For years, trigger warnings have sparked heated debates across college campuses. In fact, these warnings, which give students advance notice of potentially anxiety-inducing content in class readings or lectures, have elicited discord within our own community. Though segments of our faculty and student body deny the necessity of trigger warnings, I believe these warnings facilitate a productive and empathetic academic and social environment.
Trigger warnings, for students who have experienced traumatic events or are working through mental health issues, can prevent a potentially panic-filled day. Not only can triggering readings or lectures, if presented without advance notice, interfere with a student’s concentration during the class period, they can also have a negative intellectual and emotional impact that persists beyond the given lecture. Though critics of these warnings assert students must face their fears eventually, it is not our business to dictate when or how people choose to heal. If certain triggers have the potential to severely interfere with students’ well-being, it is irresponsible to intentionally expose students to these feared topics.
Not only can trigger warnings improve the academic environment; they often also lead to more empathetic and informed social climates on college campuses. Trigger warnings encourage even unaffected students to pause and consider the severity of the issues being discussed and how traumatic events and mental health play an integral part in many of their peers’ lives. In turn, this better understanding often leads to respectful conversations about these issues in social situations rather than fights sparked by insensitive remarks and uninformed commentary.
Trigger warnings have the potential to improve the college experience for all students in terms of both academic and social learning. Though opponents often cite trigger warnings as causes of weakness and ignorance, in reality they create an environment where both strong character and intellect can develop. The presence of trigger warnings at Kenyon has helped cultivate the welcoming and understanding community that is a hallmark of the College.
Hayley Yussman ’18 is an English and political science major from River Forest, Ill. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.