The non-existent fight for trigger warnings

The fight for trigger warnings in colleges is not as large as many may believe. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Trigger warnings in universities are a perfect example of the opinion of a few overshadowing the ideals of the majority. 

Despite the attention attributed to trigger warnings by the media, most establishments of higher learning do not need to make bold statements against the policy such as those made by the University of Chicago in its welcome letter to incoming freshmen.

Trigger warnings were created to caution students about sensitive material that may cause personal trauma to resurface. While once helpful, they have become a twisted means of restricting education and an unfortunate and undesired inevitability for the majority of students at universities. 

A survey of the College Art Association and the Modern Language Association members found that less than 1 percent of the approximately 800 respondents, many of whom are professors, said their university used a trigger warning policy. 

In fact, 85 percent of respondents said students had never even asked for a trigger warning and 93 percent said they were not aware of any student-fueled efforts to have their school make them mandatory in classes. 

Yet the issue of whether colleges should begin mandating these warnings has led to a nationwide discussion over the past few years. 

If such large quantities don’t believe they are necessary, why is it a topic of conversation at all?

The concept of trigger warnings, while over a century old in origin, has only really flourished in the past decade. The popularity of social media has frequently brought attention to issues that otherwise would have gone unnoticed, as is the case here. 

Most professors use a warning when they are to cover topics such as war crimes, rape or anything with graphic content. Unfortunately, there have been occasions upon which warnings were not used and students were caught off guard and unprepared for the material they were bombarded with.

It is those rare instances that led to posts online, which quickly began trending, drawing national attention to the otherwise not monumental issue. 

Few studies have been done to gauge the benefits or harm of the policy due to its relative newness, but everyone can agree there are obvious instances where a quick heads up is probably the best option for both students and professors. 

Whether it is a rape victim reading an assignment for philosophy and coming across graphic depictions of sexual assault, or a victim of abuse watching a video in psychology depicting domestic violence, trigger warnings could help prepare those students mentally for what they are about to be shown in order to create an optimum learning environment.

Unfortunately, some students who are fervent supporters of making trigger warnings campus policy are doing so in order to quell opinions that contradict their own in the hopes that professors will be too scared to address controversial topics, thereby protecting their own beliefs from any challenge. 

The proportion of those advocates in comparison to the rest of the student body is minuscule. Yet the University of Chicago still dedicated a majority of its welcome letter to the issue.

“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” John Ellison, dean of students, wrote to incoming freshmen.

In the polarized climate in which we live today, attempting to squash the confirmation bias held by some students is not an outlandish goal. But taking a stand against trigger warnings is not the way to open minds. 

Students aren’t vying for the policy to be implemented. Colleges are wasting time combating an issue the majority of its scholars aren’t paying any mind. 


Breanne Williams is a senior majoring in mass communications.