Thursday, August 28, 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

Locke an unparalleled universe in the Delta

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Small-town heroism on display in Napa

By Angela Borchert | From Page: A2

 
Review set for Vacaville fitness center suit

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3

 
Fairfield motorcyclist hurt in Beck Avenue crash

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A3

 
 
Logue misses meet with Libertarians in Fairfield

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A4

Chamber event looks at health care law

By Barry Eberling | From Page: B5 | Gallery

 
Fairfield police log: Aug. 26, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A5

Winterhawk Winery up for auction

By Barry Eberling | From Page: B5 | Gallery

 
Suisun City police log: Aug. 26, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A5

.

US / World

Boy hurt in California quake: ‘I should be dead’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
California Senate passes gun restraining order

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Lawmakers approve groundwater management bill

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
California sets ride-sharing insurance standards

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Feds allow logging after huge California wildfire

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
California beach town sees flooding from hurricane

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Q-and-A on Westerners who join the fight in Syria

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Sources: US considering new relief mission in Iraq

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Shooting by 9-year-old girl stirs debate over guns

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
US to consider spousal abuse in immigration claims

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

UK sex abuse report prompts outrage, reflection

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Dad acquitted in slaying of driver who killed sons

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Q&A: Few laws govern children at shooting range

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Mom pleads for release of captive US journalist

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6 | Gallery

Israeli premier, Hamas declare victory in Gaza war

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
.

Opinion

Seizing the day with old friends

By Kelvin Wade | From Page: A11

 
Signs of possible healing in Ferguson

By Jay Ambrose | From Page: A11

 
Poor constituent service no longer acceptable

By Ruben Navarrette | From Page: A11

Editorial Cartoons: Aug. 28, 2014

By Kim Durbin | From Page: A11

 
Let’s improve entertainment control units

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11

.

Living

Community Calendar: Aug. 28, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Aug. 28, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

My boss insists that we all eat lunch with her in cafeteria

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

 
Horoscopes: Aug. 28, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

.

Entertainment

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Judge lets ‘X-Men’ director’s accuser drop lawsuit

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Rapper Young Jeezy pleads not guilty to gun charge

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
‘Cops’ crew member killed in Omaha police shooting

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Chris Soules is ABC’s new ‘Bachelor’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
John Lennon’s killer sorry for being ‘an idiot’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Reality star accused of rape, child molestation

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Source: BET suspends producer after Blue Ivy joke

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

.

Sports

Fuld’s homer in 9th lifts A’s over Astros 5-4

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Posey hits game-ending 2-run homer for Giants

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Maria Sharapova comes through in 3 sets at US Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Raiders rookie QB Derek Carr to start vs. Seahawks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Cal needs more from its running game

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Stanford’s Kevin Hogan a ‘stabilizing agent’ at QB

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Chicago’s Little League champs return as heroes

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

NFL suspends Browns star WR Gordon for 2014 season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Keenum, Savage to settle Texans’ backup QB duel vs. 49ers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

USC’s Shaw admits to lying about injuries, rescue

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
IndyCar sets April 12 New Orleans date

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

No. 23 UNC suspends 4 players for opener

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Clippers sign Doc Rivers to 5-year extension

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Raiders hope rebuild pays immediate dividends

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
After trio of near misses, 49ers chase Super Bowl

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

.

Business

US economy forecast to grow by 1.5 percent in 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Malaysia Airlines set for shakeup after disasters

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

IMF chief Lagarde under investigation in France

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
SEC adopts rules on loan-backed securities

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Stocks drift higher; S&P 500 holds on to 2,000

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
Reports: FBI probes JPMorgan hack

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Time Warner Cable says outages largely resolved

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
Video games come of age as spectator sport

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

.

Obituaries

Frank W. Moy Jr.

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Gary Allen Person

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Fernanda Dee Villarosa

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Herman P. Sorensen

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Lyle R.C. Cullum

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Wizard of Id

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

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9