Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission Awareness - Education - Inspiration

To Warn or Not to Warn, That is the Question


By THGC Admin

By Luoman Huang, Social Media Intern

In 2015, new concerns and approaches to emotional health met the study of ancient texts when students at Columbia University demanding that the assigned reading of a classic Greek mythology be accompanied by a trigger warning. When a professor lectured about the beauty of the language and imagery in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which contains vivid descriptions of a rape, a student who was a victim of sexual assault began to feel distressed and uncomfortable. She reported her concerns to her professor, who dismissed and ignored her. 

Tigger warnings began on the internet as a method to warn viewers of possible disturbing and traumatic contents. It was implemented in consideration of viewers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To issue a trigger warning, authors place a warning statement at the top of blog articles and tag posts.  This allows viewers to disengage with certain contents that may produce unwanted anxieties and traumas. However, trigger warnings are no longer exclusive to the Internet. In fact, as with the Columbia University example, students are now advocating for the application of trigger warnings in classrooms. They want their professors to issue warnings during lectures before diving into potentially distressing topics. The trigger warning movement has fueled serious debate regarding intellectual growth versus emotional protection.

Proponents argued that trigger warnings are especially important for students with PTSD. These individuals often require time to mentally prepare themselves before reading certain materials. Trigger warnings allow students to manage their reactions and may help suppress unpleasant flashbacks. Without warnings, certain contents may induce panic attacks or intense reactions in students. These involuntarily reactions often render students unable to focus and think, despite their determination to do so. Thus, proponents argued that providing warnings may help counteract students’ inabilities. They concluded that trigger warnings in classroom should be used in consideration of students with traumatic pasts and that elimination of such warnings may prove harmful.

Conversely, opponents argue that trigger warnings started as an elective label to identify graphic contents; however, they have morphed into a culture of hypersensitivity and paranoia about giving offense. A central counterargument is that trigger warnings create “safe spaces” where students are shielded from ideas that make them uncomfortable. College is supposed to challenge students’ moral beliefs and thinking, but instead it is focus on protecting students from psychological harm. Trigger warnings have become more about censoring unconventional ideas rather than protecting traumatic students. Opponents concluded that preventing students from thinking differently may poorly prepare them for professional life, which requires constant engagement with people of different opinions.

The debate about trigger warnings is likely to become more prominent in educational institutions in coming years. It is important to recognize these arguments so that proper decisions can be made when issussing trigger warnings. There are no formulas to avoid its misuse, but educators and students can use their experience and judgement when considering which content may be harmful to others.

Tags: tigger warning trigger warnings texas universities higher education education metamorphoses greek mythology college ptsd ovid


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