Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 16, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsMind Matters

Trigger warnings should not be used as they prevent growth

An unpopular opinion at Ithaca College: I do not like trigger warnings, and I do not agree with their popular use.

I must first address that I write this with a background of experiences that could potentially be triggered, in the definition tied to warnings, especially in articles related to mental health. I think most people do in one way or another. Intellectually, I understand the desire for trigger warnings to prevent bringing up upsetting thoughts and feelings. In practice, though, they are ineffective and often counterproductive.

The most common argument against trigger warnings is that our generation is too sensitive, that we are a group of hothouse orchids that have been sheltered from the world. While I do agree that some of our general population here at the college has been protected from the harsh realities of the world, I don’t think reinforcing bred sensitivity is enough of an argument. Trigger warnings prevent learning, growth and understanding.

Shared experiences are impeded by trigger warnings. When people see the words “trigger warning” at the top of an article, with a topic related to an experience they have had, it will in many cases prevent them from continuing to read. In the action of stopping, this person has also avoided engagement with the author’s story, perspective and reaction. Shared experience can often help individuals cope and gain understanding, but readers lose this potential aid if they fear they will be triggered by the content.

Trigger warnings prevent open dialogue, an important part of education on a college campus. In the classroom, when trigger warnings are presented, students are essentially placed in a safety net. They are allowed to drop out of a conversation because the topic may or may not stir up upsetting feelings. They remain unchallenged. Individuals should certainly feel safe in their learning environments, but they should also not be afraid to push their limits. Sometimes it is completely necessary to read upsetting information, to reveal realities and break our generation from this protective shell we have grown in. Learning requires people to be uncomfortable at times.

The best thing about reading is you can stop when you want. If something is triggering you, stop and close the tab. What trigger warnings do, though, is prevent people from even beginning to read. Understanding and respecting personal limits is more productive than trigger warnings that give people an out.