Whoa, my friends, whoa!
Trigger warning--this post is not about dead parrots. Stop reading right now if you are terrified of being confronted with things that are readable:
Trigger warnings have become a common staple of internet conversations for years now, a means of alerting readers – especially those who’ve experienced trauma and especially women — to subject matter that could kick up intense reactions. And they are, depending on the things you tend to read and your perspective on healthy discourse, a useful tool for greater sensitivity or a chilling means of putting a fence around certain kinds of dialogue. Either way, they’re unavoidable. It’s already been two years since the Awl declared the phrase had “lost all its meaning” and noted “this useful thing has spread a litttttle far afield.” Yet unlike other phrases that have come and gone since, “trigger warning” has only grown more ubiquitous, more recently moving from online debates to cropping up on college syllabi. Salon observed the phenomenon earlier this year, calling them “an imperfect but sometimes necessary band-aid on the open and gaping wounds plaguing college campuses — rampant sexual violence, for starters.” And then the New York Times took on the issue this week, with a feature on how “The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm.” In it, writer Jennifer Medina reports that students at “Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, George Washington University and other schools” have this year all requested trigger warnings accompany certain classroom materials. And at the University of California, Santa Barbara – where this spring associate professor Dr. Mireille Miller-Young had an altercation with anti-abortion protesters because she said she’d been “triggered” by their signs — the Associated Students Senate and Office of the Student Advocate General has formally requested “professors alert students of class content that can potentially ‘trigger’ symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in those who have experienced traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse or fighting in war.” Santa Barbara sophomore Bailey Loverin, a sexual abuse survivor, explained to the Times, “We’re not talking about someone turning away from something they don’t want to see. People suddenly feel a very real threat to their safety — even if it is perceived. They are stuck in a classroom where they can’t get out, or if they do try to leave, it is suddenly going to be very public.”That whole paragraph should come with a trigger alert. But the problem with all of this is that we are trying to use sensitivity when we should be using the rule of law.
The fact that America's college campuses are teeming with rapists is entirely due to the fact that the police aren't arresting serial date rapists and that judges are not putting these men in jail. The law is failing people and, by extension, the foolishness of having campus police forces who do nothing about rapists means that failure will be common until someone successfully sues a university and takes millions from them.
Exposure to the culture should not require trigger alerts. It should include accountability and honesty. When those things fail to be applied to the very real trauma of rape or the indifference of society towards victims, the exposed wounds are incapable of healing. And, really, that should be the provision of mental health professionals, not amateur sensitivity cops. Mental health professionals should have, as one of their first tasks, a plan for helping people get past traumatic trigger events and help create a working method for mitigating exposure to elements of the culture that can trigger a negative response.
I am all for being sensitive, but let's assign blame to the incompetence of the people who should be righting wrongs by using the law.