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Trigger Warnings in Universities

In recent months, trigger warnings have been an extremely polarizing concept that everyone seems to have an opinion on. While seemingly harmless in nature, many believe that these warnings will leave disastrous effects on the emotional and educational growth of university students. The oxford dictionary defines a Trigger Warning as “A statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, etc. alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material.” These warnings can be made in the syllabus, or on the day of the potentially distressing material. Many in academia believe that these warnings provide students with the ability to engage and learn about distressing material, while encouraging room for emotional growth. Meredith Loken of the University of Washington is one of the benefactors of trigger warnings. Dr. Loken states, “My experience is that if you give students that space, and you give them the information, they absolutely rise to the occasion.” And she’s not the only one. Professors across the country are taking a stand for their students. Ismail Muhammad of UCLA supports trigger warnings for the health and well being of his students. He recalls one incident with one of his students: “I saw his face, kind of, turn sour, I could tell he was very uncomfortable and genuinely hurt.” Dr. Muhammad believes that anything he can do to help his students should be done. But these views do not go unopposed. Many believe that trigger warnings serve only as a mechanism to coddle students, that is, to prevent or hinder one’s education, while others challenge the efficacy of these techniques. Psychology tells us that exposure to fear helps overcome anxiety. In recent weeks, more and more institutions are banning trigger warnings in an effort to encourage diversity of opinion. The University of Chicago has taken a hardline stance against trigger warnings, stating, “The members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas.” Ultimately, this issue isn’t cut and dry. There are several benefits to trigger warnings, and many have provided potential negatives.

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