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Warnings Trigger a Better Classroom Experience

Trigger Warnings create a safer experience for students sensitive to disturbing materials

By Holly Vogtman

Staff Writer

Trigger warnings are making their way to college universities after having a strong presence in the Internet world on websites and blogs. This is a positive addition to the syllabi because some students have experienced traumatic events in their life that cannot sit through a class that centers around those themes.

Trigger warnings were once just a sub-heading on a blog or website that featured disturbing material, but they  are now appearing on syllabi at some universities to create a safer, more productive classroom learning environment.

Trigger warnings are disclaimers located somewhere on a syllabus that warn students of specific content in the course that could be disturbing and induce some kind of stress or traumatic experience.

For students that suffer from PTSD, have experienced some kind of violence or sexual crime against them or have suffered other psychological trauma, trigger warnings on syllabi create awareness of certain material for students.

Their presence on syllabi is unobtrusive and in no way forces a change of content or material for professors; they.They simply present a warning for certain classes that students are expected to handle in their own personal way, whether that means going to class or missing.

Katie Adams, a junior visual arts and media and communications studies double major, thinks trigger warnings have their benefits. “You never know what someone’s been through or what they have an issue with. When you let them know ahead of time they can prepare themselves mentally or skip class and have someone take notes for them,” she said.

Some believe that trigger warnings are unnecessary “outs” that students will take advantage of and are part of a slippery slope that will create a world full of warnings and disclaimers everywhere you go.

However, trigger warnings are starting to be used in many universities currently including, University of California, Santa Barbara, Scripps College and Oberlin College.

The student leaders at the University of California, Santa Barbara passed a resolution that encouraged officials to make warnings on syllabi mandatory for professors. This resolution was sparked by Bailey Loverin, a student who experienced a situation in class where she felt obligated to watch a film that depicted a sexual assault and a graphic rape scene, and she did not want to cause a scene by leaving early.

This kind of example is why a history professor, Angus Johnston, at Hostos Community College of the City of New York has implemented trigger words in his syllabus.

Johnston said on his blog, “First, it’s a shared space … that fact imposes interpersonal obligations on us that don’t exist between writer and reader. Second, it’s an interactive space — it’s a conversation, not a monologue, and I have a responsibility to encourage that conversation as best I can.”

A university classroom should be a safe place where students feel comfortable and excited to share their thoughts and opinions on various topics and ideas.Trigger warnings only facilitate a more positive classroom experience as they serve as precaution to students sensitive to disturbing, stress-inducing content.

The warnings do not force a change in course already planned by the professor, nor do they impact other students not affected by disturbing material. They are quiet, unobtrusive disclaimers located in the syllabus to produce a healthy and positive learning environment.