Friday, August 1, 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

‘Boyhood’ mature on music, moments

By Nick DeCicco | From Page: B1

 
Mr. Clean: Dennis Regan offers friendly jokes, with a bite

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

Gemstones shine at Solano County Fair

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Trifecta: ‘The Who’s Tommy’ third play in three months

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Japan Summerfest returns this month

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Solano Tea Party Patriots schedule meet

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Details limited after shooting leaves 1 with injuries

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

Highway 12 to close overnight in Jameson Canyon

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A4

 
Air district calls Spare the Air alert

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A4

Vallejo police arrest suspect in shooting death

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Fairfield man settles suit against Raley’s

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A4

Stabbing victim dies in Vacaville

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5

 
Fairfield police log: July 30, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: July 30, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

Abbas seeks broad support for war crimes charges

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
US, UN announce deal on 72-hour Gaza cease-fire

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1 | Gallery

As US job market strengthens, many don’t feel it

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Dow plunges as multiple worries vex investors

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds 2011 union law

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
A look at the impact of Wisconsin’s union law

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Union: California prison staff told to fake checks

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Candidate goes homeless to show economic gap

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5 | Gallery

California ex-mayor sentenced in corruption case

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Californians to see increase in health plan costs

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Appellate court overturns high-speed rail rulings

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Report: Secrecy enveloped Bay Bridge construction

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Yosemite wildfire weakened, evacuations to end

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
US warns against traveling to Ebola-hit countries

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Congress races to finish VA, highway bills

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
See-through mice reveal details of inner anatomy

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

CIA spied on Senate, internal review finds

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Demoted worker shoots CEO, kills self in Chicago

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

NASA to test making rocket fuel ingredient on Mars

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Investigators reach Ukraine jet wreckage site

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7 | Gallery

.

Opinion

Editorial Cartoons: Aug. 1, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
To err is human – but not in print

By Bud Stevenson | From Page: A11

Why do so many Americans support Hamas

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11

 
Nice guy becomes House majority leader

By Dan Walters | From Page: A11

Should union organizing be a civil right?

By Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis | From Page: A11

 
.

Living

Today in History for Aug. 1, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: Aug. 1, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

My irregular monthly cycles were a symptom of cancer, not menopause

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

 
Horoscopes for Aug. 1, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

.

Entertainment

Week in preview Aug. 1-7, 2014

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
Review: Boseman drips with charisma as James Brown

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

‘Godfather of Makeup’ Dick Smith dead at 92

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Starz’ ‘Outlander’ brings novels to life vibrantly

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Dionne Warwick knows her way to San Jose

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Entertainment calendar Aug. 1, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: B4

 
‘Sharknado 2′ whipped up storm of viewers, tweets

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
.

Sports

Chekwa taking reps with Raiders while Hayden sits

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Safety Bethea finding a groove with new 49ers team

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

Expos fall short in 10-9 loss to Leghorns

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B7

 
A’s deal Tommy Milone to Twins for Sam Fuld

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

A’s get Lester, Gomes from Red Sox for Cespedes

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Another decent start for Woods at Firestone

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

Ravens’ Rice: His actions ‘totally inexcusable’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Dustin Johnson takes leave of absence from golf

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Commonwealth Games athlete convicted for assault on rival

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Lynch ends holdout, arrives at Seahawks camp

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Nick Watney leads PGA Barracuda Championship

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Rich get richer: Rays’ Price traded to Tigers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

Dumdumaya takes third in World Junior/Junior Olympic tourney

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B8

 
AP Source: Trump advances in Bills sale process

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Mudcats get 15-7 win in Auburn Classic

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B8

 
Phelps to compete in 4 events at US nationals

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Signups for Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B9

 
Derrick Brooks set standard for NFL linebackers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9 | Gallery

.

Business

Daimler launches new version of tiny Smart car

By The Associated Press | From Page: C1

 
Iliad of France makes surprise bid for T-Mobile US

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

In San Francisco real estate, $1M won’t buy much

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
Facebook’s Internet.org expands in Zambia

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

Debit overdraft fees often exceed cost of purchase

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
Panasonic, Tesla to build big US battery plant

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

SeaWorld, Southwest Airlines ending partnership

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
Target taps outsider as CEO for needed shakeup

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

.

Obituaries

Clifford C. Hemler

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
.

Comics

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9