Wednesday, March 4, 2015
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 ([email protected]) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis ([email protected]) 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
  • Recent Articles

  • Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • .

    Solano News

    County honors Meadows Trigueiro as Woman of the Year

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

     
    Police shut down Fairfield street after shooting

    By Glen Faison | From Page: A1, 14 Comments | Gallery

     
    Celebrity chef motivates Armijo students

    By Susan Winlow | From Page: A2 | Gallery

     
    Highway 12 Association to meet this month

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A4

     
    Caltrans reschedules work on J-Mack Ferry

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A4

    State schedules work on Highway 12

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A4

     
    Bridge work to shut down Highway 12 east of Rio Vista

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A4

     
     
     
    Robots, raucous businessmen set to arrive on big screen

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A7

     
    Teen hit by SUV remains in hospital

    By Glen Faison | From Page: A9

     
     
     
    Fairfield police log: March 2, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12, 1 Comment

    Fairfield police log: March 1, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

     
    Fairfield police log: Feb. 28, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

    Suisun police log: March 2, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

     
    Suisun City police log: March 1, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

    Suisun City police log: Feb. 28, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

     
    Enrollment of non-residents to be capped at some UC campuses

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

    .

    US / World

    California survey finds Sierra snowpack far below normal

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

     
    Ex-CIA chief admits sharing military secrets with mistress

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A12, 1 Comment | Gallery

     
    Mines, bombs slow Iraqi advance on Islamic State-held Tikrit

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

    India orders TV stations not to give rapist a platform

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

     
    Health officials perplexed by vaccination skeptics

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A13, 1 Comment

    Lawmakers taking another crack at expanding gun checks

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

     
    Agents target industry helping Chinese women have US babies

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A13 | Gallery

     
    Family of girl declared brain-dead sues Oakland hospital

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

    US marshals say man killed by Los Angeles police was wanted

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A13, 2 Comments | Gallery

     
    72 passengers reach settlements in Asiana crash

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

    Netanyahu warns US ‘bad deal’ would put Iran on nuclear path

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

     
    .

    Opinion

    Minority outreach that works

    By Jennifer Rubin | From Page: A11, 3 Comments

     
    Israelis worry about inequality, not Iran

    By Daniel Gordis | From Page: A11, 3 Comments

     
    Editorial cartoon: March 3-4, 2015

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

     
    .

    Living

    Today in History: March 4, 2015

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Community Calendar: March 4, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

    Mushrooms are nutrient-packed, with a deep, savory flavor

    By The Washington Post | From Page: B5

     
    Get ready to add white to the rainbow of produce you eat

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

     
    Horoscopes: March 4, 2015

    By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

    My husband and I want different things in our retirement

    By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B7

     
    .

    Entertainment

    Apollo to celebrate Holiday birthday

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

     
    Oprah’s Chicago studios to close down

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

    Fashion week moves Milan to Paris

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

     
    TVGrid

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    .

    Sports

    Bumgarner hit hard in spring debut, A’s beat Giants 9-4

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
     
    Vanden girls roll, advance to SJS championship game

    By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1

    Kings bring back former player Divac in front-office role

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    No ‘floating rubbish’ collection for Olympic sailing venue

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Cal senior Reshanda Gray named Pac-12 Player of the Year

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Rudy Gay, Kings hand Knicks worst loss of season, 124-86

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Cubs’ scramble on Wrigley Field hits bump when mayor balks

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Raiders officially release S Tyvon Branch

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Trooper: Fingerprints show victim in Hernandez’s rented car

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Play ball! Quickly! Baseball tries to speed game this spring

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Australian rugby star Hayne signs 3-year deal with 49ers

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Maid: Hernandez messed with security camera after killing

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Pacquiao big hit so far in Vegas sports books vs Mayweather

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    .

    Business

    Oil glut could soon lead to plummeting prices

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8, 2 Comments

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Robert C. Thierry

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

     
    Garland (Curly) Henry Tackett

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

    Otto Vasak

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

     
    John Henry Fechter, Jr.

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

    Jacqueline Mendes

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Baby Blues

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

     
    Baldo

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

    Garfield

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

     
    Frank and Ernest

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

    Blondie

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

     
    Pickles

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

    Zits

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

     
    Beetle Bailey

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

    Rose is Rose

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

     
    Dilbert

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

    Get Fuzzy

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

     
    B.C.

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

    Peanuts

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

     
    For Better or Worse

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

    Sally Forth

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

     
    Wizard of Id

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

    Crossword

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

     
    Bridge

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

    Word Sleuth

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

     
    Cryptoquote

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

    Sudoku

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7