[Trigger warning: classic literature]

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[Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Sizik » Mon May 19, 2014 4:23 pm UTC

Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm
wrote:
Spoiler:
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Should students about to read “The Great Gatsby” be forewarned about “a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence,” as one Rutgers student proposed? Would any book that addresses racism — like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “Things Fall Apart” — have to be preceded by a note of caution? Do sexual images from Greek mythology need to come with a viewer-beware label?

Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.

The warnings, which have their ideological roots in feminist thought, have gained the most traction at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where the student government formally called for them. But there have been similar requests from students at Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, George Washington University and other schools.

A sophomore at the university, Bailey Loverin, and others have formally called for “trigger warnings” on class syllabuses that would flag potentially traumatic subject matter. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times
The debate has left many academics fuming, saying that professors should be trusted to use common sense and that being provocative is part of their mandate. Trigger warnings, they say, suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace. The warnings have been widely debated in intellectual circles and largely criticized in opinion magazines, newspaper editorials and academic email lists.

“Any kind of blanket trigger policy is inimical to academic freedom,” said Lisa Hajjar, a sociology professor at the university here, who often uses graphic depictions of torture in her courses about war. “Any student can request some sort of individual accommodation, but to say we need some kind of one-size-fits-all approach is totally wrong. The presumption there is that students should not be forced to deal with something that makes them uncomfortable is absurd or even dangerous.”

Bailey Loverin, a sophomore at Santa Barbara, said the idea for campuswide trigger warnings came to her in February after a professor showed a graphic film depicting rape. She said that she herself had been a victim of sexual abuse, and that although she had not felt threatened by the film, she had approached the professor to suggest that students should have been warned.

Ms. Loverin draws a distinction between alerting students to material that might truly tap into memories of trauma — such as war and torture, since many students at Santa Barbara are veterans — and slapping warning labels on famous literary works, as other advocates of trigger warnings have proposed.

“We’re not talking about someone turning away from something they don’t want to see,” Ms. Loverin said in a recent interview. “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.”

The most vociferous criticism has focused on trigger warnings for materials that have an established place on syllabuses across the country. Among the suggestions for books that would benefit from trigger warnings are Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” (contains anti-Semitism) and Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” (addresses suicide).

“Frankly it seems this is sort of an inevitable movement toward people increasingly expecting physical comfort and intellectual comfort in their lives,” said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit group that advocates free speech. “It is only going to get harder to teach people that there is a real important and serious value to being offended. Part of that is talking about deadly serious and uncomfortable subjects.”

The term “trigger warning” has its genesis on the Internet. Feminist blogs and forums have used the term for more than a decade to signal that readers, particularly victims of sexual abuse, might want to avoid certain articles or pictures online.

An excerpt from a draft guide on "trigger warnings" from Oberlin College in Ohio.
On college campuses, proponents say similar language should be used in class syllabuses or before lectures. The issue arose at Wellesley College this year after the school installed a lifelike statue of a man in his underwear, and hundreds of students signed a petition to have it removed. Writing in The Huffington Post, one Wellesley student called it a “potentially triggering sculpture,” and petition signers cited “concerns that it has triggered memories of sexual assault amongst some students.”

Here at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in March there was a confrontation when a group of anti-abortion protesters held up graphic pictures of aborted fetuses and a pregnant professor of feminist studies tried to destroy the posters, saying they triggered a sense of fear in her. After she was arrested on vandalism, battery and robbery charges, more than 1,000 students signed a petition of support for her, saying the university should impose greater restrictions on potentially trigger-inducing content. (So far, the faculty senate has promised to address the concerns raised by the petition and the student government but has not made any policy changes.)

At Oberlin College in Ohio, a draft guide was circulated that would have asked professors to put trigger warnings in their syllabuses. The guide said they should flag anything that might “disrupt a student’s learning” and “cause trauma,” including anything that would suggest the inferiority of anyone who is transgender (a form of discrimination known as cissexism) or who uses a wheelchair (or ableism).

“Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression,” the guide said. “Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or understand.” For example, it said, while “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe — a novel set in colonial-era Nigeria — is a “triumph of literature that everyone in the world should read,” it could “trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more.”

After several professors complained, the draft was removed from a campus website, pending a more thorough review by a faculty-and-student task force. Professors and campus administrators are expected to meet with students next fall to come up with a more comprehensive guide.

Meredith Raimondo, Oberlin’s associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the guide was meant to provide suggestions, not to dictate to professors. An associate professor of comparative American studies and a co-chairwoman of the task force, Ms. Raimondo said providing students with warnings would simply be “responsible pedagogical practice.”

“I quite object to the argument of ‘Kids today need to toughen up,’ ” she said. “That absolutely misses the reality that we’re dealing with. We have students coming to us with serious issues, and we need to deal with that respectfully and seriously.”

But Marc Blecher, a professor of politics and East Asian studies at Oberlin and a major critic of trigger warnings at Oberlin, said such a policy would have a chilling effect on faculty members, particularly those without the job security of tenure.

“If I were a junior faculty member looking at this while putting my syllabus together, I’d be terrified,” Mr. Blecher said. “Any student who felt triggered by something that happened in class could file a complaint with the various procedures and judicial boards, and create a very tortuous process for anyone.”


I definitely can see the usefulness of having content descriptors on books like they have in movie, TV, and game ratings.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon May 19, 2014 5:01 pm UTC

Do people not read the back of the book anymore? Or, just, yknow, put the book down if they get to a part they dislike?

Maybe trigger warnings have gotten a little out of hand.

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Whizbang » Mon May 19, 2014 5:06 pm UTC

You need to put a trigger warning on the thread title. Trigger warnings make me uncomfortable.

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon May 19, 2014 5:07 pm UTC

[Trigger Warning: Recursion]

See also, [Trigger Warning: Recursion]

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby eSOANEM » Mon May 19, 2014 6:02 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Do people not read the back of the book anymore? Or, just, yknow, put the book down if they get to a part they dislike?

Maybe trigger warnings have gotten a little out of hand.


People do that for books they're reading in their own time, but usually children don't get a choice about which books to read at school and so there's no point.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Belial » Mon May 19, 2014 6:16 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:You need to put a trigger warning on the thread title. Trigger warnings make me uncomfortable.


Look.

Do not do this thing you are doing.


More broadly, to the thread at large: if you are formulating a reply intended to make light of the idea of trigger warnings, ridicule people who feel they need trigger warnings, or any other thing that amounts to laughing at other peoples' trauma, be advised that I am watching this thread in a modly capacity and I am not even in the same country code as "the mood for this shit".
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Whizbang » Mon May 19, 2014 6:24 pm UTC

Oops. Sorry.

The whole Trigger Warning thing is new to me. I don't think I ever saw one, or if I did I didn't register it, prior to a month or two ago, when I saw it in a title on this forum. I am sure it has been around a lot longer, I just didn't happen to notice it as a thing. My knee-jerk reaction was that it was just another fad/meme or something.

Sorry if I offended.

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Belial » Mon May 19, 2014 6:34 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:Oops. Sorry.

The whole Trigger Warning thing is new to me. I don't think I ever saw one, or if I did I didn't register it, prior to a month or two ago, when I saw it in a title on this forum. I am sure it has been around a lot longer, I just didn't happen to notice it as a thing. My knee-jerk reaction was that it was just another fad/meme or something.

Sorry if I offended.


For informational purposes: it is a convention formulated initially to accommodate people with PTSD. The idea being that things that could commonly trigger flashbacks, anxiety attacks, and other symptoms in ptsd sufferers (descriptions of graphic or sexualized violence being the most common, as well as in-depth descriptions of relationship abuse) are labelled such that the person can either avoid the piece of media entirely, or brace themselves and not be caught off guard (it is surprising how many pieces of media have rape in them with very little warning). It has since been expanded into other areas, one of the most frequent being common phobias (spiders, heights). Arguments are had as to whether this latter is a legitimate use of the convention.

But basically, it's a way to say "there is a significant part of the population that could have a really extreme and adverse involuntary response to this, so consume with care". Consider it the mental health equivalent of "may contain traces of peanut".
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby speising » Mon May 19, 2014 6:41 pm UTC

that's certainly a legit concern. but the artikce from the op seems to show that this gets more and more expanded to everything that could possibly make someone mildly uncomfortable, or opposes the readers opinions. and that's just silly.

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby somehow » Mon May 19, 2014 6:42 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Do people not read the back of the book anymore? Or, just, yknow, put the book down if they get to a part they dislike?

Maybe trigger warnings have gotten a little out of hand.


This is a story about a time when I wished a class I took had used trigger warnings. Warning: contains discussion of suicide.

Spoiler:
In my first semester at college, I took a class on Russian fiction. At one point, we were assigned a short story to read for homework, from a collection of short stories (all by the same author) that we'd been asked to buy at the beginning of the semester. The story revolved around a young man and a young woman who loved each other but were kept apart for some reason. Maybe the man had gone off to serve in the Russian army? I can't remember. Anyway, toward the end of the story, completely unexpectedly, the young woman tried to kill herself by drowning herself in a river.

I don't recall anything in the story up to that point suggesting that such a thing was going to happen. I don't remember whether I read the back of the book, as you suggest, but it was a collection of short stories, and a quick description on the back of the book certainly wouldn't have mentioned the specific content of each particular story.

I was doing my homework while eating alone in the college dining hall, and when I got to that part of the story in question, I ended up crying and having something of a panic attack and trying to hide the whole thing from the people around me. Why? A few months earlier, toward the end of my senior year of high school, a friend of mine had killed herself by drowning herself in a pond, and the whole "young woman committing suicide by drowning" thing hit a little fucking close to home.


Here's how I wish that had gone. I wish the professor had put a little note next to this assignment on the syllabus saying something to the effect of "Hey, the readings for this assignment contain potentially upsetting material regarding suicide. If you think that's going to be a problem for you, come talk to me, and we'll figure something out." And in fact, if she had put that warning on the syllabus, it's not even that I would have wanted to get out of reading the story. I would have been prepared for it to be upsetting, and I would have chosen to read it in the privacy of my room (because the involuntary reaction I had when I read it was absolutely made worse by having it happen in public).


Asking why people don't just "put the book down if they get to a part they dislike" is missing the point. It wasn't that I "disliked" this short story. I actually liked it (and the others by the same author) a lot. I loved it, as a work of art, and also it induced in me an involuntary and unpleasant reaction that I would have liked to have some warning about.

Is that so unreasonable?
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby cphite » Mon May 19, 2014 6:50 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Do people not read the back of the book anymore? Or, just, yknow, put the book down if they get to a part they dislike?

Maybe trigger warnings have gotten a little out of hand.


It makes sense for highly traumatic subjects like rape, torture, and graphic violence, to have some sort of warning.

But yeah, it does seem like it's getting out of hand when a lot of people are expecting there to be warnings about any and every thing that might cause them discomfort.

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby stickler » Mon May 19, 2014 7:18 pm UTC

My initial thought is that a website could remove the need for physical trigger warnings. Like the parental guidance info on films where it says:
"Horror: A few zombies walk about near the beginning
Swear Words: People say the word shit a few times"

This is not ideal, as who wants to google every book they read? But is it more effort than categorising and marking an entire library?

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby EMTP » Mon May 19, 2014 7:25 pm UTC

Belial wrote:For informational purposes: it is a convention formulated initially to accommodate people with PTSD. The idea being that things that could commonly trigger flashbacks, anxiety attacks, and other symptoms in ptsd sufferers (descriptions of graphic or sexualized violence being the most common, as well as in-depth descriptions of relationship abuse) are labelled such that the person can either avoid the piece of media entirely, or brace themselves and not be caught off guard (it is surprising how many pieces of media have rape in them with very little warning). It has since been expanded into other areas, one of the most frequent being common phobias (spiders, heights). Arguments are had as to whether this latter is a legitimate use of the convention.

But basically, it's a way to say "there is a significant part of the population that could have a really extreme and adverse involuntary response to this, so consume with care". Consider it the mental health equivalent of "may contain traces of peanut".


Are you aware of any good evidence to suggest that trigger warnings are effective in reducing distress in persons with PTSD, or any other persons?

I don't find any medical research addressing this question with a quick search. Do you know of any?

Without making light of this disease or this idea for addressing it, as a general rule it is not a good practice to treat or palliate a mental or physical illness without some reason to believe the treatment works.

Trigger warnings in college classes would not serve the same function they do on the internet, because the students still need to address the material. Priming them by telling them they are likely to have a negative reaction could exacerbate, rather than minimize, that reaction. I say "could" because without research, we really don't know.

Another potential possible problem could be that by emphasizing the nature of the content that provokes the symptoms, rather than the pathological reaction and how to deal with it, trigger warnings could promote an external locus of control, which has a very negative effect on people's functional status.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon May 19, 2014 7:33 pm UTC

eSOANEM wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Do people not read the back of the book anymore? Or, just, yknow, put the book down if they get to a part they dislike?

Maybe trigger warnings have gotten a little out of hand.


People do that for books they're reading in their own time, but usually children don't get a choice about which books to read at school and so there's no point.


Meh. If a book does not suit you for a school assignment, I suppose it falls to you or your parents to lodge a complaint. This seems to be true regardless of if trigger warnings are a thing or not. It's not as if brief summaries of the themes and elements a book contains are new, or unique to the "trigger warning" format.

Providing more choice for assignments, well, sure, that I can get behind. That's a substantial change. I fear that all this is, though, is a fad-like following of a terminology change, without anything deeper underneath. Consider the commentary regarding the anti-abortion protestor's use of shock imagery(which was likely intentional on their part). Would the meaning be any different without the use of the particular term "trigger"? Not really. It's actually not anything like a new tactic for them, and the whole point behind it IS shocking/disturbing folks.

Whizbang wrote:Oops. Sorry.

The whole Trigger Warning thing is new to me. I don't think I ever saw one, or if I did I didn't register it, prior to a month or two ago, when I saw it in a title on this forum. I am sure it has been around a lot longer, I just didn't happen to notice it as a thing. My knee-jerk reaction was that it was just another fad/meme or something.

Sorry if I offended.


It has been around longer than that, but it is still a fairly recent trend, and only exists in certain social circles even now.

It is a fair practice to provide warnings where appropriate(links to NSFW stuff, etc), but the particular nomenclature has become a fad, and it's proliferated to be used for nearly anything, and thus, is as ripe for ridicule as the overuse of hashtags in some circles.

I am not aware of any study with regards to the use of trigger warnings in particular. Again, mostly a pop culture/fad thing, not well established science or the like.

stickler wrote:My initial thought is that a website could remove the need for physical trigger warnings. Like the parental guidance info on films where it says:
"Horror: A few zombies walk about near the beginning
Swear Words: People say the word shit a few times"

This is not ideal, as who wants to google every book they read? But is it more effort than categorising and marking an entire library?


Meh, wikipedia mostly covers this.

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Heisenberg » Mon May 19, 2014 7:58 pm UTC

Sizik wrote:Would any book that addresses racism — like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “Things Fall Apart” — have to be preceded by a note of caution?

You know, that would be awesome for parents. As Louis C.K. puts it "He won't stop saying nigger! I mean, 40 times a page! I can't just sit on my daughter's bed and say nigger all night, and then put her to sleep."

Publishers could get together and self-label, just like movies and vid-ya games do. It's just nice to know which books are about rainbows and which ones are about children being forced to graphically murder each other without reading every damn word first.

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Derek » Mon May 19, 2014 8:02 pm UTC

What if the triggering event is supposed to be a surprise and an important part of the impact of the story? What would be an appropriate way to go about warning readers who may have issues with the content, without spoiling that content for everyone?

Tyndmyr wrote:[Trigger Warning: Recursion]

See also, [Trigger Warning: Recursion]

There are some CS students who would appreciate a warning like this.

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Chen » Mon May 19, 2014 8:30 pm UTC

Derek wrote:What if the triggering event is supposed to be a surprise and an important part of the impact of the story? What would be an appropriate way to go about warning readers who may have issues with the content, without spoiling that content for everyone?


I thought the same thing when I read the post above that mentioned the suicide at the end of a story. Also would the intent be to allow students not to read the works that contained things that they feel trigger a bad reaction? I suppose adding it to the syllabus would be a decent way of doing it. Something like "this class may contain discussion about rape/torture/racism etc" so that a student would know whether or not to take the class beforehand. That wouldn't give much away necessarily, but I wonder what kind of an effect it would have on the teachers and whether or not they'd stop presenting material that included thos things. Again I go back to the comment about the short story with suicide in it. If the syllabus had to mention a suicide trigger warning in that class, would it affect the number of students who took it? Would that kead to more and more professors not teaching those subjects? Or maybe the opposite. You'd have the people who want to feel edgy and cool take the class with all the trigger warnings making it so that profs are MORE likely to teach the more controversial works.

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby KrytenKoro » Mon May 19, 2014 8:42 pm UTC

Here at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in March there was a confrontation when a group of anti-abortion protesters held up graphic pictures of aborted fetuses and a pregnant professor of feminist studies tried to destroy the posters, saying they triggered a sense of fear in her. After she was arrested on vandalism, battery and robbery charges, more than 1,000 students signed a petition of support for her, saying the university should impose greater restrictions on potentially trigger-inducing content. (So far, the faculty senate has promised to address the concerns raised by the petition and the student government but has not made any policy changes.)


This is where I feel trigger warnings have been taken way too far.

Regardless of whether their argument is particularly valid, the information/message they're trying to communicate is "if you do X, it will result in negative outcome Y, so don't do X".

Spreading trigger warnings to the extent of "I don't want to be aware of negative outcome Y when I do X" is destroying most of the purpose of communication in the first place. I think there's a big difference between some HBO drama that decides to throw in random rape for shits and giggles, and someone actually trying to communicate "here's why you shouldn't do X". I can agree with trigger warnings for literature and entertainment, intended as warnings (even if it's effectively censorship), but not to the point of outright banning or Bowdlerizing history or communication.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Weeks » Mon May 19, 2014 8:56 pm UTC

How is the quoted bit relevant to your argument? Not allowing graphic pictures of aborted fetuses is not exactly bowdlerizing history.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby KrytenKoro » Mon May 19, 2014 9:40 pm UTC

Weeks wrote:How is the quoted bit relevant to your argument? Not allowing graphic pictures of aborted fetuses is not exactly bowdlerizing history.

'cause she didn't just protest that they had triggered her, she tried to destroy the message itself, claiming that communication whose overt message was "what happens when you do X is bad" made her feel fear at that bad stuff.

I'm totally okay with adding more communication, a la the traditional trigger warning, even though it technically amounts to censorship very similar to the MPAA or ESRB, but using it to not only warn but actually ban is crossing a line.

I mean, the way she handled it sounds very similar to not just providing a trigger warning for a movie or forum thread, but actively burning every copy of the movie or deleting the threads. That's too far, especially when, as with the protest, we're not just talking about entertainment but political speech.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby cphite » Mon May 19, 2014 10:21 pm UTC

Weeks wrote:How is the quoted bit relevant to your argument? Not allowing graphic pictures of aborted fetuses is not exactly bowdlerizing history.


Because the woman in question decided that since the posters triggered her, that she was entitled to destroy them and prevent them from being displayed to anyone - committing vandalism, battery and robbery in the process - and more than 1,000 students signed a petition supporting her on that and calling for greater restrictions on potentially trigger inducing content.

That's an example of it going too far.

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Diadem » Mon May 19, 2014 11:22 pm UTC

Walking around showing graphic pictures of dead fetuses in an attempt to harass women into surrendering control over their own bodies is going to far.

Even in the US with their overly broad free-speech laws there is such a thing as 'fighting words' that are not protected by the 1st amendment. I don't know if such harassment meets the legal definition of that, but even if it doesn't it probably should. And even if it should be legally allowed, that hardly makes it any less reprehensible.

A little vigilantism against that, meh, it's perhaps not the best approach, but I can't say I'm going to lose any sleep over it.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Derek » Mon May 19, 2014 11:31 pm UTC

Wikipedia wrote:Fighting words are written or spoken words, generally expressed to incite hatred or violence from their target.

This doesn't sound like "fighting words" to me. They weren't intended to provoke hate or violence in the audience. They were intended to provoke sadness or disgust.

Would you have a problem with anti-war demonstrators showing pictures of amputees, or dead children? I think the situations are comparable, and I would certainly allow both.

I think an example of "fighting words" would be a poster saying "Thank God for dead soldiers" at a soldier's funerals. However, even this has been allowed in most jurisdictions.

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby somehow » Mon May 19, 2014 11:34 pm UTC

cphite wrote:Because the woman in question decided that since the posters triggered her, that she was entitled to destroy them and prevent them from being displayed to anyone - committing vandalism, battery and robbery in the process - and more than 1,000 students signed a petition supporting her on that and calling for greater restrictions on potentially trigger inducing content.

That's an example of it going too far.


Even if that is an example of it going too far, that's neither what's being discussed in the article in the OP nor what most people who would like trigger warnings incorporated into academic contexts are trying to make happen. Students are saying, "Hey, could you let us know when you're going to ask us to read things that are likely to trigger some people, so that we have some warning before getting into potentially panic attack-inducing situations?" Here's what they're not saying: "Hey, could you let us know when you're going to ask us to read things that are likely to trigger some people, so that we can get them banned from ever being assigned as homework?"

I'm not saying I doubt the story about the Santa Barbara professor. I just don't see how it's particularly relevant. Why are we focusing on this edge case? It's as though someone's said, "Hey, wouldn't it be good if we put labels on food products that contain dairy so that lactose-intolerant people don't have to eat a little bit and make themselves sick to find out that something contains lactose?" and gotten the response, "Yeah, but there was this one lactose-intolerant person who tried to get food companies to reveal which foods have dairy in them so that they could BAN DAIRY!"
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby EMTP » Mon May 19, 2014 11:38 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:Walking around showing graphic pictures of dead fetuses in an attempt to harass women into surrendering control over their own bodies is going to far.


I don't see how showing a picture of the expected outcome of an abortion constitutes "harassment."

If it does, it would seem that we should bar pictures of shot, burned, and bombed people from antiwar demonstrations. We would also of course bar the picture of people shot from gun control demonstrations. No pictures of homeless people with untreated cancer at demonstrations in favor of universal health insurance. And so on.

The fact that you regard the abortion debate as "women into surrendering control over their own bodies" doesn't strengthen your case for banning political speech you dislike. In essence what you seem to be claiming is "I'm so right, and my opponents are so wrong, that my opponents should have their freedom of speech curtailed, because their opinions are offensive and obviously wrong."

Even in the US with their overly broad free-speech laws there is such a thing as 'fighting words' that are not protected by the 1st amendment. I don't know if such harassment meets the legal definition of that, but even if it doesn't it probably should. And even if it should be legally allowed, that hardly makes it any less reprehensible.

A little vigilantism against that, meh, it's perhaps not the best approach, but I can't say I'm going to lose any sleep over it.


By all means, let's live in a society where people can physically assault demonstrators they find offensive. That in no way could come back and bite feminists in the ass.

somehow wrote:Even if that is an example of it going too far, that's neither what's being discussed in the article in the OP nor what most people who would like trigger warnings incorporated into academic contexts are trying to make happen. Students are saying, "Hey, could you let us know when you're going to ask us to read things that are likely to trigger some people, so that we have some warning before getting into potentially panic attack-inducing situations?" Here's what they're not saying: "Hey, could you let us know when you're going to ask us to read things that are likely to trigger some people, so that we can get them banned from ever being assigned as homework?"


The discussion in the source cited does seem to move rather quickly from tagging brutal murder and rape to tagging "racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression" as well as, of course, dead fetuses and men in their underwear. That is no doubt part of the journalist's strategy to interest and provoke, but it reflects how some people see the purpose of these codes.

Once we are asking professors to place trigger warnings on cissexism and ableism, we have ventured away from the original mandate of preventing panic attacks in people with PTSD. If ableism causes you to have a panic attack, I doubt you are functional enough to attend college.

If a policy were focused narrowly on common triggers of panic attacks in people with PTSD, it might be helpful. But you obviously can't trigger-warning anything that might possibly offend anybody, and if you try the policy ends up reflecting the prevailing political climate in the institution -- which in the academic setting means trigger warnings on transgressions of p0litical c0rrectness (an introduction of trigger warnings to the House of Representatives, for example, would look very different (Trigger Warning: Kenyan Socialist Marxist Job-killing Death-empaneled Healthcare).) Even if all of the Duke lacrosse team is diagnosed with PTSD after being falsely accused of rape, no one is going to require a trigger warning on accusations of rape.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Weeks » Mon May 19, 2014 11:52 pm UTC

How lenient are people/laws in the US about graphic pictures of anything when used in protests? Is there a point where people go, "wow, that's really uncalled for, don't show real decapitations in broad banners please"?
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby gmalivuk » Mon May 19, 2014 11:56 pm UTC

EMTP wrote:Are you aware of any good evidence to suggest that trigger warnings are effective in reducing distress in persons with PTSD, or any other persons?

I don't find any medical research addressing this question with a quick search. Do you know of any?

Without making light of this disease or this idea for addressing it, as a general rule it is not a good practice to treat or palliate a mental or physical illness without some reason to believe the treatment works.
What the actual fuck are you even talking about? Who is saying trigger warnings are treatments? I've certainly never heard of them that way.

The peanut warning on ingredients lists isn't intended to treat peanut allergies, it's meant to let people with peanut allergies know they'll want to avoid the food. Or have an epi pen ready if that's how they roll.

Similarly, trigger warnings are just to allow people to make informed decisions about whether and how to approach a piece of media.

(And, again like allergies, we're not saying literally everything that might bother anyone whatsoever ought to have a trigger warning attached, just as no one expects foods to list allergy warnings for every single substance a bit of food has ever come into contact with.)
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby EMTP » Tue May 20, 2014 12:14 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
What the actual fuck are you even talking about?


Why do I have the feeling that if I treated you with the same level of courtesy and respect with which you are treating me, I'd be bounced out of here so fast I'd have whiplash? Why in the actual fuck are you melting down over a polite little request for some supporting evidence?

The peanut warning on ingredients lists isn't intended to treat peanut allergies, it's meant to let people with peanut allergies know they'll want to avoid the food. Or have an epi pen ready if that's how they roll.

Similarly, trigger warnings are just to allow people to make informed decisions about whether and how to approach a piece of media.


Interesting analogy, since food allergies are quite well studied, and in this study, for example, it was found that early exposure to peanut products was associated with a 90% reduction in the incidence of peanut allergies. So preventing exposures to the provocative thing is not always a good idea -- in fact, it can create more problems than it solves.

So the question is (still) if the purpose of trigger warnings is to help people with PTSD, do they work? Do they reduce panic attacks, or subjective distress, or do they do nothing, or do harm?

I'm sorry if this question offends your delicate sense of needing to know the right answer with no actual data.

Weeks wrote:How lenient are people/laws in the US about graphic pictures of anything when used in protests? Is there a point where people go, "wow, that's really uncalled for, don't show real decapitations in broad banners please"?


No, not really. The relevant case law is National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie. If you can't ban Nazis, there's not much you can ban.

This is a function of the nature of our Constitution, our government and our traditions as a nation. It may or may not be the best way, but it's how we do it. YMMV.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby gmalivuk » Tue May 20, 2014 12:30 am UTC

EMTP wrote:Do they reduce panic attacks, or subjective distress, or do they do nothing, or do harm?
Are you seriously demanding data for the claim that letting a rape survivor choose to avoid graphic depictions of rape will likely reduce their panic or subjective stress?
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Belial » Tue May 20, 2014 12:33 am UTC

More broadly, do you require data in order to be courteous and considerate to other people, especially upon request?
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby EMTP » Tue May 20, 2014 12:43 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
EMTP wrote:Do they reduce panic attacks, or subjective distress, or do they do nothing, or do harm?
Are you seriously demanding data for the claim that letting a rape survivor choose to avoid graphic depictions of rape will likely reduce their panic or subjective stress?


Yes, I am. In God we trust, all others bring data.

If you are saying that people suffering from PTSD (diagnosis #1) suffer from panic attacks (diagnosis #2) when exposed to ableism (one edge case) or rape (on the other edge), and that trigger warnings will reduce/prevent this, then you should have or at least be in pursuit of some evidence that this will be helpful in some way.

The history of healthcare -- both for psychological and physical conditions -- is replete with examples of things people thought would help, but which turned out to be useless or even harmful (Critical Incident Stress Debriefings, for example.)

When you are placing trigger warnings on a website, the stakes are lower, consumption of content is voluntary, so the effectiveness, or not, is not a big deal. When you are talking about placing a new administrative burden on tens of thousands of college instructors, and exposing a much larger group of people to these warnings in such a way they they can't avoid them, and in supplying the warnings in a context where it may not be feasible, or even advisable, to avoid the content, the need for some evidence of benefit is more acute.

Belial wrote:More broadly, do you require data in order to be courteous and considerate to other people, especially upon request?


Where you are talking about placing required warnings on racism, "classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression" you have gone a bit beyond being courteous or considerate.

Part of feminism or anti-racism is making society more aware of the experience of traditionally marginalized groups. I think considering how material affects people who have been traumatized or whose perspectives has been traditionally marginalized is important and valuable. I just don't know if a sweeping mandate to slap trigger warnings on things is really helpful or wise.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby gmalivuk » Tue May 20, 2014 12:52 am UTC

You weren't asking about classism before, though, you were talking about people with PTSD.

And something can make people more comfortable even when its absence wouldn't literally lead to panic attacks, in which case it's still worth doing that thing.

Absent hard data (which you obviously have zero of, either), I'm willing to listen to what real live trauma survivors say. And what real live trauma survivors tend to say is that they appreciate trigger warnings and have generally more pleasent days when there are content warnings on the media they consume.

(Including, as you may have noticed, people in this thread whose lived experiences you've decided to completely ignore.)
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby EMTP » Tue May 20, 2014 1:11 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:You weren't asking about classism before, though, you were talking about people with PTSD.

And something can make people more comfortable even when its absence wouldn't literally lead to panic attacks, in which case it's still worth doing that thing.


I was talking about people with PTSD because that was the justification advanced for introducing mandatory trigger warnings to college courses. I was talking about classism because one of the proposed codes would require trigger warnings on classism. If you see a major lacuna in the argument between the former and the latter, I share your skepticism.

It might be more worth doing if it made people more comfortable; that's why I suggested reduced distress as another possible endpoint to measure the effectiveness of these policies.

But will a policy of mandatory trigger warnings make people more comfortable? It might, or it might make the content more unpleasant because you have primed the students to find the content distressing and/or offensive.

On a website, you can simply avoid the triggering content, but it's not clear how that work work with, say, Shakespeare. Are professors required to design and make available an alternative curriculum? If so, will the people making use of it feel singled out? What sources of distress merit inclusion? If you have a spider phobia, will pictures of spiders have warnings? If only some kinds of distressing content get tagged, which ones? And why?

Further complicating matters is that education is an inherently uncomfortable process. You are stretching your brain to accommodate new ideas and perspectives. That can be difficult and taxing. Immediately applying 21st century standards of offensiveness to a text before even experiencing the text itself may not be the best way to engage with it.

This might be worth doing in our colleges, but I don't think it is obviously and self-evidently worth doing to a point where we don't look at the costs and the benefits.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue May 20, 2014 3:28 am UTC

Weeks wrote:How lenient are people/laws in the US about graphic pictures of anything when used in protests? Is there a point where people go, "wow, that's really uncalled for, don't show real decapitations in broad banners please"?


There is a point of inappropriateness and a point of illegality. These are not the same point, as so vividly demonstrated by the Westboro folks, who routinely ignore the guidelines of good taste.

I, personally, am not fond of seeing pictures of aborted fetuses. However, not all of society is about what I like, and it would be incredibly self centered of me to think otherwise. Sometimes, other people are going to say things, or display things I dislike...and that's not wrong, or illegal, nor should it be.

This applies even to things I feel very strongly about. I am *very* adamantly pro-gun, but I wouldn't advocate a removal of first amendment rights for the "wrong" team. That's...absolutely the opposite of freedom, and it's bound to go horribly, horribly wrong when you go down that path. It is not enough to protect the freedom of people like you. Most folks want that, and it is no great achievement. Rights are things so vital they must be extended even to those you disagree with, and who are unlike you.

EMTP wrote:
The peanut warning on ingredients lists isn't intended to treat peanut allergies, it's meant to let people with peanut allergies know they'll want to avoid the food. Or have an epi pen ready if that's how they roll.

Similarly, trigger warnings are just to allow people to make informed decisions about whether and how to approach a piece of media.


Interesting analogy, since food allergies are quite well studied, and in this study, for example, it was found that early exposure to peanut products was associated with a 90% reduction in the incidence of peanut allergies. So preventing exposures to the provocative thing is not always a good idea -- in fact, it can create more problems than it solves.


This is definitely a treatment in PTSD/various phobias as well. Desensitization via repeated exposure is definitely a known treatment.

Now, this doesn't imply that ALL exposure is a positive, of course, but it definitely calls into question the idea that all exposure is a negative.

Belial wrote:More broadly, do you require data in order to be courteous and considerate to other people, especially upon request?


Come now, what constitutes courteous and considerate is something mutable. It isn't the same in all places and times, and there is no particular reason to consider this fairly recent, unsupported, and often unknown practice to be particularly sacred. Why must one conflate the use of trigger warnings with these things?

Is it not possible to be considerate without them? Has all of humanity been irredeemably rude up until this was invented? This is a new thing, based on medical claims that have not, at least in this thread, been supported. It isn't unusual to look at new, untested treatments for anything with skepticism...especially when they have a way of being adopted as helpful for things that are only vaguely related.

How is it different from any other fad with a vaguely medical backstory?

gmalivuk wrote:And something can make people more comfortable even when its absence wouldn't literally lead to panic attacks, in which case it's still worth doing that thing.


I disagree that comfort always trumps everything else. Particularly in an educational setting, sometimes it is good to explore outside of your comfort zone a bit.

Obviously, if there's data showing actual harm, that's different, but some of this seems to be little more than "I don't like that". Welcome to college/life. You're not gonna like all of it.

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby ConMan » Tue May 20, 2014 3:59 am UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:
EMTP wrote:
The peanut warning on ingredients lists isn't intended to treat peanut allergies, it's meant to let people with peanut allergies know they'll want to avoid the food. Or have an epi pen ready if that's how they roll.

Similarly, trigger warnings are just to allow people to make informed decisions about whether and how to approach a piece of media.


Interesting analogy, since food allergies are quite well studied, and in this study, for example, it was found that early exposure to peanut products was associated with a 90% reduction in the incidence of peanut allergies. So preventing exposures to the provocative thing is not always a good idea -- in fact, it can create more problems than it solves.


This is definitely a treatment in PTSD/various phobias as well. Desensitization via repeated exposure is definitely a known treatment.

Now, this doesn't imply that ALL exposure is a positive, of course, but it definitely calls into question the idea that all exposure is a negative.

And I don't think that claim is being made. In both allergy and psychological desensitisation, the exposure is done in a controlled and consensual fashion. You don't try to cure someone's peanut allergy by shoving a peanut butter sandwich in their mouth, and you don't treat someone's fear of spiders by suddenly switching the TV they're watching to a screening of Arachnophobia.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby SecondTalon » Tue May 20, 2014 4:01 am UTC

Seriously, all I got from that was that Tyn (and maybe EMTP) wants my wife to die.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue May 20, 2014 4:02 am UTC

ConMan wrote:And I don't think that claim is being made. In both allergy and psychological desensitisation, the exposure is done in a controlled and consensual fashion. You don't try to cure someone's peanut allergy by shoving a peanut butter sandwich in their mouth, and you don't treat someone's fear of spiders by suddenly switching the TV they're watching to a screening of Arachnophobia.


And nobody is proposing that. At most, we're saying that maybe, Arachnophobia doesn't need [Trigger warning: Spiders].

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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby gmalivuk » Tue May 20, 2014 4:10 am UTC

ConMan wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:
EMTP wrote:
The peanut warning on ingredients lists isn't intended to treat peanut allergies, it's meant to let people with peanut allergies know they'll want to avoid the food. Or have an epi pen ready if that's how they roll.

Similarly, trigger warnings are just to allow people to make informed decisions about whether and how to approach a piece of media.


Interesting analogy, since food allergies are quite well studied, and in this study, for example, it was found that early exposure to peanut products was associated with a 90% reduction in the incidence of peanut allergies. So preventing exposures to the provocative thing is not always a good idea -- in fact, it can create more problems than it solves.


This is definitely a treatment in PTSD/various phobias as well. Desensitization via repeated exposure is definitely a known treatment.

Now, this doesn't imply that ALL exposure is a positive, of course, but it definitely calls into question the idea that all exposure is a negative.

And I don't think that claim is being made. In both allergy and psychological desensitisation, the exposure is done in a controlled and consensual fashion. You don't try to cure someone's peanut allergy by shoving a peanut butter sandwich in their mouth, and you don't treat someone's fear of spiders by suddenly switching the TV they're watching to a screening of Arachnophobia.

And of course one super easy way to make it more controlled and consensual would be to simply list the most common triggery content when it's portrayed in a work.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby Belial » Tue May 20, 2014 4:17 am UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Come now, what constitutes courteous and considerate is something mutable. It isn't the same in all places and times, and there is no particular reason to consider this fairly recent, unsupported, and often unknown practice to be particularly sacred. Why must one conflate the use of trigger warnings with these things?

Is it not possible to be considerate without them? Has all of humanity been irredeemably rude up until this was invented?


Here's how courtesy works, and why your wide-eyed "oh noes have we been rude for centuries" disingenuousness doesn't fly: when people start asking you to do something that doesn't harm you and makes their lives much, much more easy and comfortable, that is the point when you get to decide whether to be courteous and considerate. Before that point, you weren't being discourteous because you hadn't been asked. However, at the point where a group of rape and trauma survivors come up to you and ask "hey, could you please tag this shit so I don't have to worry about having a fucking meltdown in the middle of class when I'm blindsided by it?" you have to make a choice. Do a basically trivial thing to make people who have already had shitty experiences slightly more comfortable in a hostile society OR have a privilege-tantrum and refuse to do it because it irritates you that any tiny aspect of society might exist to accommodate needs other than your own.

This isn't about the weight of history or tradition. It's about people asking you to be slightly human to others at no cost to yourself. This should not even be a question, and the fact that it is reflects poorly.
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Re: [Trigger warning: classic literature]

Postby EMTP » Tue May 20, 2014 4:35 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:And of course one super easy way to make it more controlled and consensual would be to simply list the most common triggery content when it's portrayed in a work.


How would that work, exactly? So if you're a military vet triggered by war, you put a trigger on "The Hurt Locker," obviously. Do you put one on "War & Peace"? Or something in the middle, like "The Things They Carried"?

If we decide that rape is a trigger (one of the most reasonable things to target, IMO), do we trigger "Lolita" for statutory rape? Do we trigger the Bible? Do we trigger books with implied rape, like "The Forsyte Saga"? If we trigger that, do we trigger the whole novel, or just the offending chapters?

And, the $64,000 question, what do we do with the information that content X triggers student Y? Alternate curriculum, drop the class without penalty, extra time on exams to grapple with your reaction, excused from that content (somehow)?

And then there is the problem that this sort of offending content is common in literature, history, and the social sciences.

Take this (inherently arbitrary) list of the top ten most important novels:

ULYSSES by James Joyce
THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN by James Joyce
LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler
SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence
THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck

Offhand, I can't think of any one of these that wouldn't need a trigger warning of some sort.

I suspect that if you did try to "simply list the most common triggery content when it's portrayed in a work" you'd end up with a generic statement appended to every syllabus to the effect of "Some or all of the works herein may contain explicit and disturbing subject matter including but not limited to rape, assault, murder, war, suicide, & sundry tragic and horrific things."
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