Holdgruen: Trigger warnings crucial for students with mental illnesses

Trigger warning for college: most professors do not warn students of sensitive material in classes, which can create painful environments for students with mental illness. The idea of trigger warnings has created immense controversy for ridiculous reasons. Most people who oppose trigger warnings completely misunderstand what trigger warnings actually are.

President Barack Obama recently criticized liberal arts colleges for coddling students with political correctness and censorship. Obama used examples of professors refusing to assign books to students that contained racial slurs or were demeaning to women.

Trigger warnings are often categorized under Obama’s idea of censorship because of their misconstrued nature.

Trigger warnings are the complete opposite of censorship. Its definition is in its name—it is a warning that material contains triggering content. This content can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety attacks or general feelings of discomfort for a person who associates the trigger with traumatic experiences in their life.

Trigger warnings encourage sensitive material to be openly discussed as long as everyone who engages in the material is aware of its triggering content and accommodations can be made for students affected by triggers. Trigger warnings can simply be a short sentence next to an assignment in the syllabus or spoken briefly by the professor before a lecture. Thus, trigger warnings are virtually harmless for and can be overlooked by those who do not need them.

These warnings can prevent a rape survivor from reading explicit details of a character’s rape in an assigned book. College professors—and Obama—surely wouldn’t want to force a rape survivor to read explicit details of a fictional rape that could echo their traumatic experience. Most likely, a rape survivor can still understand the class readings and participate in discussion without necessarily having to read the explicit, triggering details in the book.

Another point anti-trigger warning supporters do not understand is that trigger warnings are almost nonexistent in our college setting. I have never been given trigger warnings in my classes at Geneseo. I have taken classes and read explicit material about rape, domestic abuse, child molestation, depression and suicide—all material that can create uncomfortable environments for students who have experienced these issues.

Never has a professor I’ve had held back on showing or discussing explicit material. Obama showed a lack of knowledge of the current college setting when he claims problematic books are removed from classrooms. In fact, I believe there are more explicit and mature-content books on syllabi than there ever was before.

The demonization of trigger warnings as censorship is due to the stigmatization of mental illness. Many people do not believe—or even care—that content in the classroom can be triggering to students. If people properly understood and respected mental illness, trigger warnings would be a no-brainer in our classrooms.

Professors at Geneseo must include information about disability accommodations in their syllabi. Geneseo administration should extend these accommodations to the classroom themselves and enforce the use of trigger warnings.

Many students who are too scared or anxious to talk about their mental illness with professors or peers will be grateful for this easy and harmless accommodation. And perhaps our campus will finally be proactive in limiting the disability the college setting places upon mentally ill students.