetoric revolves around people coming in and having abstract objections and fainting spells over having feathers ruffled, rather than women having rape flashbacks, or people of color being forced into a fight-or-flight racial stress attack that prevents them from learning at all in an educational environment. We aren't talking about the former here, at all. And I'm honestly tired of how much I have to fight to convince people that the latter thing is actually a thing, real medical conditions, valid experiences, that need accessibility accommodations.
posted by Conspire at 11:53 AM on August 11, 2015 [47 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: I don't agree that giving students a preview and/or allow them to decide what gets shown is the best idea. Trigger warnings are fine, but I don't think her ideas are. It's fine to discuss content before you show it (and she should have shut down the racist comments as soon as they happened), but it's not okay to let anyone but adults decide curriculum.

Giving a trigger warning and then requiring students to view, understand and presumably be tested on potentially triggering material defeats the whole point of offering a warning. A student can't opt out. Determining whether a lesson should or shouldn't include a specific video when other materials exist that can be used to teach the same concept, seems prudent.
posted by zarq at 11:55 AM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'd have loved something like this, which would have humanized people like me and reminded the class as a whole that I was in the goddamn room

This, absolutely. One of the things I'm thinking about as a teacher (an amateur teacher, but I take it seriously) is how to make sure that group members recollect that we are often talking about people with lived experiences who are actually in the room.

An example is sex work. I learned long after the fact that someone who had been in the class had done sex work as a homeless youth. IIRC, some people in the class held forth in uninformed ways about sex workers' life experiences, and while I did attempt to redirect, I'm still building a lot of teaching skills and didn't do, IMO, a good enough job. The student who had done sex work should never have had to self-disclose, but the group as a whole should have been smarter.

There are all kinds of invisible life experiences. I've come to realize how destructive and alienating it is for students to have others pontificate/mansplain/whitesplain in front of them, and very often the thoughtlessness level goes down when the group is aware that there could be actual members/friends/relatives/allies of [Group] in the room.

On another note: if you're teaching, you'll accidentally upset and trigger your students over things that are totally unexpected and about which you did not think to warn - there is never any danger that your students will all frolic along down the primrose path because you tell them that the upcoming material contains sexual violence, etc. Trigger warnings just reduce the incidence and give you more chance to prepare. Believe me, as a teacher I would infinitely rather have trigger warnings than have to spitball because something comes up for which I was not prepared and about which I had not thought.
posted by Frowner at 12:03 PM on August 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


[Seriously, the links in this thread are not to that Atlantic piece and the concept of trigger warnings and privilege are not some new fresh idea that we need to tackle from scratch. Please either engage with actually linked stuff or just give the thread a pass.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:10 PM on August 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm really kind of bothered by this story, not because I want to dismiss the idea of trigger warnings, but because of how it's presented. First: in the initial incident where showing the video went badly, the teacher really puts her own feelings at the center; she talks about her own feelings, and also what feelings she projects onto the students in the classroom, without much by way of saying what was actually said.

But then, almost in passing, she says that the white students "sniggered and made racist comments" – which I have to think would have been much, much worse than the First Nations students being uncomfortable with the film's contents. That has nothing to do with trigger warnings, and bluntly I can't help but think that this was the real problem.

Now, it seems like her solution solved both problems. But I really see the apparently unaddressed racist comments as a much bigger deal than the awkwardness that resulted in the room.
posted by graymouser at 12:10 PM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


If I'm teaching, say, math, why not convince some student of the merits of what I want to teach, then let that student introduce the topic?

That's actually the basic idea of the Moore Method. I've always enjoyed Moore Method classes (at math camp and at UT) but they tend to not cover as much material as a traditional didactic course.

(Incidentally, Robert Lee Moore was sadly a huuuuuuuuuuge racist.)
posted by kmz at 12:22 PM on August 11, 2015


As someone who works in ABE (in settings that are geographically and demographically close to those of Nonesuch), these pieces brought tears to my eyes with how completely spot on they are. I agree that this isn't purely about trigger warnings, but more about the idea of giving power and confidence to learners.

I went in to my first term teaching a group of First Nations ABE students with laughable naivety. Our team was made of experienced teachers who were mostly new to this particular environment, and it was basically four months of re-evaluating everything we thought we knew. Our measures of success changed from how much content we got through, to how many of our learners stayed for the duration of the program, and more importantly, whether we could turn their perceptions of institutional learning into something positive (well hello there, ongoing repercussions of residential schools).

These are adults who have already worked extremely hard just to build up the confidence to enter these programs. I take absolutely every opportunity I can to build trust, show respect, and give learners control over their own learning. With marginalized groups, being authoritarian gets you nowhere; it's just read as another instance of "A person in power is telling me what to do. How do I meet the minimal requirements so that they'll leave me alone?"

*Disclaimer: I have been familiar with the work of Kate Nonesuch for years, and I'm a super fangirl.
posted by bethnull at 12:22 PM on August 11, 2015 [20 favorites]


This, absolutely. One of the things I'm thinking about as a teacher (an amateur teacher, but I take it seriously) is how to make sure that group members recollect that we are often talking about people with lived experiences who are actually in the room.

Yeah, yes to all of your comment, but I'm also kind of crabby that I had to stand up and go "Oi! I am here! You are talking about me!" in this discussion too. This is a dynamic that isn't only unique to college classroom discussions but which pops up in basically all discussions, and I've noticed it happening a few times on Metafilter too. (Fortunately on Metafilter you actually can rewind time a bit and remove the comment if you catch it early enough, but not always.) There is a tendency for people from privileged majority groups to assume that unless otherwise stated, everyone around them shares their privileged experiences and to just not think about the presence of marginalized viewpoints in the room. Good teachers, when they teach on topics that touch on sensitive issues, really need to be able to keep an eye on that and nip students who are thoughtlessly thinking out loud in the bud--and doing that, unfortunately, requires you to know your students fairly well. In larger classes that's not always possible.

As a note, by the way, PTSD and anxiety attacks and shit are a little complicated to regulate with disability accommodations because disability accommodations are difficult to reach and intimidating to access for many students. For example, I do not have PTSD--but not checking in with me about identity issues still resulted in dissociation in class and a panic attack. I'm going to bet that many if not all of the First Nations students Nonesuch mentions (as an example) don't have formal diagnoses of PTSD or anxiety or whatever either--even the ones who found the original showing of the video to be traumatic enough to shut down in class.
posted by sciatrix at 12:32 PM on August 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


Trigger warnings / content warnings aren't any different from the standard "Some viewers may find the following images upsetting" warning that they show on the nightly news before they run footage of bombing victims, or the "Viewer discretion is advised" thing they run before The Walking Dead, or ratings on movies or video games. I presume that everyone who is so horrified by the idea that our nation's intellectual freedom will be destroyed if people have the opportunity to be prepared before they confront traumatic material argues similarly vigorously against these incredibly commonly used systems.
posted by KathrynT at 12:34 PM on August 11, 2015 [31 favorites]


Not to mention, restricting accessibility to content warnings to those who have a formal medical diagnosis of PTSD presumes both that everyone will have full, unfettered, unstigmatized access to psychiatric health services, and that their mental health care providers will quickly, accurately, and sensitively diagnose them. I have PTSD stemming from events that happened when I was eleven, and I only got it accurately diagnosed at the age of thirty-nine, after my psychiatrist looked at my old diagnosis (borderline personality disorder) and said "Um, that doesn't seem right at all."
posted by KathrynT at 12:39 PM on August 11, 2015 [19 favorites]


I'm going to bet that many if not all of the First Nations students Nonesuch mentions (as an example) don't have formal diagnoses of PTSD or anxiety or whatever either--even the ones who found the original showing of the video to be traumatic enough to shut down in class.

This is actually a really good point. Even if I use PTSD as a framing device to demonstrate that these issues are valid medical concerns, it's important to understand that diagnoses have their limitations as well especially when applied to the experiences of marginalized people. For instance, PTSD usually requires an instigating incident to be diagnosed; yet, for the experiences of many people of color pertaining to racism, their experiences of racial stress tend to be a more constant low-grade background thing, rather than a sudden spike of trauma. So it's important to understand that many marginalized people may not be recognized, or even want to be recognized, by medical establishments in this way. So it's important to err on the side of more leeway with trigger warnings and just do it rather than insisting that people put up formal documentation and diagnoses.
posted by Conspire at 12:41 PM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Conspire: “Historically, the push for trigger warnings really originated with war veterans experiencing PTSD.”
Precisely. I completely understand people who are suspicious of trigger warnings, but let me tell y'all a story.

I lived with a man named Bill for a while. Bill was a pilot in Vietnam. He lost more than one RIO, his flying partners, in the course of his career. His luck ran out one day and he was shot down, captured, and tortured. He was eventually rescued by Green Berets, but it scarred him for life.

Bill was great fun to be around and a good roommate, but there were things he couldn't watch on TV. He loved the movie Top Gun, but because of his war experience, it was important to change the channel before the final dogfight at the school. He was also a great fan of Black Sheep Squadron.

A marathon of the program came on one afternoon, and several of us wound up watching it because it made Bill happy. I fell asleep in the chair with the remote on the arm rest. When I woke up, it was the episode where most of the squadron gets captured and tortured and two remaining members stage a daring rescue mission was playing. I looked over at Bill and he was white knuckle in his chair, a look of terror on his face the likes of which I hope to never see again.

The other guys in the room were just enjoying the program. They hadn't read Bill's memoirs, so they didn't know. Bill was behind them so they couldn't see his face. I made some kind of exclamation, fumbled for the remote, and changde the channel. Then I got Bill a drink, looked him in the eye, and put a hand on his shoulder. I've remember it in detail because I've felt bad about it ever since.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:56 PM on August 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


[A couple more comments removed; again, we do not need to treat this as some generic discussion of all the hypothetical bad outcomes of trigger warnings as if this is the first time the idea of trigger warnings and education has come up on Metafilter.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:34 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


ms scruss taught torture victims for years. The list of triggers was huge, and very often individual students had seemingly innocuous trigger objects/concepts that had to be avoided at all costs. The typical daily checklist included simple things like not closing the tutoring room door (interrogations happen behind closed doors), never getting between the students and the door (there always has to be a way out for some highly traumatized people), never closing the blinds without unanimous consent (there are countries and regimes where people disappear from rooms with closed blinds), and most of all, checking the language textbook for the parts-of-the-body page to make sure there are no disembodied limbs (there are students who have seen these up close, sometimes of family members).
posted by scruss at 1:35 PM on August 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


Trigger warnings / content warnings aren't any different from the standard "Some viewers may find the following images upsetting" warning that they show on the nightly news before they run footage of bombing victims, or the "Viewer discretion is advised" thing they run before The Walking Dead, or ratings on movies or video games. I presume that everyone who is so horrified by the idea that our nation's intellectual freedom will be destroyed if people have the opportunity to be prepared before they confront traumatic material argues similarly vigorously against these incredibly commonly used systems.

From what I've seen, a lot of the arguments about trigger warnings aren't actually about the warnings. They're the same arguments for defending privilege, but with an attempt to lay a thin intellectual justification.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:41 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what people are criticizing about this experiment. It sounds like everyone learnt something and came off feeling respected.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:58 PM on August 11, 2015


I'm not terribly comfortable with putting the onus on the students but at the same time peer learning is a totally valid thing and it does head off some of the more virulent racist bullshittery because it puts assholes on notice that they aren't in their safe space for outright racism.

I've taught small children in non-education environments, I teach in universities now, and there is always value in getting students engaged at a curriculum level. Always. And the thing is, if the students say "no, this is too much" then how is showing it without preparation a better option? If it is going to emotionally destabilise students it is going to impede the educational process, simple as that. You can't lay down the new memory of learning with an old one running rampant through your nervous system - although if you try hard enough you can weave the two things together (hi, amateur exposure therapists!).
posted by geek anachronism at 3:43 PM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


a lot of the arguments about trigger warnings aren't actually about the warnings. They're the same arguments for defending privilege, but with an attempt to lay a thin intellectual justification.

I put content warnings on my syllabi, but while I agree that some of the people who argue against using them are defending privilege, others worry about the 'you should find an alternative work or allow people to opt out' element that can accompany this discussion, because there are a lot of l subjects where this is not possible. In some subjects you can work around content (like literacy - you want people to concentrate on the literacy skills), in others you just can't. Classical myth is a good example of that: it's wall to wall awfulness no matter what myths you choose. In Classics you're pretty hosed all round if people need you to supply alternatives or want to opt out of the horrible parts.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:32 PM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yet, when we shift the dialogue from veterans to women, somehow trigger warnings become much more controversial.

You just single-handedly demolished all of the cranky old white man reservations I had about trigger warnings being for special self-absorbed snowflakes. Thank you.

Seriously.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:45 PM on August 11, 2015 [25 favorites]


I just put in an ILL request for From Abortion to Pederasty: Addressing Difficult Topics in the Classics Classroom, which I've heard good things about. I'm sure there are times where I've been oblivious about a difficult subject, and while I don't teach in classrooms, I still hope it will be valuable.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:50 PM on August 11, 2015


I presume that everyone who is so horrified by the idea that our nation's intellectual freedom will be destroyed if people have the opportunity to be prepared before they confront traumatic material argues similarly vigorously against these incredibly commonly used systems.

I'm sure not all of them do but actually, the two people in my world who most vigorously oppose trigger warnings in the classroom also think the movie ratings system (G, PG, R) and the warnings that precede violent shows are basically destroying America. They are, overall, philosophically opposed to anything ever being made safe or easy for anyone, ever. I am pretty sure their childhoods were horrors of David Lynch proportions.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 5:58 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Trigger Warnings are just not a big deal. They shouldn't be, and if someone has a problem with them reflecting some perceived flaw in contemporary academia, then I disagree.

Trigger Warnings are just a part of basic common sense and respect for students. All of my friends who lecture in Universities use them and it's basic procedure. When there's especially contentious material, students are allowed the option to do alternate work and it's not a big fuss to do this.
posted by ovvl at 6:18 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The trigger warnings issue has been conflated with the 'Political Correctness' controversy of the 1980s-1990s, that controversy where people were told that it's not polite to be openly racist and sexist, and some people were upset about that. (Mentioned in that other article that we're not supposed to mention here. Which is a flawed article in my opinion;)
posted by ovvl at 6:26 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's sad that all of this effort put into trigger warnings does absolutely nothing to solve anyone's problems or help them at all. No words are put into forming community groups to assist abuse or trauma survivors, or improving mental health services, or helping to fix the conditions that allow so many of these things to occur. I remember I got a trigger warning for the movie Sybil -- I left class and I just sat in a room by myself. It was actually worse than getting nothing because then everyone knew I had some weird issue with the movie, which made things much worse.

Helping people really isn't the point of all this, is it--it's all about making ourselves feel better for accomplishing nothing. I'm becoming pretty disillusioned with liberal/progressive politics. Social justice types are just as abusive as the worst racist conservatives in some perverted form of "justice"; "helping the unfortunate" is really just trying to salve our personal guilt. Nothing changes except some roles become flipped. Same as it ever was.
posted by gehenna_lion at 8:30 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


No words are put into forming community groups to assist abuse or trauma survivors, or improving mental health services, or helping to fix the conditions that allow so many of these things to occur.

Is it your position that, absent people using trigger warnings, more resources would be devoted to these other ways to help people in these ways?

Social justice types are just as abusive as the worst racist conservatives

For wanting trigger warnings? Is this just frustrated hyperbole, or are you serious here?
posted by tonycpsu at 8:49 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it can prevent more serious action being taken; offer a half-ass solution and we feel like we've done our job for the day. Which I can understand since we all need to get home early to watch Game of Thrones and cuddle up under warm blankets. There's a person who made a potentially off-color joke; it's important to post it on Twitter to get them fired ... whoops, turns out I misread it, there's an entire life that's ruined. But it's OK because they're white and straight, they'll be fine on account of that (even if they don't end up fine).

Trigger warnings belong to a long line of weird, nonsensical, ineffective half-assed and no-assed solutions to problems in society thought up by internet and fancy private school kids regardless of race or orientation. And if you want to contribute your own experience to something they've claimed as their turf, you have to follow their convoluted laws and rules, otherwise you could lose your entire livelihood if you make the wrong (perceived) move. None of this has a single thing to do with helping anyone; it's just power games.

So yeah, I do think this whole social justice thing is a problem, and that involves trigger warnings, too, because it's trying to co-opt a serious medical condition for their own political agenda. Power is power, though, so it's another case of new boss same as the old boss, except that moment hasn't come yet (and will probably never come).
posted by gehenna_lion at 9:17 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


because it's trying to co-opt a serious medical condition for their own political agenda

Um, what?
posted by KathrynT at 9:20 PM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's sad that all of this effort put into trigger warnings does absolutely nothing to solve anyone's problems or help them at all.

You're wrong. Just flat out wrong. Trigger warnings, in my classes, have meant that students who have trauma issues with the content have been able to come to class prepared for the discussion, have been able to choose different texts to focus on, have been able to avoid that particular session.

No words are put into forming community groups to assist abuse or trauma survivors, or improving mental health services, or helping to fix the conditions that allow so many of these things to occur.

I have the details for all of the relevant services for the students available. I am not responsible for forming community groups but I do know which ones work with survivors in the community. And it's a bit of a long range view, but what I teach insists on empathy from the students. And what work I do outside the classroom is what I choose to do. Trigger warnings are there to help post-trauma, they exist outside rape awareness campaigns and legislative changes and social work. All of which I've been involved with in some fashion.

I remember I got a trigger warning for the movie Sybil -- I left class and I just sat in a room by myself. It was actually worse than getting nothing because then everyone knew I had some weird issue with the movie, which made things much worse.

That was wrong and it shouldn't have happened that way. Trigger warnings aren't just like content warnings and can't be employed that way because the whole damn point is to give a person tools in order so that they can engage on their own terms.

And I gotta say I am sick and fucking tired of this lie that it was all internet and academics and lefties thinking up trigger warnings as an intellectual exercise. This was a thing in 70s consciousness raising groups, it's been a thing in media fandom since at least the 70s too.

For what it's worth I am quite literally talking about the serious medical condition, being PTSD/trauma response.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:22 PM on August 11, 2015 [16 favorites]


I do think this whole social justice thing is a problem

Yes, making a society more just is definitely a horrible problem! How dare people who have lived through injustice want to live in a world where that happens to fewer people. They are obviously the same as their own oppressors. Makes complete sense.

Non sarcastic response, now: Hurting people said "this helps me hurt less" and people who weren't struggling in the same way said "oh, okay, happy to help!" Framing this as the end of civilization and humanity is absolutely absurd.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:26 AM on August 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Historically, the push for trigger warnings really originated with war veterans experiencing PTSD.

I'm OK with this being deleted if it's too off-topic, but since it's related to PTSD and entertainment, I thought I'd share.

I spend a good amount of time on Disney Parks trip planning message boards, in particular one for people with disabilities and health issues. Some of the topics that come up regularly go along these lines: "What's the quickest and easiest way to get out of the park before the fireworks? My husband is an Iraq vet and it sounds too much like gunfire for him to handle." "Is there anywhere you can see the fireworks but not hear them? My husband has had PTSD since coming home from the Middle East." "DH has PTSD - what rides with sudden, loud noises should we avoid?"

I'm really glad the message boards exist, because I can't imagine how horrible it would be to have a panic attack every time there's a thunderclap in the Tiki Room.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:37 AM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Great FPP, and I just wanna point to this essay by Roxane Gay, where she lays out the emotional wrestling she's done to reason that trigger warnings can't do much for her, but:
I do recognize that in some spaces, we have to err on the side of safety or the illusion thereof. Trigger warnings aren’t meant for those of us who don’t believe in them just like the Bible wasn’t written for atheists. Trigger warnings are designed for the people who need them, who need that safety.
posted by numaner at 8:02 AM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


The fundamental problem faced by the teacher in the FPP is that her material was inappropriate for her class - perhaps inappropriate, full stop. She felt that she made it non-toxic by having her First Nation students introduce it, but that's not necessarily the case. Furthermore, she burdened those students by asking them to ameliorate a negative depiction of their culture. They may have found it difficult to refuse, or they may have really felt that they weren't up to the task. Students aren't social workers or academics: what if they do their best, but later feel that they failed to represent their culture adequately? The white students didn't have a similar problem; they weren't marked out by the curriculum.

It's one thing to warn people of potentially-upsetting material, or to work with victims to produce better curricula. It's not fair to use victims as a teaching resource. That approach stigmatises them, burdens them, and is really an excuse to avoid problems with the material that has been provided. I suppose there may have been an excuse for doing it once, but it's certainly not a solution that should be generally adopted.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:49 AM on August 13, 2015


Well I'm late to this particular party, and It looks like the discussion is now over. I was sent here by a recent meta-talk thread (or the metafilter reeducation program, as I'm starting to think of it.). But on the off chance anyone is still reading, I have to post.

I think, in general, trigger warnings are a terrible idea, and I think the trigger warnings defended by this particular instructor are highly problematic.

First off , as another poster noted, they are motivated primarily by the instructor's own feelings of discomfort.

Second, they create a weird dynamic where the selected students are supposed to somehow represent all students of that particular demographic. Despite what this instructor seems to believe, four First Nation students cannot represent all First Nation students in her course.

Third, tension is part of the classroom experience. Always. I suspect this tension is more palatable for this particular instructor when the students were all watching a film and she is not busy performing her role as instructor, but I guarantee you, from the perspective of the students, especially students of color, that tension is there in many class discussions. Instead of acknowledging the inherent tension in classroom discussions about difficult topics, the instructor uses the trigger warning here to simply wash her hands of these issues.

This is terrible pedagogy, in my view, and it is more focused on the white instructor's feelings of discomfort than the actual experiences of students in her course.
posted by girl flaneur at 12:40 PM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


First off , as another poster noted, they are motivated primarily by the instructor's own feelings of discomfort.

In this case, discomfort over whether her students would be uncomfortable, which they actually were before she started doing this:
But the first time I showed the video to a mixed group of First Nations and white students, I could feel the atmosphere closing down around me.
Second, they create a weird dynamic where the selected students are supposed to somehow represent all students of that particular demographic. Despite what this instructor seems to believe, four First Nation students cannot represent all First Nation students in her course.

You seem to be reading a little more into what "this instructor seems to believe" than is actually on the page.

Third, tension is part of the classroom experience. Always.

That doesn't mean that all tension is automatically good. One can learn how to read without being blindsided by a discussion of alcoholism and racism.

And that's the key -- blindsided. Trigger warnings are warnings. It's right there in the term. Warning, as in "Hey, there's some things in here that might upset you, so let's talk about how we can introduce them without just BAM here's some horrible shit."

I suspect this tension is more palatable for this particular instructor when the students were all watching a film and she is not busy performing her role as instructor

Examination of media presentation is not abdicating her role as instructor.

but I guarantee you, from the perspective of the students, especially students of color, that tension is there in many class discussions.

Well, yes. That's why she wanted to talk about it and make sure they knew about it up front.

Instead of acknowledging the inherent tension in classroom discussions about difficult topics, the instructor uses the trigger warning here to simply wash her hands of these issues.

Did you even read the articles? She used the film as a way to discuss those topics and used the pre-screening specifically to acknowledge that tension.
posted by Etrigan at 12:58 PM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Third, tension is part of the classroom experience. Always.

So, taking your statement as given (which I disagree with, but we'll assume it holds for this), we have several questions that come from this:

* Why does this tension exist?
* Is it truly a necessary component of teaching, or is it just an artifact from past experience?
* Are there multiple forms of tension involved? If so, what causes the variation?
* Can we ameliorate this tension without losing anything important?

I'm sorry, but I don't find "this is the way it is" arguments to be all that terribly persuasive. I think there's a nasty Spartan streak in pedagogy that needs to be excised.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:58 PM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


girl flaneur, would you think it would be appropriate for an instructor to warn students before displaying, say, journalistic footage of the dismembered bodies of bombing victims?
posted by KathrynT at 1:03 PM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


The instructor is selecting a group of students to act as proxies; these proxies are supposed to interpret how the rest of their demographic will react to the film. This assumes that there is one, single First Person experience or that somehow a group of four people will be able to speak for all members of that group. That is both offensive and it puts those students in a difficult position. Why should a group of students be burdened with that responsibility? If other students in the course complain about the content of the film, are they supposed to direct their complaints to these students? It is, at best, misguided, and and worst racist and irresponsible.

Tension in the classroom is unavoidable; you can't learn and grow without experiencing some discomfort and tension, especially when confronting difficult social issues. Tension exists in the classroom because tension exists in the world! The world can be an unfair and ugly place filled with injustice and unfairness (in addition to being a beautiful and wonderful place). Students of color are well acquainted with the difficulties and tensions in life, and they do not need to be protected from them. What students need are instructors who are willing and able to make the inevitable tensions of the classroom productive.

College education is supposed to prepare students for life, and in life people experience sudden, awful unfairness and injustice all the time. Trigger warnings leave students ill prepared to deal with the sudden difficulties that they will encounter as adults out in the often unpredictable and difficult world.

Would I warn my students before showing them pictures of mangled bodies? I haven't encountered this particular issue before, but if I were teaching a class on the Holocaust, for example, no I would not. The moral force of those images comes from how incomprehensibly awful and shocking and horrifying they are. Providing a trigger warning would undermine their didactic power.
posted by girl flaneur at 6:24 PM on September 8, 2015


What if you were teaching a class on, say, anthropology, or some other topic where mangled bodies wouldn't be expected? Perhaps graphic novel design? Differential calculus? Is there ANY class where you would warn the students before showing them graphic images of mangled bodies?
posted by KathrynT at 6:34 PM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


What if you were teaching a class on, say, anthropology, or some other topic where mangled bodies wouldn't be expected? Perhaps graphic novel design? Differential calculus? Is there ANY class where you would warn the students before showing them graphic images of mangled bodies?

Well, it is so hard to say and would depend very much on the specific details of the course. If I were teaching a class on Disneyland or something and we had only watched PG films up to that point, and I wanted, for some bizarre reason, to screen a torture porn film that wasn't on the syllabus, then yeah; I'd give my students a heads up. But a course on contemporary graphic novels or introduction to museum studies? No.

Do you think this is wrong?
posted by girl flaneur at 6:52 PM on September 8, 2015


I should also say that I think you and other posters above misconstrue how trigger warnings work on some campuses: in many places, there isn't simply a warning. Instead, there is a warning and the expectation that affected students will be excused from coming to class when difficult material is screened and the assumption that students won't be tested on difficult material.

Not only does this infantilize, but it also threatens to completely undermine the instructor's autonomy and vision for the course.
posted by girl flaneur at 7:05 PM on September 8, 2015


Do you think this is wrong?

Yeah, I do. I see zero educational advantage from intentionally freaking your students out. Personally, I have NEVER learned more while I was in the grips of a flashback or panic attack than I have when I was able to engage with the material intellectually; I've rarely learned much of anything in that state, actually, except how little support there is for students with mental illnesses or traumatic pasts.

If you were teaching a class where a substantial percentage of the students were combat veterans, would you give them a heads up before screening anything with traumatic or disturbing war footage? Or would that undermine the didactic power also?
posted by KathrynT at 8:24 PM on September 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


If you were teaching a class where a substantial percentage of the students were combat veterans, would you give them a heads up before screening anything with traumatic or disturbing war footage? Or would that undermine the didactic power also?

OK, I can't tell if these are rhetorical questions or not. I've raised several issues in my posts that you have simply ignored, and you are restating the point you made upthread.

I'm not sure if you teach or where you live, but every college and university in the US has an extensive system of support services for students with disabilities. The standard is one of reasonable accommodations: we attempt to level the playing field, not fundamentally alter the content or structure of the course. If I had a student with PTSD, they would certainly be allowed access to a service animal, and I assume some discussion would take place about the content of the course before the student enrolled. The student would not be allowed to opt out of readings or assignments. But all of this would be worked out between the instructor and the office of disabilities.

Trigger warnings are an attempt to provide an informal workaround to this highly structured process. It is unfair to everyone to have these sorts of workarounds. A student with disabilities is best served by getting accommodations through the office of disability.

Of course, most people who seek trigger warnings are not, in fact, thinking about students with disabilities. Instead, they are focused on students who they perceived to be "troubled" by the material. It is wrong, for many reasons, to confuse these two categories of students. Lots of people can experience all sorts of troubling feelings when encountering difficult materials. But just as we shouldn't confuse run of the mill sadness with depression, we shouldn't conflate feeling troubled with PTSD. No one wins by doing that.
posted by girl flaneur at 8:58 PM on September 8, 2015


Of course, most people who seek trigger warnings are not, in fact, thinking about students with disabilities. Instead, they are focused on students who they perceived to be "troubled" by the material.

Cite?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:06 PM on September 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


(Although frankly, it would be much more efficient for professors to assume that in every mixed-gender class there was at least one person who has dealt with the more common traumas, i.e. sexual assault, domestic violence, things like that that are endemic. It seems less efficient to have the professor have to deal with a quarter of their class each asking for a specific accommodation...)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:12 PM on September 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


we shouldn't conflate feeling troubled with PTSD

Do you have any information that people are doing so?

The problem with denying any kind of accommodation to anyone who doesn't have a formal diagnosis is that it restricts those accommodations to people who, well, have had access to mental health services and have received accurate diagnoses and treatments. This is why I ask about the combat veteran example; I find that a lot of people who are vehemently opposed to the idea of "trigger warnings" in general are, in fact, absolutely 100% ok with them when the people requesting them are veteran soldiers. To me, that says that the objection comes not from the idea that "tension in the classroom is unavoidable" or that "college education is supposed to prepare students for life," but from the idea that the students who are requesting these accommodations have not experienced sufficient trauma to deserve them. In other words, that they are simply "feeling troubled."
posted by KathrynT at 9:12 PM on September 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


in every mixed-gender class

I don't think you need the mixed-gender qualification there, honestly. Plenty of college-aged dudes have experienced complex trauma.
posted by KathrynT at 9:16 PM on September 8, 2015


IDK. I think the idea that the academy is pure, and that advocates of trigger warnings are trying to interfere with some kind of pure pedagogy, to be rather silly.

You're up there every Tuesday and Thursday at 8am lecturing not because students learn best at 8am (rather adolescents learn better if they get to sleep in!), but because it's convenient for the registrar.

I mean--this is an industry where a significant percentage of the teaching of undergrads is done by (often unexperienced) graduate student TAs and temporary instructors, who are treated like garbage.

It's really quite rich to act like, you know, describing the things you assign is some kind of step too far and will taint the purest goal of learning!!! It's really bullshit. There are a million things that are much worse for students than trigger warnings, but it's more fun to act like undergrads are just whiny buttheads than to think about how your institution is actually failing them.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:21 PM on September 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


There are a million things that are much worse for students than trigger warnings, but it's more fun to act like undergrads are just whiny buttheads than to think about how your institution is actually failing them.

Damned right.
posted by zarq at 9:27 PM on September 8, 2015


Well, given that 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted ( I don't know the statistics for men or gender neutral persons), I sorta assume that there is a high probability that a quarter of my female students have experienced sexual assault or abuse.

But I don't know what this has to do with trigger warnings or these articles.
posted by girl flaneur at 9:30 PM on September 8, 2015


Trigger warnings are not an appropriate accommodation for persons with PTSD; they are owed much more than a line on a syllabus that makes white liberal professors feel good about themselves.
posted by girl flaneur at 9:32 PM on September 8, 2015


In many cases, one of the things that prompts a request for trigger or content warnings is material that features graphic depictions of sexual assault and abuse, with classroom discussions about that material to follow. That kind of material and those kinds of discussions is very difficult to intellectually participate in if you've experienced that kind of assault directly, particularly if it's sprung on you with no warning or notification. As a result, people who have experienced assault and abuse are asking for instructors to warn them if the material includes such depictions, to try and treat them sensitively if they aren't able to participate in the discussions of that material in as vigorous and intellectual way as the class standards usually require, and if possible, to consider whether that specific material is really crucial to the course given the very high probability that someone (or several someones) in the room will have that kind of trouble with it.

Does that make the connection clearer?
posted by KathrynT at 9:35 PM on September 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well, given that 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted ( I don't know the statistics for men or gender neutral persons), I sorta assume that there is a high probability that a quarter of my female students have experienced sexual assault or abuse.

Good, you're following me!

If you require every student who has experienced sexual assault to go through the disability office in order to get specific warnings for themselves in order to avoid being unpredictably exposed to material that might cause them significant distress, and you have a class of, say, 70 students, half of whom are female, you would have to deal with at least 8-9 separate disability accommodation requests. Or you could just use a trigger warning for sexual assault.

I am sort of tempted to start a movement encouraging young women to use disability offices like this, because they would be quickly overwhelmed (as would professors with large numbers of students).
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:36 PM on September 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Trigger warnings are not an appropriate accommodation for persons with PTSD; they are owed much more than a line on a syllabus that makes white liberal professors feel good about themselves.

Oh my goodness, I'm so sorry, I didn't realize that you were a trained psychologist and/or psychiatrist in addition to being a professor!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:37 PM on September 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Trigger warnings are not an appropriate accommodation for persons with PTSD

It's odd to me that you say that, given that "avoid exposures to retraumatizing material as much as possible outside of a therapeutic context" and "when exposure to retraumatizing material is difficult or impossible to avoid, try to prepare yourself in advance by doing your therapeutic exercises; advanced warning is very helpful in these circumstances" were among the first things listed in the information from my psychiatrist after my PTSD diagnosis. Can you tell me more about how you arrived at this conclusion?
posted by KathrynT at 9:46 PM on September 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


Good, you're following me!

Actually, it seems like you and some members of your Mean Girl Posse from Metatalk are following me! To this long inactive thread. Just to aggressively argue with me. I'm flattered.

As to the issues: yes, lots of people are subject to trauma. But not everyone who has been raped or otherwise traumatized had PTSD.

A trigger warning might make the professor feel good, but it does far too little to help students with this disorder. They need much more by way of support.
posted by girl flaneur at 9:58 PM on September 8, 2015


Just as a note: some of the people who are arguing for trigger warnings are arguing from the POV of being the lecturer and being the person with PTSD who has been unnecessarily triggered* by asinine notions of 'preparing you for the real world' and 'this is just reality' and 'fragile flowers' and so on, and had their education impaired because of that.

I am not standing in front of my class this evening to make them better humans, to prepare them for the world, to mould them or whatever. I'm there to teach them what I'm contracted to teach them (as one of the underpaid and underqualified adjuncts that were mentioned previously). If I cannot do that effectively because my own bias refuses to acknowledge their lived reality - and the very good data that shows how trauma interferes with learning and memory - then I am not doing my job correctly.

Now, as a whole, university should be doing that - except I've got an administration who doesn't wanna deal with paperwork so cut out one of the very necessary ways for students to communicate with staff about assessment. I have an administration who moves curriculum based on staffing, not on logical progression of learning. I have an administration who is desperate to keep students in the course regardless of their ability to do the work (or for the degree to give them the skills they need). So the absolute last of my worries about preparing these kids - and most of them are kids for me this semester, 17/18 year olds - is intentionally exposing them to potentially harmful material because I don't believe their feelings matter unless they give me a bit of paper that exposes their mental health issues (and in the case of rape related trauma, something deeply deeply personal about their history). I want them to learn the thing I'm teaching them and a blanket refusal to warn them about confronting content is antithetical to that.

Unless you are actively providing mental health care to somebody, deliberately exposing them to triggering content is unhelpful. If you are actively providing mental health care, or are part of their team in some way, exposing them to triggering content can be helpful. I am not a part of my students' mental health care team, in any way, and while I cannot know all of their triggers I can assume by statistics that several of them are rape survivors, some are abuse survivors, I have at least two war survivors as well. Without asking any of them to disclose - although some have - I can give them information about the content and allow them the space to prepare themselves however they need to.

Because, as I've said over and over in these discussions, I have never ever had a student use a trigger warning as a reason to avoid a reading or assessment. They may have chosen a different reading for their assessments, they may have elected to miss class discussion on certain days, all of which every other student can do as well. In the spaces where I am most familiar with trigger warnings, this is all they accomplish. They are not a cure for PTSD, they are not an accommodation for mental illness, they are a basic courtesy that improves learning capabilities as a whole and emphasises the standards necessary in classroom discussion.

*not everything can be warned for, obviously - a safety lecture (not OH&S but risk management in society kind of safety) was one of the more notorious left-field triggers because it was effectively The Gift of Fear compressed into 30min and amped up to 11. Excellent lecture, if you weren't disassociating through the entire thing because you read the description and it sounded like it was gonna be about buildings falling down and airplanes crashing, rather than the way in which society devalues our safety instincts within organisational frameworks which then leaves the victims out to dry with a series of buck passing 'not my area' and 'someone else should' and victim-blaming.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:59 PM on September 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


Ah, girl flaneur, just a note but if anyone had participated in this thread previously it would be in their 'Recent Activity' and your comments would have bumped it back up to the top of the list. Similarly if they have anyone who has commented in their 'Contacts' list, their most recent comments here would have come up in the sidebar. That's a far more likely explanation for both KathrynT and internet fraud detective squad's responses in the thread, and it's certainly mine.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:03 PM on September 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Girl flaneur, while people with PTSD definitely deserve more than just trigger / content warnings, it doesn't mean we don't deserve them at all. You can say they aren't helpful until you're blue in the face, but I don't see why I should trust you over my psychiatrist.
posted by KathrynT at 10:05 PM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


No, no, geek anachronism, I definitely run a mean girl posse. How else could we staff the metafilter reeducation camps ;)

Seriously, though, girl flaneur, I'm sorry that you're so sensitive that you consider yourself a victim instead of the recipient of the learning that can come from a vigorous and open exchange of ideas.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:06 PM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you read my posts, you will see that appropriate accommodation for someone with PTSD may well include discussions about the course material as part as a larger process of accommodations. That's not what's at issue.

I'm not sure what you think. Either you think all people who experience trauma have PTSD, or you think all people who experience trauma deserve accommodations. Either way, I don't see how trigger warnings are a solution.
posted by girl flaneur at 10:07 PM on September 8, 2015


And as follows your bizarrely passive-aggressive "mean girl posse" comment, yeah, this showed up in my Recent Activity. I didn't even know you'd had a MetaTalk thing until you mentioned it. I don't think I was even involved in the MeTa in question.
posted by KathrynT at 10:07 PM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


"discussions about the course material" are literally trigger warnings.
posted by KathrynT at 10:08 PM on September 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


I didn't have this in my recent activity, I came across it via the metatalk, same as you, and have sort of been poking around in it since then.

Again, though, now I realize that you don't really enjoy the free exchange of ideas when those ideas include addressing the flaws in your arguments. Seeing how you're sort of a proponent for free speech and such, it's all just sort of too depressing for me, and I'm going to bow out. But I'm glad you got to say your piece (and complain about the rest of us being mean because we said ours).
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:13 PM on September 8, 2015


KathrynT,
I wasn't referring to you in my comment above, but there are some people here who didn't participate in this thread previously but who have suddenly taken an interest. I don't care and I'm not threatened by their presence, but it is funny to me.

I think you may be overstating the amount of disagreement between us. For people with PTSD, something that looks like trigger warnings are appropriate. But first, this would always be part of a general intervention by the Department of disability. And second, it would always be only one part of a larger process of accommodation.

If colleges actually care about people with PTSD, then they would do far more than ask faculty to include trigger warnings on their syllabi. In isolation, it is more of a feel good badge than an actual solution.
posted by girl flaneur at 10:17 PM on September 8, 2015


I don't think everyone who experiences trauma has PTSD, or that those with PTSD necessarily need trigger warnings. I'm saying I am in a position where those fine lines are not my decision to make in terms of what I am here to achieve.

I am here to teach my students a thing - it may or may not include content that is a common site of trauma for the demographic I'm teaching (this semester it doesn't, last semester had everything from gang rape to child abuse to infanticide). Even if a student does not have PTSD their learning is more likely to be impacted adversely if they feel re-traumatised during class, due to the media or the discussion. I can choose to ignore that (in spite of the evidence about the negative impact of trauma on learning) or I can say in first session "we are covering these texts, please be aware they include scenes of rape/whatever, if you want to discuss this with me you can and the campus offers free counselling, details available on the website", and put a note in my course outline, and in some cases give them a brief run down of the next week's reading ("next week is text 'oh lord all the child abuse' and remember you are able to contact me if there are any issues you're facing with assessment, final essays due in three weeks"). These things take a few moments - I mean, they require me to know my subject, they require me to know my demographic too, and to run the classroom discussion like we're all adults and in a professional environment. But they aren't enormous weights covering every aspect of my classroom in a shroud of non-speech and elided subjects and works.

I don't want students to have to disclose to me that they have PTSD or have been recently assaulted, or are survivors of child abuse, in order for them to feel like they can participate. I want them to learn. This is one of many many tools I use to faciliate that in my classroom. Thus far it has worked out okay - I've referred a few people on to various other people, helped people choose texts, things like that.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:19 PM on September 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't think everyone who experiences trauma has PTSD, or that those with PTSD necessarily need trigger warnings. I'm saying I am in a position where those fine lines are not my decision to make in terms of what I am here to achieve.

Yeah, but that's precisely why you shouldn't endorse the trigger warning model: it puts far too much power in the hands of individual professors. Wouldn't you rather have offices of disability *make sure* students are accommodated, than leave it up to professors who might or might not?
posted by girl flaneur at 10:30 PM on September 8, 2015


Girl flaneur, I'm trying to figure out how to resolve your "PTSD sufferers deserve these supports and many more besides" stance with your "trigger warnings are infantilizing and incompatible with the purpose of education" stance. If you think people deserve more support than they're getting, why wouldn't you start by granting them what they're asking for if it's under your control?
posted by KathrynT at 10:32 PM on September 8, 2015


Or are you saying that you'll discuss course material and consider other accommodations, but only with a specific student with a diagnosed psychiatric disability who approaches you through the Disability Office -- and nobody else?
posted by KathrynT at 10:36 PM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Girl flaneur, I'm trying to figure out how to resolve your "PTSD sufferers deserve these supports and many more besides" stance with your "trigger warnings are infantilizing and incompatible with the purpose of education" stance. If you think people deserve more support than they're getting, why wouldn't you start by granting them what they're asking for if it's under your control?

Because offices of disability provide all kinds of support that individual faculty members can't. I think trigger warnings are a cosmetic solution. We need to encourage people with PTSD to use these services. You can't force faculty to include these warnings in their classes, so then you are left with the following situation: some students are warned, some aren't. Some get follow attention, others don't. It is just a complete mess and bad for the people we should be accommodating.
posted by girl flaneur at 10:41 PM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


So your solution is that since everyone should be accommodated, you won't accommodate anyone? Pardon me, but that's nonsensical.
posted by KathrynT at 10:43 PM on September 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Or are you saying that you'll discuss course material and consider other accommodations, but only with a specific student with a diagnosed psychiatric disability who approaches you through the Disability Office -- and nobody else?

Yeah, this is probably where we do disagree. I don't think this is a good idea. I don't think we want to put this kind of power in the hands of individual faculty members.

I am also, as I said above, against protecting students from discomfort; PTSD is not discomfort just like depression isn't sadness.
posted by girl flaneur at 10:47 PM on September 8, 2015


What I'm saying is that accommodations should take place through the offices of disability; don't leave it up to individual faculty members.
posted by girl flaneur at 10:49 PM on September 8, 2015


OK, just for the purpose of making the discussion easier, girl flaneur, can you tell me what kinds of supports and accommodations for people with PTSD you DO approve of in the classroom, what you'd be willing to put in place if directed to by the disability office, and what you'd be willing to put in place even without that direction? You've argued against a lot of things but you haven't really made any positive statements advancing a position, and I'm having a hard time threading back trying to cancel out all the multiple negatives to derive what your position actually IS.
posted by KathrynT at 10:50 PM on September 8, 2015


And as I said before, the problem with gatekeeping everything through the disability office is that it requires people to do all the extra hoop-jumping to go through the disability office. Not everyone who shows up at an institution of higher learning has had unfettered access to competent, effective mental health treatment. People can be barred from receiving accurate diagnoses and effective treatment plans for economic, cultural, or familial reasons, or even just plain circumstances. If you're going to require people to go through the disability office before you'll do anything for them, you might as well just put a paragraph at the beginning of the syllabus that says "Accommodations for psychiatric conditions will be available to well-off students with excellent health insurance, supportive parents, and a cultural background that is receptive to treating mental health conditions as medical issues and not character flaws. Everyone else, you're on your own."

I mean, what if a student experiences a traumatic event during the academic year? Do they need to somehow contact the disability office and work out what their appropriate accommodations are before the next class event? That's preposterously unhelpful.
posted by KathrynT at 10:58 PM on September 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I, like all faculty members, comply fully with the directives of the office of disability. So if a student came through that office I would provide what you are calling trigger warnings, accommodate service animals and whatever else the student needs to succeed. Faculty members *must* do this under the ADA.

I don't offer accommodations to students who don't come through the disabilities office.
posted by girl flaneur at 11:02 PM on September 8, 2015


I don't offer accommodations to students who don't come through the disabilities office.

Not for anyone? So if a student raises their hand and says "I'm sorry, I'm having trouble understanding you, can you speak up a bit?" your answer is "Not unless you come through the disability office requesting accommodation"?
posted by KathrynT at 11:07 PM on September 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


We need to encourage people with PTSD to use these services.

They have to be diagnosed first, and it's naive to simply assume they will be aware enough to seek help, or be properly diagnosed/treated when they do.

"Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting children and adults. An estimated 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders. Although anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only about one‐third of sufferers receive treatment."

It's been estimated that between 8 and 9% of the US population will develop PTSD in their lifetimes, rates are higher for those who are poor and live in urban areas, and the disorder still remains undiagnosed in many. Costs and cultural attitudes are also a barrier to treatment in some communities and demographic groups.
posted by zarq at 6:16 AM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just have to ask - what is the whole resistance to the idea of primum non nocere, girl flaneur? Nobody is saying that trigger warnings are somehow a cureall - far from it. What is being said is that they enable people to pursue an education while being able to manage being traumatized.

The fact that you won't help these students unless you have a legal obligation to do so - that doesn't really speak well of you.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:55 AM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


The distinction here is not about how professors should accommodate people who do have documented conditions. It is about how professors should structure classes in such a way that even people without access to diagnosis and mental health resources can access them. Personally, my experiences trying to seek mental health care through low cost university channels have been pretty abysmal, especially if I needed a diagnosis to get anything done. I have had many friends with similar experiences.

I am not sure how race factors into this except inasmuch as this professor is offering her students the option of evaluating the material on race grounds ahead of time.
posted by sciatrix at 6:57 AM on September 9, 2015


Do you want to rely on the goodness of people's hearts, or the law? Take me out of it. Which strikes you as more reliable?
posted by girl flaneur at 6:58 AM on September 9, 2015


Is it your assertion that being First Nation or a mother on welfare is a psychological disorder?

It is my assertion that PTSD is a disorder and only disorders merit accommodations. Feeling uncomfortable does not merit accomodations, and most people of color manage our feelings of discomfort just fine. But I do appreciate how very, very, uncomfortable white people can feel. All that privedge can be hard to handle.
posted by girl flaneur at 7:03 AM on September 9, 2015


[Couple comments removed. girl flaneur, if you want to talk about the subject of the post that's fine, but if you're getting into repeated metacommentary gripes about your perception of the userbase or sarcastic characterizations of the site rules, that's gonna have to go in Metatalk if anywhere.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:03 AM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Do you want to rely on the goodness of people's hearts, or the law? Take me out of it. Which strikes you as more reliable?

Both.

We can have laws mandating accommodation of a wide variety and range of disabilities, and offices and positions whose sole responsibility is to manage these accommodations and judge on a case-by-case basis whether an individual student should be accommodated and to what extent.

And then we can also have professors who -- with encouragement, and occasionally some amount of pressure from the administration -- include advance notice of potentially upsetting material to their students and engage them in determining whether the potential harm of using that material will outweigh its educational value.

The existence of one does not in any way preclude the existence of the other.
posted by Etrigan at 7:04 AM on September 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Look, I am not a politician. I am not the person who decides how much funding goes to a university. I am not the person who decides how much money in the budget is allocated to student mental health care, and I am not the person who decides how that money is spent.

I am an academic, and what I can control is warning students what kinds of material I'll be covering on a given day. So I do that. Trigger and content warnings are small things. Not the only answer, but part of it.
posted by sciatrix at 7:08 AM on September 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Is it your assertion that being First Nation or a mother on welfare is a psychological disorder?

It is my assertion that PTSD is a disorder and only disorders merit accommodations.


Well, we simply won't agree, then. I believe that "accommodation" is a large umbrella that should not require a formalized diagnosis of trauma.

Feeling uncomfortable does not merit accomodations, and most people of color manage our feelings of discomfort just fine.

Yes. We generally do. That doesn't mean that all of us are against the idea of engaging with our instructors on potentially upsetting topics.

For someone who entered this conversation saying "four First Nation students cannot represent all First Nation students in her course.", you certainly seem to be convinced that you are capable of representing every other person of color on MetaFilter, if not the entire world.
posted by Etrigan at 7:10 AM on September 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


Do you really want, say a Literature professor making these decisions and risk having them offer less than full accommodations to people with psychological disorders?

Trigger warnings are not a "full accommodation." There's little to no "risk" in offering them. They're simply a note that some material contained within may be disturbing to some people. "Disturbing" ≠ "making someone uncomfortable." Nor should such notations require a medical notice litmus test for all who read them.

Anyone who actually cares about people with PTSD would want those who suffer from it to get real help;

I have PTSD. My dad had a chronic physical disability (and actually died in his 40's from complications of it.)

Consider please, that some of the people you are speaking with are actually quite interested in seeing those with either PTSD or a disability get the support they need.

However, help is not a zero-sum equation and it's perfectly possible and humane to offer a kindness to those who might appreciate receiving one without jeopardizing their ability to obtain help. The absolutist idea you're putting forth, that incompletely offered assistance is somehow worse than none at all, seems a bit silly to me.

It is funny to me how quickly people here moved away from the issues raised in the actual articles under discussion, but then I remembered that lilly white metafilter is incapable of addressing issues of race.

Perhaps. But the only way you're addressing them in this thread is to complain about others who are not doing so. Which leads me to believe you're more interested in angry rhetoric about (what I think are) your misconceptions of some of the people in this community than an actual discussion.
posted by zarq at 7:12 AM on September 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


It is my assertion that PTSD is a disorder and only disorders merit accommodations.

So your position is that the only time we should consider modifying the content of a course is when it is legally required by a medical diagnosis (which, might I remind you still has a fair amount of stigma attached to it), and everyone else can go pound sand?

No sir, there's no privilege in that position!

Feeling uncomfortable does not merit accomodations,

"Feeling uncomfortable" is a rather detestable weasel word, intended to dismiss and diminish the actual feelings that students are experiencing in order to justify the attitude that the instructor has no obligation. This is the Spartan mentality in the Academy that I despise.

and most people of color manage our feelings of discomfort just fine.

And what about their feelings of discomfort, of being reminded of where their position in society is no matter where they are or what they've been ostensibly told about being equal in a given environment?
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:18 AM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


and most people of color manage our feelings of discomfort just fine.

As NoxAeternum points out, PTSD is not "feelings of discomfort." Your insistence that trigger warnings are only meant to ameliorate discomfort seems bizarre.

Focusing specifically on African Americans for a moment, rather than all POC minority groups: Several studies (this one in particular) have shown that incidence of PTSD is actually higher for African Americans than the general population. As I mentioned in a previous comment, PTSD incidence is higher in the poor who live in urban areas and African Americans have the highest poverty rate of all American ethnic/racial groups. Meanwhile, racism and race-based trauma are not considered a criteria for diagnosis of PTSD, but some researchers are beginning to question whether it should be.
posted by zarq at 7:30 AM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Girl flanuer, would you be interested in sharing [with details disguised a bit, of course] some specific experiences you've had in the classroom and how those have informed your views?

This whole conversation sounds as if everyone has had different experiences and as if trigger warnings are implemented in different ways in different places. I'm a big proponent of informed consent when I teach (and I'm moving into more/more serious teaching in the next year or so, so this is only becoming more important to me) but I can certainly imagine situations where things could go off the rails.

I have observed, in activist communities, that a given social circle may develop a really counterproductive hypersensitivity*, and I could see how - in certain college situations - something like that could occur.

I do also think that girl flaneur is making a good point about maybe using one or two people of color to stand in for all people of color.

Seriously, when I have taught, Stuff About Race has always been a challenge, and it can certainly go in ways that totally are not what I expect from reading anti-racist blogs. I have on several occasions doubled over into hyper-anxiety about race and racism in the classroom in ways that made students of color kind of uncomfortable, and I could see that badly-managed trigger warnings could create a really weird climate.

I tend to feel like a LOT of the problems with how trigger warnings are used comes from a problem with how classes are structured. The most successful teaching I've ever done has come in groups where we've been able to devote some time to building trust [there's various kinds of trust - there's the warm fuzzy trust, of course, and there's the 'I trust you to behave in an adult and collegial manner' trust] so that we had room for some frankness and discomfort. I think that can be really difficult to do in college classrooms - perversely, community ed has given me more space for this.


*I'm going to ask you to just believe me on this one - but basically, my impression is that a social circle can develop a pathology where there's a lot of pressure on people to talk about their own [real, genuine, material] problems and suffering in very careful language so as not to "trigger" other people in the social circle, and the bar for "triggering" is very low, with the result that marginalized people's conversations about their own actual experience and needs tend to get pushed aside as the group debates who is feeling "triggered". It is also my observation that too close attention to one's own feelings can create situations where people in very comfortable material circumstances with no disabilities prioritize their own emotional comfort over the needs of marginalized people to talk frankly about their experience.

Then it spirals into the usual pressure on marginalized people to comfort the less marginalized, etc. I don't think anyone is being terrible but there's some real unexamined ideas about comfort and safety in these situations.
posted by Frowner at 7:47 AM on September 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Actually, it seems like you and some members of your Mean Girl Posse from Metatalk are following me! To this long inactive thread. Just to aggressively argue with me. I'm flattered.

This was mentioned upthread, but here's a link to the "Recent Activity" page built into MeFi, which shows members threads they have either commented in, or Added to Activity. RA displays threads in chronological order, so the most recently commented-in thread will always move to the top of the list.
posted by zarq at 8:16 AM on September 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Do you want to rely on the goodness of people's hearts, or the law?

Why is this an either-or?
posted by KathrynT at 10:08 AM on September 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Actually, girl flaneur, there are a bunch of questions that you've chosen not to answer here that are making this conversation pretty frustrating for me. You seem to really want to discuss this topic, but that's really hard to do when you keep moving the goalposts so nimbly. So in a last-ditch effort to have a sincere and good faith discussion about this, I'd like to ask you the following questions:

* What's the basis for your assertion that trigger warnings are not an appropriate accommodation for PTSD?
* What are the appropriate accommodations for a student who is struggling with PTSD or complex trauma, but who has not had the kind of access to effective mental health care necessary to receive a diagnosis?
* Do you believe that instructors have ethical obligations to their students over and above the minimum legal requirements?
* If a student experiences a traumatic event during the school year, how much accommodation should be available to them while they work through the process of diagnosis and treatment?
posted by KathrynT at 10:20 AM on September 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


"Because, as I've said over and over in these discussions, I have never ever had a student use a trigger warning as a reason to avoid a reading or assessment. "

My mother teaches the history of fine art photography and contemporary issues in photography at two institutions, one a major state university and the other a community college. Over the last five semesters (when she started keeping note of it), there has been at least one student in each class who has sought to exempt themselves from an assignment, reading or lecture, on the basis of being triggered by the material — which does include discussions about artists like Sally Mann, Jock Strurges, Joel Peter Witkin, Diane Arbus, Lewis Carroll, Robert Frank and Robert Maplethorpe, and includes iconic images like "General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon." She says that in at least several of these incidents, the "triggering" argument came only after a student failed to turn in an assignment. In the syllabus for both classes, and in the first day of class, she does tell the students that discussing either the history of or contemporary issues in photography will require seeing potentially disturbing images — it's impossible to talk about the NEA Four without showing the images; it's impossible to discuss charges of child exploitation around Sally Mann and Jock Sturges without looking at the work; it's impossible to critically comment on Susan Sontag's opinions about the impact of disturbing news images without showing the photographs she was referencing.

Part of the problem is that "trigger warning" is a vague and incoherent category in itself. For some, it can include any prior discussion or mention of potentially disturbing content — see the comparison to TV-MA above. For others, it encompasses things like having people from affected populations introduce potentially problematic content. Drawing fair lines based on subjective experience is also difficult if not impossible — we can't rely on diagnoses, for fear of excluding those without access to medical institutions; we can't rely on requiring people triggered to out themselves to class or instructor, as that's also held to reinforce trauma; we can't rely entirely on self-reported discomfort both because some discomfort is both probable and necessary for privileged students to actually relate to less privileged students and because disingenuous students may abuse it. Triggers are not inherently predictable — see Roxanne Gay's mention of being triggered by a mention of cologne. Instructors are also imperfect judges of what will be considered problematic about any given assignment, though I'm not sure omission within a norm of warning would necessarily make the effects worse.

With such a general definition and such gradient borders, it's not surprising that "trigger warning" seems to function, at least in this discussion, as more of a buzzword and social signal (similar to "organic") than a coherent concept that can be argued for or against, and that's compounded by the raised-stakes of rhetoric. For some here, being against trigger warnings seems to mean wanting to intentionally inflict emotional damage on students, reinforcing structural violence for less privileged students. For others, less here but more visible in discussions across the internet, being for trigger warnings means coddling students with an effete academic progressive view of trauma, reinforcing victim narratives and ignoring the underlying causes of those traumas in order to address superficial after-effects.

Because the underlying definition and practice of "trigger warnings" is neither coherent nor consistent, and because views on it seem largely correlated with a passel of other political identities and values, it turns into an ugly proxy discussion that seem to be leaving everyone participating feeling frustrated and slighted, arguing from idiosyncratic and politically loaded definitions, and using questions as gotchas more than as sincere attempts to get at why there would be disagreement over whether they are good pedagogy. And certainly in this thread there have been far more comments on their overall use than the specific use in the FPP.

As for that, I generally like it when people who have first-hand experience can set the context for a lesson, though I think the issue with a mode of teaching that relies on affected groups to stand up and be the teachers is a legitimate one. Having that context in Nonesuch's adult literacy classes seems to have helped them, though the use of the term "trigger warnings" seems to have seriously compromised this discussion about her teaching. I haven't ever taken (or taught) any adult literacy classes, so I'm not sure what the general philosophy is on presenting difficult themes in class assignments — my naive assumption is that I'd expect fewer of them than, say, Hip Hop and the African American Experience (which was a class that I took in college). Because of that, if they are being introduced, it seems fair to the students (who I assume are more likely to be adult non-traditional students) to give them a heads-up since they may not have expected to wrestle with stuff like that when they enrolled.
posted by klangklangston at 3:33 PM on September 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Actually, girl flaneur, there are a bunch of questions that you've chosen not to answer here that are making this conversation pretty frustrating for me.

GF has apparently disabled her account.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:05 PM on September 9, 2015


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