Trigger warning: ignorance


author: marty scriver | contributor 


If you need a comparison, here, have a bunch of them: ingredients lists on food packaging, for people who have allergies…

Is it acceptable to make fun of people in wheelchairs? Or people with emotional service dogs? Or people with hearing aids?

No, it’s not acceptable. The people with day-to-day tools that make their life easier, and their world more accessible, should never be ridiculed for these helpful devices. Able-bodied and neurotypical people who mock their differently-abled peers for these things are in the wrong; making fun of handicaps and disabilities is something we are taught is inappropriate and cruel from a young age.

So, I must ask, why is it suddenly acceptable to make fun of “trigger warnings?”

A trigger warning is simply a notice to a viewer, reader, listener, etc. that the content they are about to encounter contains sensitive content. This might be blood, sexual violence, gore, jump scares, or any other phenomenon that may cause the audience members discomfort; therefore, the audience knows they must have discretion about what they will soon experience. Trigger warnings are a boon to people who have felt trauma in their pasts and continue to feel after-effects into the present day.

If you need a comparison, here, have a bunch of them: ingredients lists on food packaging, for people who have allergies; WHMIS stickers on chemical containers, for chemists and biologists; MPAA ratings before movies, for parents with children; instructions on prescription pill bottles, for people on medications. Do you get the point? Other forms of trigger warnings are everywhere in our lives already, and they are totally acceptable – until you get to people who need them for their mental health. It is then suddenly okay to mock folks who are uncomfortable with certain sights or subjects, and that’s disgusting.

I’ve been angry about the hate for trigger warnings online for the past few years. But, I never thought the scorn for these warnings would extend to the real world, and certainly not with serious ramifications. Yet it has. The University of Chicago (UChicago) recently released a statement to their latest group of freshmen stating that they a) “do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’” b) “do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial,” and c) “do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

What the dickens does UChicago think they are doing by telling an entire group of freshmen that their mental health needs will not be respected by faculty, staff, and administration on campus? Right off the bat, UChicago alienates some of their newbies and sends a message of intolerance. A message that a person’s traumas of yesterday make them unworthy of the university’s support today. UChicago implies students in need of trigger warnings and safe spaces, like the University of Regina Pride Centre or Women’s Centre should instead live in fear of the sensitive stimuli or topics that cause them great discomfort. This kind of stress would be a terrible burden for any student to bear, and we all know that stress can affect our schoolwork and physical health, sometimes leading to even worse conditions of the mind.

There are people who argue the only way for trauma survivors to overcome their triggers is to face them head on. The problem with this statement is simple: nobody except for the survivor gets to decide when they are ready to do this. Nobody has the right to tell someone what to do with their body (assuming this particular someone is capable of making decisions for their health. There will be exceptions, but those exceptions are for professionals to handle, not you or me!). So, I say hell no to this argument. If a person says they would like a trigger warning, then they deserve to be given that warning, for only they know the pain and trauma they may experience without a heads-up.

I could share my personal triggers if I so wished. And I bet that right now, there are readers thinking about the trigger warnings they need to see in their day-to-day life. We are lucky enough to have plenty of safe spaces and mental health advocates at the U of R. UChicago is making a huge mistake by taking an anti-trigger warning, anti-safe space stance. I can only hope that the University of Chicago has some damn good counselling services on campus for all of the students they might hurt.

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