Wednesday, September 17, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Should professors issue ‘trigger warnings’ before class?

“Trigger warnings” have long been a staple of feminist discourse – a way to let people know, particularly, if a depiction of or explicit discussion of rape was about to take place, so as to let survivors with post-traumatic stress disorder remove themselves from the conversation if needed.

Now, though, there’s a movement afoot to bring “trigger warning” into everyday discussions – including college classes.

Are everyday trigger warnings a sign we’re becoming too sensitive? Or are they the right thing to do? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the Red-Blue America columnists, debate the issue.

Ben Boychuk

College isn’t for everyone. Neither is Christianity. Neither is Judaism. Neither is life in our increasingly frivolous postmodern age. “Triggers” are everywhere.

For example, if you aren’t comfortable with reading about murder, rape, conquest, human sacrifice, animal sacrifice and genocide, you probably shouldn’t read the Old Testament of the Bible – even though it’s on the required list of a couple of major world religions and most college humanities courses.

In fact, just stay away from books generally. Most great literature is bound to “trigger” some uncomfortable feelings, because any literature worth reading confronts uncomfortable questions and disturbing truths. Great literature will also delight and enlighten. But the reality is, most great literature isn’t “The Little Engine that Could” and “Skippyjon Jones.”

Liberal education – truly liberal education, an education that aims to prepare students to deal with a complex, diverse and sometimes hostile world – cannot abide “trigger warnings.” Liberal education isn’t therapy.

What we find on many university campuses today, therefore, is not liberal education at all. But there are still places – islands of free inquiry – where the liberal tradition survives.

Author and Baylor University humanities professor Alan Jacobs rejects the whole idea of trigger warnings as “hopelessly misbegotten.”

“If you want to be a good teacher, in any environment,” Jacobs writes, “you have to be willing to prepare your students for what you assign them.” Building a mutual sense of trust is crucial, but that trust is undermined with simplistic labeling.

“A list of troublesome ‘topics’ . . . is an utter trivialization of all these matters,” he argued at his blog, Text Patterns. “Any teachers who think that they have met their moral responsibilities to students by loading their syllabuses with such tags – and any institutions who find such tags adequate – have grossly misunderstood what education is.”

Exactly right. When college campuses are fretting over how classroom content may contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder and undermine mental health, they’ve drifted far from their mission to spread knowledge of what the poet Matthew Arnold called “the best that has been said and thought in the world.” They’ve become giant, overpriced insane asylums.

Joel Mathis

Everybody, just calm down.

The binary nature of this column – Ben Boychuk takes a position, I usually take its opposite, hilarity and debate ensue – often reduces the number of options we discuss in public down to two. But the question shouldn’t be “trigger warnings or no trigger warnings?”

The better question is: How do we best approach sensitive topics? The most sensible answer to that question is: It depends. Context matters.

Trigger warnings first emerged in feminist discussion groups, not because of namby-pamby oversensitivity, but because a number of people joining those discussions were rape survivors. Rather than offer up upsetting descriptions or discussions of rape – no matter how appropriate – the person initiating the conversation said, in essence: “This is what I intend to discuss and how I intend to discuss it. You’re welcome to walk away if you need to.” It was not an unreasonable approach.

It’s called knowing your audience. At bare minimum, it’s called being polite.

We have “trigger warnings” of all kinds placed throughout society. You probably think twice before taking your kid to a movie that’s rated R. You might even glance at the content descriptions on HBO – “Adult content” “Partial nudity” – before making a decision to watch.

One needn’t advocate trigger warnings to realize that few wise professors would ever push literature or art onto students without some preparation for what they’ll find inside. “Here’s the writings of the Marquis de Sade, kids! Good luck!” never happens. Such preparation may not rise to the level of trigger warning, exactly, but it does offer information and context – precisely what a good education is supposed to do, anyway.

One doesn’t have to spit on sensitivity to defend free speech, but neither is extreme deference required. Context matters, and so does a willingness to simply be respectful to each other. Why don’t we try that before we start inventing, or tearing down, new rules?

Ben Boychuk (bboychuk@city-journal.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis (joelmmathis@gmail.com) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.

Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 1 comment

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • The MisterMay 23, 2014 - 6:57 am

    Ben Boychuk said that Christianity isn't for everyone. What a dimwit you are, Boychuk. Jesus died for everyone's sins... thus, Christianity IS for everyone. On the other hand, not everyone is for Christianity... but that's their choice.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

David Grant doctor’s mission continues

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
 
Chamber PAC draws candidates to Jelly Belly

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A2 | Gallery

 
Damaged dog gets going-away party after getting healthy

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Police enlist help to find armed bandit

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A4, 11 Comments | Gallery

 
 
Suisun City slaying suspect case moves forward

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

Touro University to host Zombie Run/Walk

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

 
Land trust organizes Rockville Trails Preserve hike

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A4

 
 
Suisun police to host medication take-back

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A5

Chamber to host Suisun City candidates night

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A5

 
Coastal Cleanup Day targets local waterways

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Judge questions juror in Calkins case

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A6

Drama reigns supreme with week’s film debuts

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A7

 
Anti-drug programs face funding shortfall

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A8

 
Suisun City police log: Sept. 13, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Fairfield police log: Sept. 13, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Fairfield police log: Sept. 14, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Fairfield police log: Sept. 15, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Suisun City police log: Sept. 15, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12, 1 Comment

Suisun City police log: Sept. 14, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Weather for Sept. 17, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: B14

.

US / World

Woman in wildfire’s path lost almost everything

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Lumber town takes stock after wind-driven wildfire

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1 | Gallery

PG&E officials leave posts over improper emails

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8 | Gallery

 
Governor signs first California groundwater rules

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Things to know about California groundwater law

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
California drivers must give bikes 3-foot buffer

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9 | Gallery

San Francisco trying shaming for quake safety

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
UN: Nearly $1 billion needed now to stop Ebola

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

CDC study: Americans’ bellies are expanding fast

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

 
Blacks, Hispanics have doubts about media accuracy

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

School bus driver killed during safety drill

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Hunt on for survivalist charged in trooper killing

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Robbery suspects tried to make off with $15,600

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Top general: US ground troops possible in Iraq

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Obama: Ebola outbreak a threat to global security

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Afghan suicide bomber kills 3 foreign troops

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

Mexico airlifts tourists after Hurricane Odile

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
Ukraine lawmakers ratify landmark deal with Europe

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13 | Gallery

Iraq parliament rejects interior, defense nominees

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
.

Opinion

Brown dons rose-tinted glasses for look backward

By Dan Walters | From Page: A11

 
Time for utility execs to start worrying

By Thomas Elias | From Page: A11

Editorial cartoons for Sept. 17, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
Climate change: Complacent vs. apocalyptic

By John M. Crisp | From Page: A11

 
Column focus on campaign signs misplaced

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 12 Comments

.

Living

Today in History: Sept. 17, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: Sept. 17, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

My selfish husband neglects and cheats on me. What’s next?

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B5

 
Horoscopes: Sept. 17, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

All the flavors of fall in one twice-baked package

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Leave them feeling full with nutritious chia seeds

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

A late summer Southern classic – tomato pie

By Elizabeth Karmel | From Page: B6

 
.

Entertainment

CBS: Rihanna out of NFL telecast

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Leonardo DiCaprio named UN Messenger of Peace

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

.

Sports

Kazmir, sloppy Athletics lose 6-3 to Rangers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Armijo volleyball team falls to Vintage

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B1

Peavy, Posey help Giants gain ground in NL West

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Prep volleyball preview: Big goals for city teams

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Raiders games are like live reruns

By Tony Wade | From Page: B1

 
Sacramento Kings to retire Stojakovic’s jersey

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Broncos, Seahawks top AP Pro32 before rematch

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Union appeals Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension by NFL

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Jaguars sign Rodriguez grad Jensen off practice squad

By Staff and wire reports | From Page: B2

 
Short stay at NASCAR’s party for AJ and Almirola

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Hindsight: a Ryder Cup tradition, like no other

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Senator ties NFL tax status to Redskins name

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

DA: Josh Gordon gets probation in DWI case in NC

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Anheuser-Busch, McDonald’s voice NFL disapproval

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Criticism mounting for Vikings, Adrian Peterson

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
McIlroy wins PGA player of the year award

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Grand jury to weigh case of NASCAR’s Tony Stewart

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
49ers defense looks to bounce back from tough day

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9 | Gallery

.

Business

NASA picks Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronauts

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Web filter lifts block on gay sites

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Alibaba risk: China’s rise leaves out investors

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Corinthian Colleges sued for predatory lending

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

UPS expects to hire up to 95,000 seasonal workers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
US CEOs less optimistic about hiring, spending

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

.

Obituaries

Margaret King

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Minnie Watkins Dixon

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5