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Trigger Warnings

posted: 12.10.14 by Barclay Barrios

I learned about trigger warnings for the first time this semester.

Trigger warnings, whether presented on syllabi or before class readings, warn students that material in the course (such as content on sexual abuse, war, or rape) could trigger those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  At the very start of the semester I learned about them when one of our Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) approached me about a student in her class.  The student, a rape victim, was concerned about one of the readings we were using in our standard sequence this semester, Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s “Kiki Kannibal: The Girl Who Played With Fire,” which discusses Kiki’s rape and consequent bullying and shaming.  Now at the very end I am getting ready to read a paper about trigger warnings in the writing classroom written by one of our GTAs, a vet with PTSD.  Slate may have called 2013 The Year of the Trigger Warning but I guess I am a year behind.

The practice is not without controversy.  There are those who support them and those who oppose them.  What’s clear is that the discussion about them is just starting.

We haven’t embraced them as a writing program yet but I’ve already talked to my editor Sarah about adding them to the instructor’s manual for the next edition of Emerging.  We have quite a few essays that might merit such an advisory, including one about a war photo too powerful to publish, one about rape culture, and one about kids sexting.

And for me as a teacher, it’s something I will be grappling with.  And I think that’s the real advantage of the whole discussion: a chance to reflect on what I do as a teacher and why I do it and an opportunity to consider the material I teach in relation to the needs of my students.

So what say you?  Trigger warnings… yes or no?

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One Response to “Trigger Warnings”

  1. Akilah, Santa Fe College Says:

    My syllabus contains a blanket statement, but I don’t think individual trigger warnings are necessary–especially because it’s hard to know exactly what will trigger students. I think they’re pretty good at figuring out if they can handle reading something or not pretty quickly.