Sisterhood Blog

Where Do Trigger Warnings Belong?

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share

Thinkstock

Trigger warnings in academia, the idea that professors should flag, in advance, potentially traumatizing content for students, are a subject of hot debate this week after a series of articles on the topic showed up big venues. Content that might provoke a trigger warning include rape, violence, and historical atrocities like lynchings, slavery, even the Holocaust. Of course, it would be hard to conduct many history, film, literature and other classes without lingering on such topics now and then.

Trigger warnings originated on the web, where social justice-y folks as well as rape and abuse survivors used them to tip each other off to content that might set each other off.

Yet not all feminists feel the same way about them. I used to feel like a bad feminist when I got occasionally exhausted or irritated by the overuse of the phrase Trigger Warning (also by the exclamation “This is Not. Okay” and other hyperbolic lingo) Trigger warnings, like much progressive jargon (see “check your privilege”) originate by standing for something brilliant–of course we should be as upfront about potentially upsetting content as possible–but through overuse can end up as a substitute for real thinking, even a movement away from the dialogue and back-and-forths that signal progress.

Yet their defenders say they foster dialogue rather than shutting it down. Explaining trigger warnings as originally intended, Laurie Penny writes that there is no reason to cry “censorship!”

A trigger warning is a simple, empathic shorthand designed to facilitate discussions of taboo topics in safe spaces. What it absolutely is not is a demand that all literature be censored to ensure that moaning feminists and leftists are not “offended.”

On the other side, Brittney Cooper, a feminist and anti-racist professor and thinker extraordinaire, says engagement rather than avoidance is the way to go. She warns that religiously conservative students might claim to be “triggered” by LGBT or sexual content, for instance. And she notes that students in cultural, racial or gender minorities are already in “unsafe” spaces, cloistered in classrooms with ignorant or bigoted peers.

To me, such an orientation to the world – the desire for endless comfort – is an untenable educational proposition. Encountering material that you have never encountered before, being challenged and learning strategies for both understanding and engaging the material is what it means to get an education.

I come down somewhere in the middle, as I usually do with these heated debates. Certainly, reasonable warnings about graphic violence are useful and considerate. And I’d even argue that trigger warnings make some sense on Twitter and Tumblr communities, when articles don’t have headlines and ledes, and when readers, scrolling through an endless stream of content, may not know what’s floating up on their screens. But at schools, syllabi are available, as are course descriptions. They allow students to understand what they’re about to encounter.

What’s required isn’t a blanket policy one way or another but a willingness for students and professors to be in dialogue, rather than confrontation. As Cooper writes, “trigger warnings won’t solve or ameliorate the problems that open, frank, guided discussion by well-trained, competent instructors can.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: trigger warnings, academia, Jewish, Holocaust

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.