A trigger warning is not an invitation for evasion.
According to the Skidmore News, “trigger warnings” – essentially disclaimers in class discussions reminding us to be wary of other students in the room and the intricacies of their own backstories – are an easy ticket out of navigating the more sensitive, complex issues we might encounter. Skidnews writes, “trigger warnings lead to close-mindedness, complacency and intellectual laziness—why think about something hard, when you can think about something easy?”
This, however, is a remarkably short-sighted approach to the nature of trigger warnings. Rather than dissuading students from having frank, open discussions, these disclaimers are a way of pressing students to acknowledge the immediacy of the more fragile issues we might approach in a classroom. Professors are choosing to offer these warnings because these discussions are worth having – because in order to create an intellectual space in which these dialogues can maintain themselves it is important to remember our context. Situating ourselves in a room on a campus where a number of the more “triggering” issues have made direct impressions on the people seated on either side of us does not hinder our ability to engage in honest, insightful, contemplative conversation but rather feeds it. While of course there are students who relish trigger warnings as cop-outs – ways to avoid the necessity to formulate or verbalize opinions on tumultuous topics or to check out of class time all together – the fragment of the student body who this holds true for is a small one (I would argue, a relatively negligible one).
The perceived necessity to think and speak within the confines of extreme political-correctness certainly impacts our willingness to speak candidly on this campus. When we are chastised for our insensitive selection of adjectives it certainly doesn’t perpetuate our desire to speak openly. But this, I feel, is far more dangerous than the implications of a trigger warning. This is a way of curtailing the way we speak rather than adjusting the content of our speech. The trigger warning doesn’t encourage us to communicate in any particular way, but rather, reminds us of the immediacy of the content of our discussions. It reminds us that being distinctly aware of the campus we live on and the students it houses is crucial when it comes to establishing our own opinions on matters like sexual assault, race relations and gender equality. Trigger warnings pull our focus closer to the reality of these phenomenons, rather than censoring them out of our discussions as a whole.
An issue that triggers is generally one worthy of dialogue and as Nora Grubb claimed in an impressive tirade against the narrow mindedness of the Skidmore news (and a defense of the warnings themselves), “President Glotzbach said he is committed to ‘communicating difficult ideas’ and solving them. Instead of hiding from the former, we must acknowledge that difficult (and scary) things do happen and affect our peers.” Trigger warnings are not about censorship but rather about acknowledging that there are perspectives, vulnerable ones, that supplement our own. Well done to the Skidmore News for instigating an important, relevant discussion on campus, but this is a gleaming example of the editorial board’s obvious inability to truly engage with their own audience. Despite the new and improved web platform, the Skidmore News is hardly a voice for the student body.
A trigger warning invites us to engage in conversation with those of us who are victims of rape, assault, racism, sexism and a number of other abuses. Rather than discouraging us from having these discussions, the disclaimers allow us to acknowledge our peers who have had face-to-face contact with some of the more terrifying realms of of experience both here and far beyond the not-so-sunny little world of Saratoga Springs. We are a vulnerable, intelligent, sensitive, and sometimes jaded amalgamation of inputs when it comes to the more triggering discussions, and for that reason, we should speak with the impressive weight of those perspectives in mind.