Vital Signs

Trigger Warnings

In a May 21, 2014, Washington Post column, Kathleen Parker alerted readers to a phenomenon in higher education termed “trigger warnings.”  These are instructional caveats offered about class assignments that may contain language, situations, or expressed political, religious, or personal philosophy that might be “upsetting” to students, thereby giving them the choice to opt out of reading or viewing or even discussing something that might discomfit them.

Parker’s position was that these trigger warnings go far beyond what one might expect, extending to areas of personal experience no one but the affected student would be aware of.  “One never knows when a sentence, phrase or word might trigger some buried memory or traumatic experience,” she writes.

She reports that universities like Rutgers, Oberlin College, George Washington, and Michigan are considering measures that would require such advisories to be issued in advance of any assignment or discussion that might disturb someone’s sensibilities.  Presumably, any objecting student could avoid the assignment or even a required class involving the material merely by claiming to be sensitive to it.

In a related piece posted at reason.com, Zach Weissmueller offered a short video featuring Bailey Loverin, a UC Santa Barbara student, campaigning for a regulation obliging professors to...

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