Happy Trails, Trigger!


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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251 Responses

  1. Avatar zic says:

    PTSD occurs when an event gets lodged in the hippocampus, and is easily recalled. Nearly every woman I know who’s been sexually assaulted, for instance, to recall in exacting detail what they were wearing when the assault took place. Something that evokes the event puts you back into that moment, with all it’s panic, fear, and anxiety.

    I don’t think it a bad thing to let people know a book might have disturbing content. But I do some reservations, too: I stopped watching Downton Abbey when I knew Anna would get raped. I’ve been raped. I didn’t need to go there. Had I not known, I probably would have watched, and likely triggered back into times I would seriously like to not revisit. But I know I missed out by not watching.

    Thus far, the best treatment I’ve heard of for PTSD is MDMA (ecstasy), which seems to help safely release the memories from the hippocampus. Of course, thanks to our war on drugs, research is difficult; two therapists (one of each gender) are required.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      I know some therapists who’ve been trained in EMDR work and claim it’s very effective, although none of them knew precisely why. I’ve also known a few people who have received it and said the same. I have heard good things about MDMA as well.

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I know someone with PTSD who underwent EMDR & had excellent results. It was a long road, but they are in a much better place.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      two therapists (one of each gender) are required.

      It’s like the Bible says: an MDMA prescription is a sacred bond between one man and one woman.

      (Seriously, WTF?)Report

    • Avatar Mo says:

      There is the problem that trigger warning may make things worse by leading to avoidance, which only reinforces PTSD.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        You do realize that they’re talking about highly controlled therapy situations, and this is not the same thing as a class room, right?Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        Mo, this comment by the author of the article, ” My Ph.D. student, Donald J. Robinaugh, and I found that among 102 women who reported histories of childhood sexual abuse, the more central their abuse was to their identity—as measured by the CES—the worse their PTSD symptoms. In particular, seeing one’s future through the lens of one’s abuse was especially associated with the severity of PTSD symptoms. These data suggest that acknowledging one’s abuse but not allowing it to dominate one’s sense of self may foster resilience against the long-term psychologically toxic effects of childhood sexual molestation.” is one of the most effective examples of people choosing to present only one possible hypothesis to explain their data that I have ever seen. There is absolutely no reason to think that the data aren’t equally well explained by worse PTSD symptoms increasing the centrality of one’s abuse to one’s experience. NONE. In the original article, the author even admits that: “The data are cross-sectional, precluding determination of causality.” But he conveniently avoids admitting that in his pop article where there aren’t peer reviewers to hold him to it. Common sense would suggest that a debilitating level of continuing unpleasant experiences stemming from an event will lead to that event figuring more prominently in one’s self-concept, far more than the other way around, but he’s presenting his counter-intuitive interpretation of an obvious fact as if The Data Have Shown The Truth.

        And people wonder why trauma survivors have trouble trusting psychologists / authorities ….Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Mo, zic is absolutely right. PTSD sufferers confronting triggering stimuli out in the world, at least without a significant amount of cognitive-behavioral therapy teaching them how to do so, can be a very bad idea, and not at all conducive to recovery. The general view of anxiety disorders is that, ultimately, confronting the objects of ones anxiety is necessary in order to make reactions to it less intense and disruptive, but it is important that such confrontations begin in a safe environment, and when they move out into the world, do so with a great deal of C-B training. I’m pretty sure trigger warnings can actually help with that when used in the proper environment.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Try walking the streets of a city with someone who recently returned from war. Watch how they scan the area and jump at cars backfiring or innocuous piles of trash. Those sounds and sights could have killed them in another context. Their response doesn’t simply dissolve because the context changed.Report

      • Avatar Mo says:

        @kazzy But does it help when they are in an environment where there are certain amounts of cars backfiring and random trash? Where the situations that those sounds and sights are innocuous can muscle out the context that they may kill.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      I am thinking many of you don’t really understand what PTSD is.

      I recommend listening to the first part of this Commonwealth Club talk by Dr. Richard Rockefeller, it’s one of the best explanations of PTSD I’ve ever heard. I like that he opens the discussion clearly defining the difference between the difference between post-traumatic stress and Post-traumatic stress disorder.

      This discussion also features a terrific accounting of the drug war on our society.

      But anyone who thinks trigger warnings are to help people simply avoid unpleasant things, you do not understand PTSD; and you need to listen to this.Report

  2. Avatar James Hanley says:

    the bourgeois mindset (which incidentally created nearly everything of value in our society)

    Not including the blues.Report

  3. Avatar greginak says:

    I read someplace recently that one of the UC colleges where there was a push for trigger warnings started with a prof who showed a movie with an explicit rape scene in it. I can think of courses where showing an explicit rape scene might make sense but those woudl be film studies or art classes. There are a few situations where trigger warnings might make sense, like showing graphic pix or films. Other then that they don’t seem warranted or sensible. Dealing with difficult subject matter is life. For example i’m perfectly able to deal with my eyes rolling into the back of my head when reading that quote by Bright. Like i said i’m generally not in favor of TW’s but the sweeping generalizations about “those kids” and all teh catastrophic pronouncements made about how TW’s are harbingers of the end of art and/or yet another of the thousands of ways liberals are destroying the country is beyond silly. This is mostly a tempest in a teapot. A stupid tempest but not really a major issue and one we will have forgotten about i’m guessing by mid-summer.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

      Also psychology, sociology, history, literature, etc.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

      The more interesting fights about TWs are left v. left in my mind because most of my friends are somewhere on the left section and there are people with very strong feelings pro and anti-TW in academia.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Yeah, there is no liberal consensus at all on this. There isn’t a ton of support for TW’s in general, most of the push comes from students at individual schools which is why this debate is a bit overheated.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        A lot of liberals are opposing trigger warnings because the rightly believe it comes across as a Limbaugh-esque parody of liberalism and leftism and don’t want to give the other side ammo.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F says:

      Oh I can’t imagine Susie Bright’s got much belief that liberals are ruining society. As for a movie with a graphic rape scene, I can think of all sorts of contexts in which it would be acceptable, but I would think it’d make sense to mention it beforehand, just as a courtesy. I also don’t know why the article doesn’t mention what movie it was.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        I can think of few situations where a graphic rape scene would serve much educational purpose. Some, a few, but not many. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be showed if its useful but i would also have little problem with a warning for something like that.Report

  4. Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

    Link to the Susie Bright essay?

    IIRC trigger warnings were originally developed by psychology and it was a warning to the patient that they were about to get trigged so they could recover from their trauma/PTSD. I.e. they were unavoidable.

    I have a lot of friends in academia (and non-academia) who are highly opposed to trigger warnings. This seems to be a leftwedge issue at the moment and a fairly diverse one. My friends were not quite as pointed as Susie Bright but one did say that it was the first step on the road to students never reading anything interesting ever again.

    There does seem to be an aspect of the trigger warning movement that has pushed it to such an extreme that it has lost all meaning and it does seem to show some kind of cartoonish anti-intellectualism. One should not need be told the studying Brown v. Board of Ed will mean discussion of racism and Jim Crow. One shouldn’t need to be told that viewing footage from the Holocaust will need a trigger warning. It infantilizes students.

    There is an aspect of the trigger movement that make me think they want to live in a very boring universe where nothing gets more risqué than My Little Pony-Friendship is Magic. Where studying Shakespeare and the Bagavhad Gita and the Illiad is replaced by Buffy Studies,Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      That last sentence strikes me as a bit odd. Buffy has plenty of violent/rape-oriented/generally triggerish scenes.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Oh, you do so tempt me to post links to videos that will cause nightmares in even the most hardened of souls.Report

  5. Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

    Dan Savage coming out against trigger warnings:

    1. He thinks they are more about the writer than the victim aka the ostentatious display of concern (“Look at how sensitive I am….”)

    2. There is no way to really predict what will cause a victim of PTSD to trigger

    3. Chances are the warnings will be placed on the wrong stuff


    • Avatar greginak says:

      fwiw, the Savage article listed 5 or 6 schools where they have been requests for TW’s. I’m not sure that is kudzu level yet. With the tons of push back coming against TW’s i doubt they will be nearly as bad as people are fearing.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      The strongest argument against trigger warnings is that it’s impossible to predict what will trigger people. It makes sense to use them in forums that frequently discuss issues surrounding traumatic events, but it makes little sense to just throw them around everywhere because you’ll end up with a scattershot approach that probably doesn’t do anyone any good.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @chris — Is the perfect the enemy of the good?

        We cannot provide TWs for everything. Fine. Totes true. But for the big ones, the common ones?

        Sexual assault, rape, childhood abuse, war, violence, suicide — we cannot warn for these things, and the reason is, you claim, because we cannot warn for everything?

        It is often hard to decide where to draw the line. Yes. Does this mean we should never choose to draw a line? That it must always be all or nothing, because finding someplace in the middle is tricky?

        That this the structure of this argument. It is not a good one.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Veronica, as someone who is familiar with the workings of PTSD, I’m sure you’re aware that the triggers for those things are so varied and common that it would be virtually impossible to catch them all outside of a focused community. I mean, we might mention that there are blatant ones: there is rape content, or there is talk of suicide, or there are war scenes, etc., though here we really do risk having people avoid things that they do not need to avoid because their specific triggers are not present, but we’ve been so general as to scare them off. Or we could simply suggest that people with PTSD be conscious of the potential for their particular triggers in any of the course material, and if they feel uncomfortable with something to please talk to their instructor (and perhaps train instructors to be sensitive to anxiety disorders), I think we’ll find that a much more effective way of helping PTSD sufferers navigate their way around course material.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @chris — I’m not super-familiar with PTSD from a medical perspective. Nor do I have a diagnosis myself. But I have experienced dissociated states (at least I think they were) associated with — well — certain things I cannot talk about.

        I’m working with my therapists on this.

        That said, you cannot provide trigger warnings for my things. It doesn’t work like that. Not for me.

        My best friend is a rape survivor, a trauma survivor, a (I suspect) childhood abuse survivor, and has lost friends to suicide and murder.

        (One of which was at Sandy Hook. He cannot watch the news these days.)

        Anyway, he’s taken a lot. He triggers rather easily, from the usual suspects: rape, suicide, violence, abuse.

        I have many friends like this. I suspect this shit is very common.

        You can TW for him. And those like him. The supposed “costs” of this are paranoid fantasies (bare museum walls). We can do this and we should.

        My friend has worked on a book about his experiences with sexual assault. He works closely with several local groups on the issue, goes to schools, gives talks. It is hard for him; I’ve seen it break him. But he still goes, still speaks. It seems important to him.

        Please give him trigger warnings. Please.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I empathize with your friends, I truly do, and if by “trigger warnings” you mean what we discuss below, then I’m cool with that: tell people that there may be disturbing material, including violence and sexual content, implore them to be mindful of their own anxieties and stimuli that may trigger it, and ask them to please discuss any concerns or problems they may have with the material with the instructor. And, as I said, train the instructors to deal with anxiety disorders. This is a productive method for dealing with anxiety while empowering its sufferers to take control of their own experience.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        James has talked about that experience before in this forum, and I think he actually does have a pretty good handle on how to express his feelings about it.Report

    • Avatar Maribou says:

      FWIW, Dan Savage has a long history of being a jerkface about something and then listening to his interlocutors, leading to him slowly realizing over time and admitting that he has been a jerkface about that thing. As I have met him in person and he was a wonderful, kind, and altogether charming individual, obviously brimming with compassion and goodwill, I continue to think that he will eventually regret both the tone and the content of the article you linked to above.Report

  6. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    Wow, Susie Bright’s take on it wasn’t condescending at all, was it?

    How and when trigger warnings are given, and what the implication of giving one are, matter considerably.

    If a work of literature that is on the syllabus has a major theme of sexual violence, and the title of the course is not something like “Sexual Violence in 20th Century Latin American Literature”, then it seems appropriate and reasonable to include a trigger warning on the course description, so students can choose whether to register for that course fully informed of what they’ll be reading.

    If the trigger warning comes only after the students are already signed up, that doesn’t seem appropriate – the outcome is either that some students just don’t follow the full syllabus, or that they’re forced to drop and forfeit their time and tuition money, and possibly harm their grades.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

      I would say that people who couldn’t figure that out based on the course name alone are something…Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        Either I missed your joke, I inadvertently doubled a negative I meant to single, or you misread what I was trying to get across.

        I just meant that the name of the course will sometimes, but when it doesn’t, adding one to the course description in the calendar seems fair.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:


        the name of the course will sometimes function as a sufficiently clear trigger warning, but when it doesn’t, adding one to the course description in the calendar seems fair.Report

  7. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I confess I was not aware of this trend. And though I may be showing my old-man-off-lawnness, it also seems pretty eye-rollingly lame to me. It’s almost like a parody of a Daily Caller accusation.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      It might seem eye-rollingly lame, but I struggle to see what the harm is by issuing such warnings. They don’t take up much space or time, and I haven’t heard of students using them to get out of class or skip readings.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I think they are kinda lame, and I do share the concerns about indiscriminately ‘protecting’ everyone from art’s impact – I accept that art can impact people negatively in a ‘PTSD trigger’ sense, but I also accept that it can impact people positively in a ‘surprise!’ sense – that is, the mode of art is often to bypass the audience’s reason for shocking emotion, then let their reason backtrack into the ‘whys’, to enable new audience perspective. (This of course is also why art can often be effective propaganda). If we effectively spoil certain ‘surprises’ for everybody and prime them, we risk diluting this aspect as well.

        That said, there’s the simple courtesy factor. We make an effort here, when we do music posts, to warn people of salty language or imagery in the videos posted. And we generally aren’t even worried about triggering someone into a PTSD episode with those. Just them encountering language that may offend. This seems a far more minor concern than PTSD, yet we do it.

        Should we stop putting those warnings on the music posts?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        There’s often a decent substitute, anyway. You can’t tell me a class reading Lady Chatterly’s Lover couldn’t find something else of interest from the Victorian times.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        When properly used, it’s not lame at all. In the early days of trigger warnings, I had a good friend who frequented “survivor” chat rooms (I know the word “survivor” is unappealing to some, but that’s what they were called), and discussions of triggers were frequent, and always accompanied by warnings, because everyone there was aware of the sorts of things that were likely to trigger the others there. It was almost like a group therapy session, and I think a lot of the people there got a lot out of it while feeling like they were in a (relatively) safe environment, because people were careful about unwittingly triggering the acute attacks of anxiety that PTSD sufferers have to be constantly wary of.

        By extension, online forums that are frequented by the victims of particular types of violence (which, I believe, includes war vets), which would include many feminist blogs, are also good places to use trigger warnings without being eye-rollingly lame. It is important to many communities — and feminist blogs, like this one, are often close-knit communities — to provide safe places to the large numbers of their members who are at risk for PTSD-related anxiety attacks.

        And it’s worth noting, I think, that the uses of “trigger warnings” in these forums demonstrate that they are not intended, nor are they generally used, to protect anyone from ideas. But it’s also worth noting that the reason trigger warnings are effective in such forums is because they’re targeted to known types of trauma common to members of the community. Used generally, out in the world, they won’t be effective. At best, they might provide some people with a false sense of security.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @chris – I am speaking specifically to the OP, w/r/t trigger warnings in general-interest classrooms at the college level; at that level, in that forum, trigger warnings might be viewed akin to issuing safety scissors to college art students.

        It’s arguably safer for everybody, but it does IMO potentially blunt the effectiveness of the education for some.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Glyph, I’m not sure I think the safety scissors analogy fits, but I do think that when applied in general fora they’re pretty much useless.

        I wonder if anyone has any sense of how many people who are not suffering from PTSD avoid things because they are prefaced with trigger warnings. I can’t imagine it’s a lot, and in most forums, including in college courses, I think it’s better for all parties if PTSD-suffers are able to avoid triggering stimuli. However, trying to predict all types of triggers in a forum not frequented by specific types of trauma survivors in particular, is likely to render the whole thing pointless.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:


        I wonder if anyone has any sense of how many people who are not suffering from PTSD avoid things because they are prefaced with trigger warnings. I can’t imagine it’s a lot, and in most forums, including in college courses, I think it’s better for all parties if PTSD-suffers are able to avoid triggering stimuli.

        I agree it’s better if PTSD sufferers can avoid triggering stimuli. And I am not referring to people without PTSD skipping things due to trigger warnings.

        I am referring to the impact of the art being blunted or affected because the audience knows in some sense what thing is coming, and has general feelings about that thing.

        Priming. “Spoiling”, in other words.

        I agree that some people get crazy about spoilers, but we experience art to make us *feel*, as I explained above. People get angry about spoilers because they think they do not feel that surprise, or sadness, or anger as intensely as they would have otherwise…because they were expecting it. They saw it coming.

        The very thing we want to do for PTSD sufferers, IMO, we arguably don’t want to do for the general populace (at least in some fora).

        When someone tags art ahead of time, they change my experience of that art. In some forums, that is appropriate and courteous. In others, it may be to the detriment of the general or individual experience.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Yeah, I understand the concern about minimizing the impact of art through spoilers, though as a moral imperative I think that falls somewhere behind not causing people to suffer. But I think the level of trigger warning required to provide spoilers (that is, something more than “this contains sexual or violent content that may be disturbing to some readers”) is problematic for the other reasons I’ve been mentioning ’round this thread.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        Are the folks commenting here also opposed to the content ratings systems that TV shows display along with “viewer discretion advised”?

        I’m by no means a fan of them, but I’ve never found them invasive. I don’t find them disruptive. They don’t interfere with the content.

        Why is there such opposition to trigger warnings but not to the TV show disclosures?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Yes, we experience art to feel. But I hardly think you’re in favor of arting everyone to death, now, are you? [This is not a hypothetical.] I think the sticking point in people’s minds here (not necessarily yours), is that we’re walking on eggshells.

        I could show you… “art” that would give you nightmares. Hell, even a description of it might. and I’m assuming you’re a normal.

        Do you think that ought to come with a warning?

        What if the “art” is deliberately crafted to give someone nightmares and long lasting anxiety? (This is also not a hypothetical).Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @vikram-bath Are the folks commenting here also opposed to the content ratings systems that TV shows display along with “viewer discretion advised”?

        I’m by no means a fan of them, but I’ve never found them invasive. I don’t find them disruptive. They don’t interfere with the content.

        Why is there such opposition to trigger warnings but not to the TV show disclosures?

        Well, I don’t think I’ve presented myself as “strongly opposed” to TW’s; in the right forums they seem both appropriate and courteous. I likened them to the content warnings I myself have provided here.

        W/R/T your analogy to TV show disclosures, I will only say that

        A.) We may want different warnings on our leisure “entertainment” (“hey, I had a hard day, I didn’t sit down on my sofa to see some guy get his liver removed!” (Hannibal), vs. our “education” (learning about Prometheus, not Prometheus), where we are *expected* to absorb new concepts and feelings, as part of the learning we signed up for.


        B.) I can only speak for myself, but I DO feel those TV disclosures affect my enjoyment of the art, in ways both good and bad. If I see repeated warnings of extreme violence, I am expecting that violence when it comes, and its impact or shock is blunted (bad). If I see repeated warnings of sexual situations and nudity, I find myself hoping it’s Nina or Elizabeth, and not Stan – but either way, I know some sexin’ is coming. And that knowing blunts the emotional impact.

        Storytellers use an arsenal of tricks to work their magic; and spelling out what’s coming, even in broad terms, affects my experience of their art.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        “…where we are *expected* to absorb new concepts and feelings, as part of the learning we signed up for.”

        Doesn’t that beg the question of what these people signed up for? If I sign up for a course in English Lit of the 19th century, should I assume I will be reading graphic depictions of rape? Wouldn’t a syllabus with all requisite trigger warnings made available before registration or during add/drop be exactly what we’d need to say, “You signed up for this”?Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        We experience art in order to feel, but it’s valid to say that in a classroom context we aren’t supposed to be feeling; we’re supposed to be seeing examples of how a particular effect is achieved. So sure, you might be spoiling the effect, but if you’re using an excerpted text as an example of dramatic irony then the effect might not be the point.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        One shows a rape sequence, from the perspective of the victim. Most people get out of this the Helplessness, Loss of Control, etc. (“Peal out the watchword…”)

        A rape survivor has already gone through this, though. They don’t need to be “educated” about it.

        Or are you talking about forcing a rape survivor to experience a rape from the perspective of the rapist? Do we really want to be educating people on why folks rape, in this particular emotive manner? And, if so, is it more or less moral to force a survivor to experience the rape from the other side.

        (in point of Fact, I would find it probably impossible to experience the art as intended, were I a rape victim.)

        It’s possible to have art that is simply not experienceable by everyone. Some art is designed to be read by a single person (I can link if you’d like). Some art is designed as psychological warfare, to deliberately introduce vulnerabilities into someone’s psyche.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        short on time so rolling my responses to @jim-heffman and @kazzy into one – Depends on the course I suppose. In some cases (Creative Writing) you are studying the mechanics of a story (how to achieve an effect in your own writing by viewing other examples). In others you are studying the story itself (themes, historical relevance, etc.)

        In either case, saying we don’t think it’s that important that a piece of art makes the student maximally ‘feel’ the way the author may have intended (or, indeed, even in an entirely different way than they intended) seems to be missing the forest for the trees of what art *is*.

        In any case, I’m not categorically opposed to TW’s. But something that potentially cuts so against what art often seeks to *achieve* in its audience (by telling you what’s coming, and thereby priming you to experience the art in a certain way) should be at least applied very judiciously IMO.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I agree. I suggest forum threads, or other ways of allowing people to “opt-in” on particular Trigger Warnings, where at all possible.
        I also strongly suggest “optional” readings (pick 2 of 5, rather than “here are the two readings you must do”). This allows the prof to be somewhat flexible — and also limits the amount of disclaimers the Course Needs (a course on women’s sexual violence already contains the disclaimer, but a course on Ancient Greek Lit might very well need one on sexuality due to the presence of bestiality, homosexuality, and rape).Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        (If you find the time…)

        What if a course description said “This course will include readings, viewings, and/or discussions related to topics such as X, Y, and Z.” Specificity is not given. Students can then avoid a class altogether if they feel they are not equipped to handle it. Should they sign up, they can talk with the professor one-on-one about their concerns and go from there.

        Helping young people — particularly young people who may be susceptible to being triggered — making informed choices about what they interact with seems like a good thing.Report

  8. Avatar j r says:

    My question about this is fairly straightforward: why does it have to be a trigger warning?

    We have lots of different ways to let people know that they are about to see something explicit. If some university made it the policy to write “This class uses materials that contain adult themes,” on certain course descriptions, I doubt there would be this sort of reaction. There is a certain intention to specifically calling it a trigger warning. And that intention seems to be about more than just being sensitive to dealing with people’s traumas, but also injecting a bit of identity studies ideology.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Solid point. “This class will include frank discussion and depiction of rape scenes.”
      It’s giving the same information, yet not making it about the “victims”.

      If I were teaching a class, it is what I would do.Report

  9. Like Tod above, the TW movement isn’t something I had really heard of until recently. I think whether it’s good or bad depends on what we’re talking about.

    If we’re talking about implementing a set of policies that function as ways to punish instructors, then I’m probably opposed.

    If we’re talking about an admonition to instructors to alert students when they are about to read or see something out-of-the-ordinary disturbing, then I agree with the idea, at least in the abstract. I can imagine certain situations where stating ahead of time so those likely to be triggered can mentally prepare themselves can be something like a courtesy.Report

  10. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I just heard about this yesterday, and found that all of a sudden, it’s everywhere. If I weren’t so crazy busy I’d have written an essay that probably would have turned out a bit like Bright’s.

    Now that I’ve got a spare moment to rest my brain… I’d still probably come down at roughly this intellectual place. “Trigger warnings” are on the one hand deeply silly and a milepost along the way to a blandness of culture the likes of which Ray Bradbury warned of.

    I read a comment like the one above — a sexual assault survivor is almost certainly going to be reminded of her past awful experience if sexual assault is depicted in media she consumes. I want to be sensitive to that and a part of me likes the idea that one who wishes to avoid particular kinds of content be advised of it before consumption.

    Another part of me then answers back with Melfi’s rape in The Sopranos — a turning point for that character, something that hardened her personality, something that reversed her gravitational attraction to Tony Soprano’s charisma and forced her to re-evaluate her moral center. If I’d known before the episode in which she was attacked what was going to happen, I’d probably have stopped watching it altogether. It’s still unpleasant to recall but it became important to the narrative. ANd I think about the end of Act I of A Streetcar Named Desire and how my attitude about that play changed after I knew what Stanley was going to do to Blanche: instead of being drawn in by Stanley’s rough brand of blue-collar manly charisma only to be sucker-punched by its extension, I now view him in the entire first act with dread knowing what he’s going to do.

    Point being, knowing that “there is a rape scene in this play” can substantially diminish its impact when it happens. And being told “there is content that may be disturbing to some people in this play” isn’t specific enough. One might be disturbed by, say, Torvald’s treatment of Nora in A Doll’s House, or Krogstad’s, even though stifling belittlement and blackmail are not rape. You’re supposed to be angered by how these men treat Nora. Without them, it’s more difficult to sense Nora’s imperative need for independence by the end of the play.

    So I’d reach the same place now as Bright, but I’d declare it in a more gentle manner than my initial impulse would have guided me to.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

      This is a really good pointReport

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      If it would set a stumbling block to a traumatized person overcoming self-medicating drug addiction, or self-harm, or behaviours harmful to their children, do you know how much I care about the diminished impact of a play?
      About that much.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

        Of course this completely misses the point of art and education and proves the point that trigger warnings just do lead to the diminishing of reading anything interesting ever againReport

      • Avatar greginak says:

        The “never read anything interesting again” seems like the over the top hyperbole thing. A few TW’s are not going to destroy the canon of western art and lit. A few TW’s would likely have no effect on anybody but the smallest number of people. I’m not even for TW’s except in rare cases, so i’m no fan. But a lot of this is just hyperventilateing.

        I can see a TW in a classroom setting. Students don’t get to pick and choose what they see or read and have little power. Even in that case only things on the far edge would seem reasonable for a warning. A prof wants to show Clockwork Orange….yeah i think a TW would be reasonable. But that would be pretty rare i think.

        If a TW has a reasonable purpose it is to protect people who’ve had severely traumatic experience from major episodes of panic, terror or re-experiencing their trauma in a class room.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        It really doesn’t, I think.

        It seems to me you’re assuming that the outcome of a trigger warning will inevitably be that significantly fewer people will choose to engage with the piece of art. I don’t know that there’s anything to support that. It’s possible that more people would make it to the end and be able to really engage with the piece, rather than having a panic attack and having to disengage from the work in order to deal with that, or simply walking out.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Good point. From what v’s said in threads around here, I can see it being a “watch on a particular day” sort of thing. That “I can’t handle that NOW” is a valid thing for someone to say, and that they may be able to handle it some other time.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      Excellent comment, and very much what I was getting at upthread when I mentioned Downton Abbey (I stopped watching because I knew Anna got raped.) I deprived myself of watching something I’d loved.

      I think there’s another level of this, too; part of learning to survive horrific things is experiencing them in stories. And another part that might really matter is learning to recognize people who’ve had a flashback due to PTSD, and learning how to be there to help them re-orient themselves and let go of the panic. I know from first hand experience that you have to learn how to move on; you cannot stand there trembling.

      I also think people who’ve been through traumatic experiences have a lot to teach others; and TWs deprive the classroom of that depth of experience to share. But this may be asking more of profs than is reasonable, too; I don’t know.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        FWIW, the sensible professors I know who use trigger warnings / opt-outs in class aren’t using them to discourage people from watching things if they will be upset by them. They are using them to avoid surprising people who will really be sorry they were surprised. It seems to me that avoiding sending someone into hours of unpleasant flashbacks that *just having the time to brace themselves* would have seriously mitigated outweighs the artistic effect of not knowing what would happen. And it’s also artistically preferable to people spoiling the ENTIRE book / movie / play on wikipedia so that they can brace themselves or wait until a time when they can better manage the trauma it brings up. (I have actually done that kind of spoiling on my little sister’s behalf, before.) Of course, these sensible professors were using such cautions long before the phrase “trigger warning” had reached mainstream awareness.

        In related news, it is frigging amazing how many books will spring on one, as a melodramatic surprise, graphic details of child abuse. Including things that get reviewed as “light and heartwarming.”

        In the past couple of years, I’ve read *more* books where children are abused than I normally would, because I’m finally working through some of my stuff, and some of it is cathartic. When I choose to read it *on purpose*, it can be cathartic. But being punched in the emotional gut by surprise, and rendered nonfunctional for several hours because I was busy freaking out (and / or shoving it down until I get physically, violently ill) has also happened to me many times in the past couple of years – and I really wish that in those cases someone had said “hey, kids get abused by their parents in this book, just so you know”. It’s really hard to find this stuff out for yourself because a lot of times the descriptions / reviews / whatever cheerfully get super-graphic themselves, so trying to research something can also fuck you up. Plus OH MY GOD do I not want to have to spend time thinking about my past trauma every single time I think about picking up a book or a tv show or a movie or whatever.

        It’s true that not all PTSD triggers are predictable. Not all migraine triggers are predictable either. But when I had migraines, I wasn’t about to go and seek out the things that I knew would give me a migraine – and it was actually pretty useful to recognize, say, a scent that someone was wearing that inevitably gave me a migraine, because I could choose to catch the next bus, or even just have that much advance warning to take my pills – it gave me some power back so I was dealing with my issue instead of being overwhelmed by it. Trigger warnings, when not muddied into “offensiveness warnings,” are *useful*. Just because you can’t possibly guess ALL someone’s triggers doesn’t mean it hurts to note the obvious stuff – or rather, the stuff that obviously might set someone off, but that the surrounding context does NOT make obvious about the material you’re reading / viewing / whatever.

        And you know what, you don’t have to warn the entire class if they don’t want spoilers. Just have a page in the syllabus or online or whatever where people *can* go to get really basic heads-ups about what sort of severely upsetting stuff they can expect, if they know they are the sort of people who are likely to freak out about specific things.

        And treat people who really are triggered by stuff as *adults*, not infants. Respect their stated wishes for warnings, and trust them not to fly off the handle about something absurd like say, you not knowing they would be triggered by someone opening a door without knocking first. (I choose that example because in the wrong context, it can give me panic symptoms that have to be managed and/or hours of flashbacks to childhood terrifying things, if I am not expecting it and/or I am having a rough week.) Respect their statements about what they can and can’t handle. Respect their claims that what fishes them up can vary from one week to the next, and depends on whether they were surprised or what else is going on or sometimes even the exact way that something was described.

        I know this comment is all over the place but I am so fishing tired of people with no actual panic buttons of this type arguing about how they should be handled. Both the avid trigger warning PC-speechers and the avid trigger warning denouncers have very little fishing clue of how it *actually feels* to spend all night fighting off flashbacks because someone thought it would be good for you to read something. I don’t mind dealing with that when I deliberately agree to do it, but it fishing sucks when it’s sprung on me. And I am so fishing tired of being told that I need to keep a stiff upper lip or harden myself or be a stronger person or that I don’t appreciate that the written word is powerful or WHATEVER THE FISH.

        I’ve survived a lot worse than someone being ignorant about the tensions of passing (in the classroom or just in the day to day world), and I’ve read things *far worse* than the things that trigger me, and loved them (or hated them – but read them). I actually watched that Downton Abbey scene zic references even though I knew it would probably be very difficult – but I had enough information to know it was coming, and when, and to brace myself accordingly, and I watched the show. And I actually found some of the stuff in following episodes to be very helpful to my own shit.. If I’d been surprised by that scene, I would’ve had to stop the show and go throw up. And cry. And freak out for several hours.

        So, sure, it’s selfish of me to want people to warn me about that kind of thing. But I find it far more baffling that someone could be so lacking in compassion as to find it offensive, or eye-rolling, that I want them to.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        Thank you for posting this, @maribouReport

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Yeah, I’m with you on this one.
        Nothing like hearing someone screaming at the top of their lungs because of a webcomic.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      a milepost along the way to a blandness of culture the likes of which Ray Bradbury warned of.

      “Hey, I thought this was an SF book. It’s not at all, except for the word “rocket”! It’s goddam cloying nostalgia for a fishing small-town in the fishing Midwest! AAUUUUUUGGGGHHHHH!”Report

  11. Avatar Jim Heffman says:

    Interesting how we are again seeing the “you can’t show vicious, hurtful content on television, or in books, because vulnerable people might be harmed merely by experiencing it! You need to make sure that the level of content is explicitly defined and rigidly adhered to, so that people don’t unexpectedly encounter something they wanted to avoid!”

    Although these days the vulnerable people are grown women instead of small children.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Ah yes, hyperbole xmas has arrived.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      No More DEAD BABY JOKES!
      You’re acting like this is new, for crying out loud!
      (and no, I don’t know how Dr. Who got away with sending a babycarriage (with baby) into traffic).

      Hell, john street got in MAJOR fucking trouble for showing an ad about kidnapping (momentarily) a baby in order to advertise something (oh! the Drama! — trolls, you know). Interestingly, no one minded the terrorists kidnapping a couple out of their beds…Report

  12. Avatar Jim Heffman says:

    Also: Movie ratings are the original trigger warning, and they’re hugely criticised as being the result of a bunch of old white prudes acting in a completely opaque manner, and being used more as a form of advertising than anything else.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      “Movie ratings are.. hugely criticised as being the result of a bunch of old white prudes acting in a completely opaque manner”

      Really? Hugely? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say anything about them at all, good or bad. Except, you know, “this movie is rated PG13” kind of comments. Circles we run in, I guess.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        “completely opaque manor” was the lame sequel to house on haunted hill. It was only rated pg so how scary could it be.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        “completely opaque manor”

        A good place to throw stones.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        @tod-kelly There have been criticisms of the MPAA that basically, if you’re a Hollywood blockbuster, you get away with far more than say, a small indie film, especially if that indie film is dealing with controversial matter. See the doc ‘This Film is Not Yet Rated.’Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I don’t recall what film this was supposed to be, or if the story’s true. But it goes that these guys made a comedy and didn’t happen to put any sex, nudity, violence or bad language in it, so even though it was very clever and definitely for grown-ups, it was going to get the kiss-of-death G rating. So, being clever, they added a scene with about 57 F-bombs, which triggered an automatic R, and then agreed to remove it in exchange for a PG.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        Well, I do find the emphasis on horrifying violence (that’s fine for the kids, we’ll just make it PG) vs nude human bodies (OMG a breast, we can’t let children see those) distasteful.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I can’t recall if anyone was horribly injured at the 2003 Super Bowl, but I wouldn’t rule it out.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Gremlins and TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles got us a PG13 rating.
        X-ratings in America are truly the kiss of death — and I’ve seen
        some decent movies that qualify. (of course, there’s been at least
        one where I swear they were trying for that rating for nearly no reason)Report

  13. Avatar trizzlor says:

    I like the idea (proposed here as far as I can tell) of having opt-in trigger warnings. Post them on-line or on a separate hand-out (don’t single people out, obviously) so that people who are affected can be prepared but the warning doesn’t take become the message. PTSD is a real thing, and we should be as accommodating of it as we can without compromising in other areas, so this feels like a reasonable compromise. This, however, doesn’t address the case of people for whom the words “trigger warning” are a trigger of past experiences where they were not warned of explicit content.

    Separately, I don’t think anyone is buying the idea that warnings lead to the death of art and culture, but if you think about movie ratings as an analog then there definitely is an impact. In mainstream comedies, for example, there’s a cachet that comes with having an “R” rating and I frequently see movies trying way too hard just to justify it. On the other hand, it was popular for a while to make PG-13 horror movies that were as suspenseful as possible within the constraint of that rating (The Ring is the first one I can remember). In those cases, constraints were actually pushing the genre forward, or at least more towards edginess rather than away from it. I’m sure there are also plenty of instances where people self-censored, but I personally don’t see that as being a particularly large force. And that is an area where ratings are almost mandatory and strongly determine your audience.Report

  14. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I understand the impetus behind trigger warnings, making things potentially easier for people that experienced traumatic situations but can’t quite bring myself to defend them. Part of it is political. Trigger warnings are just to close to a conservative parody of liberalism for my tastes and I don’t want to give the other side any ammunition or at least another thing to make fun of us about. The other thing is that in real life shit happens and often there is no warning. Learning about the dark side of life through a university course is probably one of the safer and more humane ways to teach this to kids from relatively to very secure and loving backgrounds. Trigger warnings seem to go against this.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Trigger warnings make perfect sense in forums that frequently discuss issues related to particular types of trauma, where the audience and author are aware of many of the common potential triggers, and can either avoid them or announce their presence when they’re necessary within a particular discussion.Trigger warnings make very little sense in the larger world, because all of the conditions that make them useful are absent.

      So, for example, in a class (or class session) on gender and violence, trigger warnings might be appropriate in some cases. In a course on 19th century English literature? Probably not.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        That to me seems backwards. One knows, going in, that gender and violence course is going to have trauma involved. The 19th century course may or may not. I think full disclosure ought to be “tell people what’s going to be on the syllabus” (it’s a quick weblink! Do it a month before classes!)Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      Trigger warnings are just to close to a conservative parody of liberalism for my tastes and I don’t want to give the other side any ammunition or at least another thing to make fun of us about.

      This is just horrid. I’m not all that interested in letting someone else define my liberalism, and I have no intention of being the kind of liberal conservatives want me to be, I’m interested in being the kind of liberal I want to be. And that’s a person who recognizes that some things do cause significant discomfort for people who’ve been through traumatic experiences where they have no control; overt reminders re-assert that moment of trauma.

      I have very mixed feelings that any potential thing that might be a trigger should get a trigger warning; and as I said in response to Burt, I think it’s probably more important to recognize that people do have serious brain issues at work here, and need space and respect when PTSD attacks. But I refuse to surrender the high ground here and suggest to a dumb-assed notion that this is weakness for the benefit of someone just looking to score political points.Report

    • Avatar veronica dire says:


      “Learning the dark side of life” says the man who has never been traumatized.

      (Am I right about that? It’s an assumption, but one that I suspect is true.)

      Trigger warnings are for people who arrive at school who already know well, better than their milquetoast instructors, of the dark side of life.

      Trudy over at GradientLair once pointed out, in an open letter to young black women interested in feminism, but perhaps intimidated by all the theory, that they need not worry about the theory, for they “LIVE the things people ‘theorize’ and ‘debate‘ in the mainstream.”


      So it goes here. All that “dark side” that literature means to teach me, why do you think I do not already know?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        According to a recent survey, 1 out of ever 4 adults in the world thing that people like me are bunch of demons in human flesh and the source of all problems in the world. If knowing that a significant plurality of adults blame their own personal problems and the world’s problems on your group’s very existence doesn’t count as traumatic than I have nothing to say to you. Don’t dismiss me as a white boy with no problems.


        Whats worse is that the alleged forces against racism seem to have a terribly difficult time taking this with even a remote bit of seriousness that they give other groups.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        1 out of every 4 adults in the world thing that people like me are bunch of demons in human flesh

        So, who told you to go to law school?Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @leeesq — Oh puh-lease!

        You’re pulling the same shit that ivy league kid just did. (Not bothering to look up his name.)

        The question: DO YOU HAVE PTSD?

        No, you do not.

        I’m right about that, yes?

        Have you ever experienced a trigger? Do you know what it is like?

        It is not merely a bad feeling. It is a dissociated state of complete terror and helplessness.

        Do you want to know what it is like? Like, for realz? With compassion and respect?

        If I were hurting, really breaking down, would you be a good person to talk to about it? Could I trust you to respect my boundaries, my limits? If I say, “I can’t handle that thing right now,” would you decide I was wrong and then hurt me? Would you choose one day to surprise me with some dark and edgy bullshit, ’cuz the cool!

        That is what this is about.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Veronica, I do more for social justice in one day at my job than most people advocating for trigger warnings or telling people to check their privilege do in their entire lives. I represent undocumented aliens for a living. I fight to keep families to gether and make sure that people get asylum. Do not lecture me about social justice.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @leeesq — I’m not lecturing you about social justice. I’m asking if you have been triggered? Do you know what it is like?

        Whatever your experience, you wrote what you wrote. I am responding to that. You suggested that people need exposure to dark-and-edgy. You said this without irony.

        To say such a thing is deeply condescending, a thing almost certainly said by someone deeply ignorant. It is *-splaining of the veriest sort.

        I have been exposed to dark-and-edgy — thanks for your concern.

        I will no doubt read dark-and-edgy things — although in a post-Breaking-Bad cultural climate, I’ve come to find them rather forced and tedious, shock-tourism for the privileged.

        But whatevs to that.

        Thing is, I want the choice. And I want to provide the choice to others who have experienced far worse than me. That is all.

        We can still read the thing. Do you get that?Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        “Dark and edgy” is not new. It is part of human entertainment, and it has been since deus ex machina was a hot new trend in pop culture.

        What is new is people using their past pain to bully the rest of us.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I take it that you want trigger warnings on anything that will make you vomit?
        Anything particularly designed to cause psychological trauma in normals?

        … because sometimes, it’s not about them.

        I personally appreciate the ability of people with guns to be told when they ought to stow them off their person, before they start firing and not afterwards.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Bully you? What was your major in college? Melodrama and whining?Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Learning about the dark side shouldn’t involve shooting your roommate.
      Give people the chance to put their gun down first? [which they have
      in the first place because of anxiety and fear of loss of control.]

  15. Avatar veronica dire says:

    How many of you have experienced a “trigger”?

    Serious question. Obviously @zic. The rest of you?

    But seriously, this matters. Knowledge matters. Clueless pontificating, on the other hand, does not matter.

    But that said, to @burt-likko ’s point above, if someone did not want to see the trigger warning, it would be reasonable for them to opt out. Easy peasy. Problem solved.

    (You could include [TW: includes TWs] on any piece of media that contained trigger warnings, so the TW-sensitive could avoid the material.)

    I TW things, when I write about rape, abuse, suicide, etc. I do so because many of my friends have experienced those things. A lot. It is part of our lives —

    — in ways that most of you will never hear about, because the type of people you are, as indicated by how you respond to this issue.

    Do you understand that? Abuse survivors will not share these things with you because they know how you will respond, as you have responded above.

    Let that sink in.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      At about 4 or 5 years of age I stood beside my dad and watched him fall off a cliff. If you never watched your dad fall of a cliff, you don’t know.

      I was jumped in the projects and beaten by a group of young black males. If you’ve never been the victim of a racial assault, you don’t know.

      I want trigger warnings to accompany every image of people in high places or of young black men.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @james-hanley — Did that need to be fucking racist as hell?

        Did it need to be?

        Check yourself.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Hey, you weren’t the one lying on the ground getting kicked in the head, so you don’t get to talk about it, do you?

        Do you?Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @james-hanley — Are we going to play this game?

        Yes, I’ve been beat up, multiple times. And yes, on occasion my attackers were black. But I don’t like to talk about that.

        But, really, you want to play oppression olympics with me? You want to compare the hard shit?

        Okay, look, I’m sorry if you lost your dad, sorry you had to see it. Sorry you got beat up. Those are really hard things.

        I haven’t lost a parent. I’ve lost friends, a bunch, but maybe that’s not the same. I dunno.

        I’ve been beaten up. I probably will be beaten up again. I might someday be killed. I live with a constant looming reality of violence. Every day.

        I don’t get beat up every day, of course. But I get threatened frequently. People have pulled knives on me. Sometimes they get in my face and call me “faggot,” give me that “just say something and I’ll kick your ass” routine.

        I walk away. Sometimes they follow me.

        Sometimes they’re white. So what?

        They’re always men. (Women abuse me in other ways.)

        I have been sexually assaulted (but not raped). I was once sexually assaulted by a woman. She was white. This is my life.

        Here is the real question: do you have PTSD?

        I mean, maybe you do. If you do, you deserve compassion and respect. If you do not, be glad. It is not something to want.

        Have you been triggered? Do you understand the full meaning of the term? Like for realz, not some halfassed “I read a blog” knowledge, or the “I took a psych course” knowledge, or “I’m an Internet bro with opinions!” But have you dealt with this thing up close?

        I’ve lived it. I’ve helped friends living through it.

        I’ve triggered my friends by saying foolish things.

        (Hard part for me: my triggers are not easy to identify, since they do not come from a single moment of trauma, but instead a long broken adolescence of unidentified gender dysphoria. My triggers are diffuse.)

        Triggers are a dissociated state of terror and helplessness. They are real.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Did that need to be fucking racist as hell?

        Satire is confusing!Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Have you been triggered? Do you understand the full meaning of the term? Like for realz, not some halfassed “I read a blog” knowledge, or the “I took a psych course” knowledge, or “I’m an Internet bro with opinions!” But have you dealt with this thing up close?

        Imagine if I’d questioned your experiences and reactions to them like this. From whence comes your privilege to question mine?Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        From whence comes your privilege to question mine?

        I hate to be that guy*, but “from whence” is redundant.

        *Not true.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @james-hanley — Right. You want to play oppression olympics. Whatever.

        What you do not want to do, judging from your behavior, is confront the realities of PTSD, and what you can do to make the world more accessible to its sufferers. Why do you ignore the things I say about that?Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        @veronica-dire I understand why you find this thread frustrating – I find it frustrating too – but I think you might want to reconsider this particular battle. Personally, I’m revising my theory of “why James never wrote me back that one time” to include information he stated in this thread, and feeling bad for him, and inclined to cut him some slack because this is the first time he’s ever stated either of those things about himself where I could see them, and I’m assuming that it was really hard for him to do that. He doesn’t have a lot of practice, as far as I can tell, at talking about the bad shit that happened to him where other people see it. (Maybe he does, and also maybe I am sounding like a patronizing jerk! Hard to say really.)

        I can see someone making the argument that, well, if James didn’t want to have his personal, experiential reasons for being pissed off about trigger warnings thrown in his face and used against him in a hostile way, and his experiences discounted, and then that discounting used against him in a hostile way, he should’ve known better than to participate, with animosity, in a thread about trigger warnings and reveal those things. I find it incongruent to see *you* acting as though that argument can be assumed to be true.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Dammit, you’re right.


        What you do not want to do, judging from your behavior, is confront the realities of PTSD, and what you can do to make the world more accessible to its sufferers. Why do you ignore the things I say about that?

        You’re working very hard to delegitimate my experience and deny my voice, which is ironic given how you react so angrily when you think others are doing that to you.

        So why is that I need to listen so carefully to your experience, but you don’t need to listen to mine?

        Why should your experience be privileged over mine? Why don’t mine count? Why don’t mine give me standing to talk about the issue?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        “I want trigger warnings to accompany every image of people in high places or of young black men.”

        … unsure of how serious you’re being here. I’d support having some sort of warning about heights (that’s not too bad, and it will help those afraid of heights, too).

        … I’d hope that you could refine that down to something a bit less… obviously racist (and I’m willing to go pretty far into the racist area, but not quite that far, to be clear). The liberal in me would have problems with doing this for all young black men (even the Fresh Prince of Bel Air?).Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        I have no problem talking about hearing a voice yell “get the white guy” and ending up on the ground getting kicked in the head. That happened when I was an adult. I was able to (mostly) get over it through a conscious act of will.

        The other thing, though, is very different. Things that happen when you’re very young affect you differently, more deeply, perhaps even ineradicably. I’m not trying to compare it to anything that happened to anyone else when they were young, of course. But different people deal with these things in their own ways.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I do find it amusing that people think I’m actually being racist.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Is it racist? yeah-huh (at least as put — I could see “gang of hoodlums out for a stroll” as okay — even black gang, in particular. But not “steve urkel in a room of white dudes”).

        Is it understandable? Yes.

        A very good friend of mine decided not to live on a Rainbow Alliance floor in college. It was a homophobic decision — because he simply did not feel safe there, due to past experiences.

        I find that understandable too.

        And you’ll pardon my language. I call a spade a spade, and I’m not saying you’re always racist, just that proposition: a trigger warning for all young black men, would be racist.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        What everyone has missing in objecting to James Hanley is the trivial difference between warning about rape, and warning about ‘black men’:

        Trigger warnings are for events, not things. They are used to warn about depictions of situations, not for random nouns.

        And we certainly should have trigger warnings about people being surrounded and beaten. And that would probably not include the race of the people doing the beating, as that’s not actually that important to 99% of the people who would be triggered. Much more important would probably be the location of the beating, or the age of victim, or the reason for the beating, or all sorts of crap. Unless we want trigger warnings that are entire paragraphs and actually describe the entire thing, ‘Warning: Depiction of group assault’ would probably be the reasonable choice.

        No one gets a trigger warning because of a thing. Things do not cause PTSD. Experiences do.

        Things can, of course, trigger PTSD, but those sorts of triggers are completely random and unknowable. ‘Trigger warning: Narrator wears a hat that will remind you of your abuser’. That doesn’t work in any possible sense.

        OTOH, showing a depiction of abuse could easily be triggering for the vast majority of sufferers.

        And, of course, the next objection is that PTSD can be caused by quite a few things, and there’s no way to catch them all. Duh. There’s probably some guy out there that was in his attic, fell though his ceiling, and was trapped there suffering and in pain for a day before anyone found him, and now depictions of attics trigger him. But no one’s ever going to warn about attics, or even about people stepping through a floor.

        But it’s easy enough to catch the events that cause 99% of PTSD.Report

    • Avatar dhex says:

      ” in ways that most of you will never hear about, because the type of people you are, as indicated by how you respond to this issue.”

      i think it’s a comfortable thing to believe. it’s the standard response to leeesq’s standard response.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @dhex — In my social circles there a lot of people who have experienced significant trauma. Because of this, many are rather afraid to enter normal social spaces.

        They stay at home a lot. They find select groups of safe friends.

        These behaviors, of course, manifest in varying degrees. But I see this a lot. People who to one degree or another hide.

        They hide because they fear abuse, of course. But what I hear more from them is this: they have a hard time dealing with callous, insensitive people, folks who will ignore their pain, ignore their boundaries, disrespect them.

        You learn not to trust people.

        Trigger warning communicate respect and care, an awareness of limits and boundaries.

        The people on this thread, on the other hand, have communicated zero respect for limits and boundaries. That sucks.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        as you say, the variety of responses to trauma are fairly wide. and even “classic” ptsd manifests in a variety of detrimental ways.

        what makes the leesq “standard response” an issue is partially tone (who cares what republicans say?), but also because there’s a presumption that ptsd isn’t that widespread, or at least not widespread enough that warnings are required before reading even “classic” texts, which are generally seen as unshocking, innocuous, circumspect, oblique, etc.

        some responses are a lack of understanding, particularly this being an issue of a reaction that’s more than something being upsetting or disturbing to someone, and not appreciating the depths to which panic can manifest in peoples’ lives as a response to traumatic experiences, and how detrimental to “regular life” it can be.

        but some of this is a genuine disagreement on how to treat situations where people who have been traumatized are prepared for future experiences in a public, group setting. the presumption that everyone who disagrees is simply unknowing or unempathetic is simply not true. it’s that, like responses to trauma, people deal with their horrors in different ways. and i think some folk get so set into their understanding of how to deal with it that other responses are treated unfairly, or seen as a kind of aggression/denunciation of their own experiences.

        this is separate from the academic freedom issue involved, which is also more complicated than simply a matter of insensitivity. and the comparison to allergies is sadly apt in a number of directions – one being that people lie about conditions in order to exercise power in certain situations. i would like this to not be so.

        in this specific context, compassionate and aware college instructors will and do issue explanations/find workarounds about content, etc, specifically when it comes to sexual assault material, etc – if my wife is teaching “woman at point zero”, there is a preface explaining in very broad outlines what’s involved in the text and asking for people with concerns to meet with her directly. Often those concerns are not ptsd related, but other issues – it’s a challenging work for anyone to read, particularly people coming from high schools where no foreign literature is taught, much less something that stark.

        when one of my instructors assigned 102 minutes in a crisis communications class, nearly everyone in the group had lived in nyc during 9/11 and five of us had worked in the towers or in the area, as had the instructor. knowing some what was coming was helpful. but i can also understand why that instructor, and many like her, would resist formal mandated warnings on her syllabus, despite understanding far too well what ptsd means in a classroom context.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        if my wife is teaching “woman at point zero”, there is a preface explaining in very broad outlines what’s involved in the text and asking for people with concerns to meet with her directly.

        Exactly! This is the effective method when you’re not in a forum focused on being a particular sort of “safe place.” It gives people the ability to make their own choices, based on their knowledge of their own anxieties. It empowers them, and because it doesn’t presume to pick out particular triggers, or just throw out every possible trigger in hope of catching the ones relevant to a particular group of people, it is more helpful in allowing actual PTSD-suffers to remain mindful of their own specific triggers.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @dhex — Right. I get you. I agree.

        Thing is, so many people seem so cavalier about this issue, so sure of themselves, when in fact their understanding is clearly very shallow. This offends me a lot.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @chris — What @dhex is describing is exactly what I expect academic trigger warnings should be, a heads-up for those facing common forms of trauma.

        Is anyone suggesting that these trigger warnings must exactly match the presentation and syntax that is used on forums (such as “[TW: rape]”)?

        As far as I’m concerned, there are probably many ways to implement this core idea. Some are probably better than others. But, I insist, give survivors input into the process. Don’t dismiss them.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I wouldn’t dismiss them. But I am pretty sure that a.) what dhex describes is already extremely common among faculty and instructors who use the sorts of material dhex mentions, and b.) not what people asking for trigger warnings, specifically, are talking about. If it is, then pretty much every concern in the OP and throughout the comments is probably completely baseless.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @chris — People are suggesting — quite literally in this thread — that including TWs will lead to a sterile culture where art is dead.

        No, really, I can quote. (I don’t feel like quoting. You’re reading the same thread.)

        At worst, TWs are a harmless little nuisance, something people will mock.

        But what sort of people will mock them? What does this say about them?

        But to your point, that instructors already do this? I dunno. Read this thread. Read the attitudes.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        @veronica-dire , telling the victims of violence to toughen up, and worrying about creating sterility in art are two separable things. If your only evidence that the former is happening is that the latter is happening, you have no evidence that the former is happening.

        Trigger warnings of the sort that we see in virtually every forum in which they are commonly used would be problematic in most general contexts, for the reasons I’ve discussed, but also because they would risk creating a fairly sterile aesthetic environment. If, as you and I have discussed throughout the thread, that is not the sort of trigger warning we’re talking about, then as I said elsewhere, I think most of the concerns expressed here are no longer relevant.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @chris — I would certainly agree with hiding TWs from people who do not want to see them. That seems a fair compromise that eliminates the “oh no you’ll ruin the story” thing. The “art will die” thing is almost too silly to respond to, but I guess I’ll keep pointing out that we can still read/watch/view/whatever the piece of art. Just, now we are prepared, and we have a choice.

        The patronizing attitude of the “folks need to see dark art” thing drives me nuts. It’s just — so freaking patronizing it drives me batty.

        I mean, good grief!Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        There’s no reason you can’t have threads in the forum for fanmissions…
        “Too Scary to Watch”
        “Involves Sexual Violence”
        “Bloodbath of Epic Proportions”

        [In case it’s not clear, I’m thinking of Thief in particular.]

        This allows the community to thread things appropriately, so that someone saying, “but I don’t want super scary” can find what not to download.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Veronica, I represent asylum seekers for a living. Many of my clients have been through some pretty horrendous stuff or fear that they will go through some rather horrific punishment if returned to their country of origin. Yes, I’ve seen them break down when talking about their experiences. To a certain extent, I have to trigger them in order to get their asylum application approved because they need to explain what happened to them or what they think will happen to them to often cynical officials.

      I am still not sympathetic towards trigger warnings or the ideas behind them, partly because of my work. They don’t work. Even with all the warnings in the world. My clients know what to expect and they still are triggered.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        But, dammit, that’s not teh point!
        V’s point, as I’ve heard it, is that you can be having a BAD Day.
        A day when you’re more emotional (some people call this PMS —
        I’m not more emotional then, but there are Some Days).

        Have you had someone pull a gun on you — or try to, because their
        PTSD went off during fireworks? [yes, I’ve had this happen.]

        … maybe it’s a good idea to TELL that person to put the damn gun down,
        before they shoot the TV all to hell?Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      You have had different experiences than me, @veronica-dire ; and both of our respective experiences differ from @zic ‘s and @james-hanley ‘s and everybody else’s on the planet. Is it possible for me to acknowledge the difference in our respective experiences, to acknowledge that yours have included very painful experiences resulting from great moral wrongs, and yet disagree with you about something related to the subject of your pain?

      I understand what “privilege” is. It’s an advantage that a member of a favored group enjoys without even having to invoke it or be aware that it is in play. I get that.

      Pointing out that I enjoy a privilege you do not is not, however, logically a reason I must vacate the field of discussion or an automatic trump card that renders my position invalid.

      If you tell me to “check my privilege,” that suggests to me that there is something I may have overlooked, and I will go back and consider what you’ve pointed out. But I will not concede that your victimhood necessarily means that you occupy a higher moral ground than me. I will consider what someone unprivileged says with an eye towards understanding, compassion, and remedy.

      But if we’re talking about, say, sexual assault, well, isn’t it also true that one in four women has been sexually assaulted? Must we redact this experience from all works of art because some people have actually had this experience? Do Only people who unfortunately have had this experience get to create works of art that Incorporate this experience? If I’ve not had this experience and am this privileged, must a work of art that I create that deals with it about a particular perspective which is acceptable to someone who has been through it?

      This puts us on a path towards making anything and everything that might disturb anyone be required to carry a warning label. Given that there is at least someone out there will be disturbed by anything you might imagine, that means that every work of art have to carry warning label describing everything in it, in such elaborate detail that the warning label itself will need warnings. This process becomes very silly and very impractical very quickly.

      My insistence that this is so comes with an acknowledgment you may very well have suffered an undesired flashback or other mental reenactment of a very unpleasant experience. Neither I nor anyone else possesses the ability to render the world hazard free. You, I, and everyone else have no choice but to navigate a world in which unpleasant things happen, and in which we may be reminded of unpleasant things that have happened. Whether I am in a privileged position or not when I write this, reading about a sexual assault is not the same experience as being sexually assaulted, and assigning a student to read a work of art in which a character suffers sexual assault is not the same thing as the instructor endorsing or committing sexual assault.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @burt-likko — Honestly, I stopped reading your post when I reached this: “Must we redact this experience from all works of art because some people have actually had this experience?”

        At that point you slipped into full straw-man mode. You see that, yes?

        A trigger warning lets a person with PTSD (or related condition) choose whether to consume a piece of art, and it lets them prepare mentally for what they will see. That is all.

        If you want to argue about stripping the museum walls bare, you can find someone else.

        My point is this: people who don’t know what triggers are nevertheless feel entitled to pontificate.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        v’s right. No one’s saying “Don’t make this damn art”.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        And my points, @veronica-dire , are two in number.

        First, that A’s victimhood is not carte blanche to control B.

        In college, if you take a class, the institution and the professor write the syllabus and grade the work. The student doesn’t get to participate in that process. The student may appropriately ask to have particular concerns taken into consideration (e.g., an alternative assignment of similar intellectual rigor), but that does not mean the request will or even can be granted. You’ve written elsewhere in this thread of the ease with which triggers may be inadvertently tripped by people acting in the best of faith. It ought not to be difficult, then, to see how a rule such as this can lead to stripping the museum walls bare.

        Second, an invocation of privilege is too often used as a way of telling someone who raises a point you dislike “shut up” by denying them moral standing to argue. It turns a debate into a lecture. You do see that, don’t you? I’m not interested in being lectured to, notwithstanding my desire to react humanely to your pain.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        @kim no, they aren’t.

        They’re saying “Warn us about what’s in the art before we see it.” I’m saying, “then it’s not the same thing as seeing it for yourself.”

        They’re saying, “you need to understand how awful my experiences are and give me the option to opt out of the experiences you would otherwise assign us.” I’m saying, “I can only do that so much before you aren’t taking the same class as everybody else.”

        The proposal surely seems modest to you. It seems ambitious to me.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @burt-likko — Museum walls won’t be stripped bare. That is such hyperbole. Please.

        The is not about power over — as if PTSD have much social power anyhow — but about compassion and respect. It is simply this: warn people about obvious and well-known triggers. Allow them to decide how to deal with the material. Give them alternatives.

        Your position is this: Surprise them and hurt them. Do not listen to them. Dismiss their claims. Force them to relive their trauma on your terms, or give them the choice to drop out from society. (Many do.) On and on.

        Dude, you need to rethink this.

        Go read what @maribou wrote. That is what this is about.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @burt-likko — Let me add this: look how many in this thread want to tell survivors that they need to toughen up ( @notme ’s post being a rather disgusting example) or need to “see the dark side” (as @leeesq maintains), on and on.

        The cluelessness of this.

        But there might be some truth to that. Maybe for this particular person, at this point in their life, being exposed to tough material might be good for them. It can happen.

        I have experience with this. I read Nevada, which can be a tough read for a trans woman.

        Consider this: trigger warnings give these people the choice, because maybe today is not the day.

        I have a friend who has decided to put off reading Nevada. She is concerned it will bring up hard gender stuff she can’t deal with right now.

        That is her choice.

        Let me repeat (and I will keep repeating this): the survivor can still choose to read/watch/consume the art, even if it contains a trigger warning.

        I repeat: the survivor can still read it, if they want.

        Do you get that? They can still read it. They can still stroll through the museum and look at the walls.

        We can still do that. We can still watch.

        Has that sunk in? Should I say it again?

        We’re asking to do it on our terms. You want to spring it on us.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Let me add this: look how many in this thread want to tell survivors that they need to toughen up…

        That’s not a particularly fair or accurate assessment of what most people are saying. I cannot speak for everyone, but my guess is that this is more about telling people who are not survivors to toughen up. To accept the call for trigger warnings on The Great Gatsby or Things Fall Apart (examples from the NY Times piece) is to accept a whole lot of priors that go above and beyond allowing people with PTSD a chance to protect themselves.

        The real question is: is this a public health issue or an ideological and political issue?

        If it is a public health issue, then make the public health case. If this is an ideological and political issue, then accept that other people have different ideological and political points of view.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        @veronica-dire , other than notme, whom we all know to be a troll and little else, who has said anything like “they need to toughen up?” Could you point me to some specific examples?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Superfluity does not vitiate, @veronica-dire . Your point has always been clear. You want the choice to be made by the person who suffers, an alternative option available to them because the trauma is so great it morally demands accommodation.

        When that’s a reasonable possibility, I agree. That’s what people of compassion and good faith will do, voluntarily, when they can.

        It’s not always a reasonable possibility to do something like this, so it shouldn’t be a mandatory rule. Do I need to follow your example and repeat that last sentence five times before I can be sure that you understand me?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Yeah, I think that it’s fair for a professor of “Sexual Violence: a Historical Perspective” to say: “if you don’t read these, you can’t get a good grade in the course.” It’s not fair to have that class be an Absolute Requirement, but the course is, after all, the course. It’s not like you’re just doing “Victorian English Literature.”

        As to warning people — sure, it’s not the same thing as seeing it unprepared.
        But I’m damn sure folks get warned in court, before seeing some crime scene photos — and that’s seen at second remove.

        If your argument leads to removing of all labeling, well, that’s a coherent argument, which I can respect. But as long as we label movies, it’s okay to say “sexual abuse within” or, if you must be more vague, “content of a graphic and sexual nature.”Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        to the extent that it’s a public health issue, trigger warnings ought to be mandatory. Wearing a gun into an establishment, and drawing it — shooting it, in the worst case? That’s a public health issue.

        Again, this isn’t saying “don’t watch this” it is simply saying “Put the damn gun away”Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        @burt-likko ” That’s what people of compassion and good faith will do, voluntarily, when they can.” – the real problem is how many professors absolutely are not people of compassion and good faith on this issue, or who might have compassion and good faith sometimes, but also have very narrow world views about what is or isn’t a valid student need, and how little recourse students have when that professorial power is abused, UNLESS there are stupid idiotic campus policies in place. It’s much like the professors who said miserable and ridiculous things to or about students with disabilities in my classes. I had people try to get my alphasmart thrown out of class as an “unfair advantage”. I had a friend – a brilliant friend – with cystic fibrosis fail a class because “you couldn’t possibly have written that final paper and you must have been cheating” when I had sat next to them and LISTENED to them dictate flawless paragraph after flawless paragraph out loud to their notetaker, simply because the professor was incapable of understanding the person’s hard-to-understand speech, and equally incapable of realizing that he, not my friend, was the incapable one in this particular situation, so he assumed she wasn’t smart enough to write a paper like that one. So I have no problem assuming there are professors who willingly subject their students to flashbacks on the assumption that it’s good for them and those kind of nuanced attempts to make the exploration safer are unhealthy or not academically sound. absolutely none. And no problem assuming that some of those professors teach classes that students HAVE to take for their majors, either. I sort of agree that the answer shouldn’t be blanket policies and opt-outs. But it shouldn’t be “well, you signed up for that when you decided to be an English major” either.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @burt-likko — So you would oppose a university policy that requires teachers make available trigger warnings for material that includes rape, violence, sexual assault, suicide, or incest, and furthermore that they make accommodations for students who do not wish to consume such material?Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        I should say, the profs never succeeded in forcing me to take notes by hand no matter how much it hurt to do so (except in cases where the tech just wasn’t there to take the needful notes, in which case I forced myself and didn’t need anyone to do it), and my friend’s failing of the class was overturned according to due process. But those protections happened because of the stupid rules the college had in place, not because the profs saw the light and realized they were being cruel and unreasonable.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        @veronica-dire I would oppose either such policy, the second more strongly than the first, for reasons previously stated (among others). I would applaud a memo suggesting those things. When it stops being a best practice and starts being a mandatory rule, my opinion changes.

        @maribou I take as Gospel truth that lots of professors are ignorant slugs devoid of empathy who will do only the bare minimum required of them by rules, and then only grudgingly and to the extent that they fear being called to account. But we can’t legislate compassion. Trying to do so will inevitably prove counter productive.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        every law has unintended consequences.
        By not making it Mandatory, you might force someone to drop out of college, or otherwise be unable to finish their degree. Because Maribou’s right — there are requirements for most fields. And, in the vast vagaries of American Unis, there will be one where Women and Sexual Violence is mandatory (perhaps, even, for women’s studies).Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        Were a student to make his/her triggers known, explicitly, to a professor and were they then to request trigger warnings only to be denied, would the professor and/or college risk any liability if a triggering event occurs?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        @kazzy that’s why I fret about medicalizing these kinds of things, vis a vis The Americans with Disabilities Act, infra. because that very well could happen! And it might work out that the law would handle such a matter as a public accommodations issue, that is to say under a strict liability standard, rather than as one requiring an interactive process and reasonable accommodations, as prevails in an employment setting.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        A hypothetical for you, @kim: you are a college student. You are interested in enrolling in a class that has the name “women’s Studies 101: Women and Sexual Violence.” Knowing nothing else about the class other than the title, what are your reasonable expectations for the subject matter that will be discussed in the class?

        Given those reasonable expectations, is it necessary to make explicit by way of a trigger warning that subject matters such as rape and sexual assault will be discussed?

        Given that the class is almost certain to be taught by a professor in the women’s studies department, do you doubt that this professor will address the subject matter with compassion for the survivors of such kinds of violence?

        You’d have a stronger case if the title of the class were “English 101: basic composition.” Then we’re back to the Tennessee Williams play. (This was, in fact, the assigned reading for my freshman composition class, lo these many years ago.) maybe you don’t know, before taking the class, that this play includes an element of sexual violence. And you only know before signing up for the class that you will be asked to read something and then write about it later.

        At this point, I would say that it might be a good practice for the instructor of that class to say “there is material in this play that some people find disturbing. See me after class if you are concerned about that.” But I also don’t think that it should be required of her that she make this disclaimer. I also am not in a position to say whether this likely good practice constitutes a best practice. At some point, we have to trust that the professor is going to teach the subject in an appropriate fashion. If a student believes this has not happened, that is why there are faculty review committees, coachings from department heads, and, if the scenario I fear comes to pass, ADA training.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I would push for some sort of “general conduct guidelines” that profs are expected to follow (from the dean, and responsible to the dean, not law).

        But, of course, if the subject matter is already disclosed, there’s no need to disclose it. (and I’m agreeing with v/Chris on the “don’t put disclosures on the “everyone must read” syllabus. Put it on the “trigger warnings are here” on Blackboard).Report

  16. Avatar notme says:

    Those poor little liberal darlings, we don’t want anything to upset their delicate psyche. I mean what is going to happen to them when they leave their liberal cocoon and have to experience the real world? It won’t be pretty.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      @notme I think you’ve missed the whole point.

      Trigger warnings are not required for coddled little liberals in cocoons. They’re for people who’ve already experienced the real world. War. Rape. Violence. That sort of stuff. They’re not for delicate sensibilities, they’re for abused sensibilities; people who’ve had events so difficult that the memories get lodged in the hippocampus, and reassert without warning, putting you back in that moment.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Yeah, experiencing the real world might make a poor conservative like you cry.
      Luckily, we liberals sanitize the world for you.
      With bullets.Report

  17. Avatar Kazzy says:

    My understanding of TWs is that they are noy necessarily designed to cease engagement, but to inform the reader/viewer of what to expect.

    Ya know, like how HBO used to (and maybe still does) tell you the following film contains curse words and brief nudity and violence? It didn’t force anyone to change the channel; it just let viewers know what is coming.

    A TW is information; no more, no less. How people respond and then the response to the response is reallh what we should be talking about. Not the presence of what amounts to a disclaimer.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      Seems to me they have some potential to draw more attention to material, like an ‘R’ rating for a movie or a warning label in records — Tipper Gore helped a lot of musicians make a lot of money with those labels.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F says:

      Well, in this context, the idea to allow students who could be triggered the chance to opt out of the assignment and do an alternate assignment. That’s more what people are concerned about.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        In this case, this particular set of arguments has been going on for almost a month (AP put something out on April 26th), and only a few people seem to be most concerned about whether students can opt-out or not. Far more people want to complain about the idea in general, or defend the idea in general, than are interested in arguing about opt-out. Which is a bit annoying since to me whether or not it’s a good choice to allow students to opt out of particular works is the only thing of significant arguability in the whole process – the only part I personally feel ambiguous about, at least. (whether or not forcing teachers to boilerplate actually works or helps anyone is, of course, another arguable issue, but I don’t think that one is resolvable considering how much time has already been devoted to arguing about it.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Very well said, @maribou .

        I’m curious… Does PTSD qualify as a disability?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Ironically, Colorado Medicinal Marijuana law allows damn near everything to act as an excuse to get a card. Back pain? Check. Sleeplessness? Check. Diarrhea? Check.

        You know what’s not on the list? PTSD.

        It strikes me that this is one of those obviously political decisions made to avoid deep embarrassment due to the large number of military bases in the state and the mindboggling number of soldiers returning from abroad with PTSD.

        All that to say: the fact that PTSD may or may not show up on an official list is likely to be due to back room dealings rather than as a reflection of anything approaching reality.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        @kazzy , PTSD can be considered a disability for the purposes of SSDI (as, I believe, can any anxiety disorder, provided it’s deemed sufficiently debilitating). I wonder what that means for its ADA status.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        The ADA defines a disability as:

        (1) Disability
        The term “disability” means, with respect to an individual—
        (A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;
        (B) a record of such an impairment; or
        (C) being regarded as having such an impairment (as described in paragraph (3)).
        (2) Major life activities
        (A) In general
        For purposes of paragraph (1), major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.
        (B) Major bodily functions
        For purposes of paragraph (1), a major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

        I don’t have my research tools handy, but it’s hard to see how PTSD, particularly as movingly described by @veronica-dire , would not meet this definition.Report

  18. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Should a home-schooled kid from a very sheltered Christian background be allowed to request trigger warnings on a love story that involves two men and graphic scenes of homosexual sex? Should a foreign exchange student from a more sexist society be given a trigger warning for feminist work?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Let’s think of it this way: If a student approached the professor and said, “Professor, does this book contain X?” would we consider it appropriate if the professor either lied or said, “You’ll just have to wait and see”?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Like many things it depends. My point is that trigger warnings might start out with an allegedly noble goal, which may or may not work depending on the research you read but it can morph into something else that its originally proponents did not expect and do not like.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor says:

        … it can morph into something else that its originally proponents did not expect and do not like.

        I don’t really understand this line of argument. As an example, there are a lot of disabilities out there, but a really common outcome is being in a wheelchair; so as a society we’ve decided to make places wheelchair accessible whenever possible. I don’t think anyone seriously goes around and says “wheelchair access is going to lead down a slippery slope into something you won’t like, people are going to start making up pet-disabilities and demanding special treatment!”. I feel like a lot of the comments here fretting that trigger warnings will get perverted or become rampant are basically assuming that – unlike other disabilities – triggers are just not something we should care about.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        Wheelchair ramps aren’t supposed to be slippery.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        But, fundamentally – there’s nothing much to understand to this line of argument, because it’s an obfuscation used by those who realize they can’t decently raise their real objections, so they construct a 42-step scenario where the thing they don’t like is step 1, the next 40 steps are a poorly strung together chain of unlikely events that are presented as being inevitable and impossible to counteract midway, and step 42 is the zombie apocalypse.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        ““wheelchair access is going to lead down a slippery slope into something you won’t like, people are going to start making up pet-disabilities and demanding special treatment!””

        Oh, @trizzlor. I so wish you were right that people do not say shit like that. As someone who has been in and out of the academic accessibility field both as a student with a disability and as an employee who actively advocates for disability issues, I have heard things so very close to exactly that phrase.

        Another good one is “but we don’t need things to be accessible to people who use wheelchairs because we don’t have any students or employees who use them!” … yeah, and you WON’T HAVE ANY as long as it’s so obvious to any admitted student or prospective employee who shows up for a campus visit that you aren’t ready to include them.

        (I was wrong about that, by the way. People get injured, and also wear out over time, so we eventually had some folks using wheelchairs. Good thing we renovated.)Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Very few rules are created with fell goals. Of course trigger warnings are beneficently intended. And of course when used with a light and enlightened touch, they can enhance rather than minimize discussion.

        Video games have content descriptions and age-appropriateness advisories. The artistic experience of those games is not substantially diminished thereby. But note that no rule nor law requires these advisories, and market experience indicates that age-appropriateness is an issue because minor children are frequent consumers of such media. Note also that consumption of video games, unlike plays, novels, or other works of art addressed in a college class, are purely voluntary.

        No one makes you play Grand Theft Auto. But your English professor might very well assign A Streetcar Named Desire.

        Experience shows that you need a lot fewer than 42 tenuous steps to get from a rule requiring trigger warnings to a heckler’s veto. Particularly on a college campus. A generation ago, we were debating “speech codes” and ‘chilling words’ and ‘words-as-acts-of-violence.’ I began my career defending professors and students who violated these speech codes. I’ve deposed wooly-heard college administrators who’ve tried to defend these things as somehow not censorship because they were intended to help people feel better about the harshness of life. And the awfulness of certain subjects. You saw it half a generation ago when we were told that Mark Twain should be expunged from libraries because he wrote using the candid and offensive language of his day, instead of calling Huck Finn’s friend an “enslaved person.”

        Today’s debate is the same thing, with different nomenclature for the same thing: censoring ideas, words, phrases, and concepts that people claiming to speak on behalf of “victims” wish to delete from discourse rather than face the discomfort of disagreement or the sting of confronting an evil. The modern twist is to medicalize it. But it’s the same pig, wearing different lipstick.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        “censoring ideas, words, phrases, and concepts that people claiming to speak on behalf of “victims” wish to delete from discourse rather than face the discomfort of disagreement or the sting of confronting an evil.”

        This is something I agree with. I’m actually very frustrated when my own struggles are co-opted in this way, and I work my ass off to make sure that I’m not (to the best of my abilities) doing that to anyone else. But it’s equally frustrating to be told that if I try to make my experience of triggering materials better, I should stop because I’m just enabling censors. The fact that censors want to “free ride” on my arguments and my experience of the world doesn’t mean that I’m at fault for wanting to promulgate those arguments and experiences. It’s the censors’ later steps that are the problem.

        Something crappy is a lot less than 42 steps from *anything* we do as human beings, and just sitting around not doing anything is probably less than 42 steps from something crappy as well.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        As I said earlier, it’s entirely possible that used deftly, warnings and cautions can help rather than hurt the exchange of ideas and facilitate solutions, if only small ones, for big problems. Good rules in the hands of cynical or thoughtless enforcers are at best hammers in the hands of clumsy carpenters.

        If you’re saying that we need to build something despite the fact that some carpenters are clumsy, I can understand that and we can probably work out some common sense ideas. I’d hope that a professor can teach Roman history or classical art to a population that includes sexual assault survivors, notwithstanding that among the subjects under discussion will be the rape of Lucretia and the kidnapping of the Sabine women. We needn’t endorse the “cleverness and audacity” of the Sabines’ Roman captors, nor dwell on what exactly Tarquinius was doing with poor Lucretia, in order to deal in a reasonable fashion with these subjects.

        Where my caution goes up is when we start making these things mandatory instead of a function of reasonability — rules, after all, are meant to control the conduct of people who are often not reasonable (whether through poor judgment or simple ignorance). Unreasonable people either confronted with or empowered by rules do unreasonable things.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        we’re already at that damn censorship point!@!
        No more dead baby jokes!! (that’s the censor talking, not me).

        We censor things already, people flip the fuck out about stupid shit.
        People intentionally troll their audience (Cross Days).

        Simply because you don’t see the storylines that happen because of censorship doesn’t mean they weren’t stripped away.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Truly, @kim, I don’t see how your comment above applies to mine. Would you be so kind as to try again?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Trigger warnings seem like a way of democratizing censorship, at their very worst.

        I’ll take that as an assumption — and say that a lot of storylines now are dying in their cradles because of censorship, already. Here, at least, folks get input into “what we don’t want to see…”

        (Rather than the default: Don’t show any kids doing violence that a kid at home could attempt. Knives Bad, A-bombs Good.)Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Why should democratized censorship be any more palatable than censorship by an autocrat?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        in that a democratized censorship reflects our ethics better.

        john st had an ad where they kidnapped a baby as
        part of the advertisement. Folks went apeshit over it —
        so john st took it down.

        Now, maybe we should be okay with everything (including incest
        on TV! now for ten year olds!). Certainly a valid view to hold.

        Are you okay with art created with malicious intent? With the
        intent to use subsequent psychological damage to gain
        advantage over the person?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Re: democratized censorship.

        Are you okay with a law criminalizing the public burning of the American flag?

        Re: malicious art.

        I’m not okay with vandalism of someone else’s property. I’m not okay with prior restraints.

        I am okay with the tort of defamation. I am okay with the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Within appropriate constitutional limits.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Dropping any pretense of devil’s advocate, no I’m not okay with a law criminalizing burning a flag.

        And, bearing that in mind, I might be uncomfortable with a law requiring trigger warnings. however, we are looking at no such thing.

        I’m not sure the wording of “actual malice” as represented in your link makes much sense in a fictional context (deliberately lying might be said to be the point of fiction, after all).Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          Now I’m a bit confused about what “malicious art” might be if the “parody advertisement” in the Hustler Magazine case doesn’t fit the concept you’re talking about. Is there an example you can point to?

          Regardless, I think Hustler Magazine v. Falwell was correctly decided. Flynt’s castigation of Falwell was cruel, crude, and socially objectionable, intended to expose the religious-and-political leader to scorn and humiliation and obloquy. And if we don’t let Flynt get away with it as a legal matter and leave the response to the advertisement up to the financial and social marketplace, then we’re palpably less free than we imagine ourselves to be.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        A work of art that is intended to strike at your psyche, cause anxiety, otherwise render you less fit to do your job.


        Here’s one. It was designed for a specific person who lived in a basement (and didn’t leave often).Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        The story looks long and creepy; when I have a more relaxed moment and find myself in a mood appropriate to enjoy a creep-out, I’ll read it all.

        I still think the right standard is the one described in the Hustler Magazine v. Falwell case, still seems like a pretty close intellectual fit to what you’re describing and pointing out. Note that in that case, Jerry Falwell is a public figure which makes the bar against his taking legal action in response to the art somewhat more difficult to overcome than if he were a private figure.

        More importantly, note that the ability of the aggrieved plaintiff to take action occurs after the author publishes as she sees fit, and note how the remedy, if any is available at all, is typically money damages rather than retraction, revision, or redaction.Report

  19. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    @maribou I have a client, right now, who owns a walk-up hamburger stand. He is being sued for an ADA violation because the mirror and soap dispenser in his public bathroom is too high for a wheelchair-bound plaintiff to use. Mind you, the plaintiff bringing the lawsuit is not wheelchair-bound; rather, he’s hearing-impaired. And the building is old enough to be exempt from ADA retrofit requirements. But no matter, I still need to do the things lawyers do to defend the lawsuit. Giving the plaintiff some money and refitting the bathroom would likely be cheaper than paying me to fight the suit, and indeed the plaintiff has made exactly such a demand, which I have ignored pursuant to my client’s instruction.

    I’d think more kindly of the plaintiff if his physical disability were rationally related to the alleged violation. Or if the lawsuit hadn’t named 99 other businesses simultaneously for different other trivial violations, nearly none of which have anything to do with hearing impairment.

    I like the ADA in principle and in intent. It’s a law with a noble purpose. Which is being cynically abused for profit. I applaud you for motivating your institution to be more inclusive and accessible to all. My praise is tempered, though, because I’ve had direct experience with this same noble law used to facilitate the cupidity of clever cynics rather than the cohesiveness of a community. I’m curious to learn your reaction to my client’s situation.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor says:

      @burt-likko on balance, do you think the ADA has yielded more frivolous law-suits than positive benefits? And, in the context of the analogy, would you argue that *voluntary* wheel-chair access should be discouraged because it leads to abuse (since, as far as I understand, the discussion is about voluntary trigger warnings leading to frivolous warning abuse)?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I’m not sure what you mean by “voluntary” wheelchair access. I’d argue that an ADA defendant accused of not having a ramp when and where she should have had one should be able to install that ramp without its installation being used in court as an admission of liability. Is that what you’re getting at?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Also, I was not under the impression that voluntary conduct was under discussion. Perhaps I missed something. My concern is when these things become compulsory, more by rule than by custom.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor says:

        Also, I was not under the impression that voluntary conduct was under discussion.

        Aha, this is probably my fault for missing the context. The way I was thinking about wheelchair access was as follows:

        * If a university decides to add wheelchair access to it’s classrooms to accommodate people with physical disabilities, this is generally considered a positive move (and certainly not as a slippery slope to accommodation of fake disabilities).
        * If a university decides to put up a web-site with trigger warnings for required texts to accommodate people with PTSD, this is seen – by some commenters here – as a slippery slope to censorship.

        To me, this distinction assumes a hierarchy of disabilities where PTSD ranks somewhere very close to *don’t care*. I think considering the ADA on top of this is more confusing than informative because it introduces all sorts of questions about mandatory requirements, efficient law, and frivolous tort.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        But if we agree, as I think we must, that PTSD is a legitimate condition, then we must bring it in to play. No one would say that the appropriate attitude to PTSD is “don’t care.” But a legitimate response to “this thing triggers my PTSD” might be “can’t be avoided.” The ADA in some situations only requires “reasonable” accommodations, and that only after both parties have engaged in an “interactive process” to mutually understand what is needed and what is possible in a given situation.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Ought we to note which courses make people vomit, on average? That’s something that “can’t be avoided”, isn’t it? Is it not polite to make certain that
        people aren’t in their best clothes when that occurs?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        What makes you vomit, @kim? And whose duty ought it to be to determine if nausea is a danger?

        Maybe the sight and feel of human viscera will make you vomit. If I’m teaching an anatomy course in which a human cadaver will be dissected, isn’t it obvious enough at the outset that everyone can be reasonably inferred to understand that?

        Maybe you’re a combat veteran and sudden loud noises sometimes, but not always, induce panic. If I’m teaching a film studies class entitled “Violence in Cinema,” and the movies depict gunfire, whose duty is it to determine that this or that movie is problematic for you? Once this information is known, and you decide to opt out of watching the assigned film, what’s the fair alternative way to educate you and evaluate your academic performance?

        Or, to use my English class analogy, if I’ve assigned a streetcar named desire, do I have a duty to tell you before you read the play that the critical plot development occurs just after the end of act one, when Stanley rapes Blanche? Once it becomes known that an artistic depiction of rape, or even the strong implication of rape in this play, will set off a trigger for you, what is the equivalent play that I could assign you that would not include such an element? And how is it fair that you get to read a play of at least partially your choice, while the rest of the students have to read Tennessee Williams for no other reason other than that I, the instructor, have said they must?

        Maybe, and each of these three instances, the only realistic and fair option available is for you to drop the class. But now, you have been denied an opportunity to have access to education because of your disability (PTSD). Not only is that not fair, it’s contrary to law. And down the slippery slope we go, with the assistance of the Americans with Disabilities Act.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        as I’ve said upthread, a lot of the idea of trigger warnings is to get people to put the guns away (physical guns that might cause property destruction or loss of life). So long as the classes aren’t hard requirements, you aren’t hurting someone’s education unduly (and I’d strongly suggest that even a Violence against Women class in the Womens’ Studies dept. should be optional.)

        I do agree that it is a good assumption if you’re taking classes to become a coroner, that you may be exposed to rotting flesh. No need for a disclaimer.

        For the English class, I’d simply suggest giving everyone a bit of freedom. There’s no reason you can’t have a “do two out of three of these, and we’ll discuss them in class”Report

    • Avatar Maribou says:

      This country is far too lawsuit-based for its own health. As you state in your explanation, the law itself doesn’t even require your client to do anything, because the people who made it were relatively reasonable in its formation (although omg, having done an ADA audit…) So I guess my reaction is that it really sucks that we’re in a situation where people bring lawsuits over any stupid thing and it isn’t financially reasonable to stand up to those people in court. (This also happens all the time in fair use cases.) You’re the lawyer, so I expect you have far better ideas about lawsuit reform than I do.

      My frustration with the people I’m talking about wasn’t actually ‘there’s a law and you should comply with it’ – it’s ‘you people – THE VERY SAME PEOPLE – sit around in meetings and talk about how you (supposedly) want to increase diversity and you (supposedly) want to include all students regardless of their disabilities and etc – but you aren’t willing to put your money / actions where your mouths are.’ I had this reaction to the conversations taking place at multiple schools in 2 different countries over multiple decades, so I’m not trying to sling mud at any particular institution.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


        Americans have always been litigious. Alexis de Tocquville made the same observation in Democracy in America.

        I am the lawyer representing the other side of @burt-likko usually. I am on the plaintiff’s side. My observation is that tort/personal injury lawsuits are often the only way for the poor and/or injured to get any measure of compensation and justice. Burt Likko can point to that frivolous lawsuit. I can point to people being forced to sue siblings because insurance companies often refuse to pay claims if you were injured in a sibling’s house because they think it means you will be unwilling to sue your own brother and sister.

        I think our whole economy is based on snake-oil and dishonor (or at the very least fortune seeking) at times and this causes cynicism all around. If we had proper universal healthcare, I think you would see fewer mass tort cases over injuries for adverse effects to drugs and the like but I doubt true universal healthcare will exist in my life time. You will just see people screaming “tort reform” and wanting to make insurance companies immune which will render insurance useless.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        A lot of this has to do with the lack of a decent welfare state and universal healthcare. In most states with universal healthcare, if you get into a horrific accident you really don’t have to worry about the medical costs of recovery or a lot of other things. This allows courts to limit any damages in such lawsuits to lower numbers.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        As I indicated above, I would look much more kindly upon the lawsuit my client faces were the plaintiff’s disability related in some fashion to the alleged violation of the ADA that the plaintiff put at issue.

        While I to see several advantages to the concept of universal healthcare, the issue in this lawsuit, or cognate lawsuits that are clearly brought in good faith, is not one of healthcare but rather one of equal access to a public accommodation.

        The trigger warnings that are under discussion from the OP’s prompt are presented, albeit indirectly, as an issue of equal access to education. I think equal access to education is a serious concern. I think it is a difficult one to navigate under these circumstances. The point I’ve been trying to make again and again in this thread is that equal access to education probably cannot be reasonably reconciled with ensuring equal comfort with the content of that education.

        @maribou raised the issue of equal access to education from the perspective of an enabling the physical plant of a campus to accommodate people in wheelchairs. It’s a good and worthwhile point, and it’s easy to see her frustration with people who said that it simply isn’t possible to put ramps in where we have stairs right now. But I see a qualitative difference between the ability of a university to modify its physical plant with the ability of the university to modify its curriculum. Obviously, there are things that can be done to a curriculum to make it more intellectually inclusive, and these things should be explored.

        Recall, if you will, the trend of conservative students to clean that they are somehow victims because their liberal professors expose them to liberal ideas in class. Doesn’t inspire much sympathy, does it? The class is the class, you can take it or not, but if you want the degree, you need to take the class.

        As I said in my first comment on this post, that is still fundamentally where I come down on the issue of trigger warnings for challenging intellectual material. I want to do this in a way more compassionate to the student who suffers from PTSD than I would to the student who is simply uncomfortable with stepping out of her intellectual bubble, because such a person has a legitimate and significant condition which deserves empathy and understanding. And as I indicated higher up in this sub-thread, I recognize that it is possible to use warnings and discussions of the nature of challenging content to facilitate rather than to obstruct the educational process. But I would resist making such a thing it requirement, a rule, a law, precisely because to do so would so easily lead us to a place where no reasonable solution can be found.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        “This country is far too lawsuit-based for its own health.”

        Note that, per the wording of the ADA, a lawsuit is required. You are not actually supposed to have to ask for help; the facility should be perfect when you walk in.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      @burt-likko Is it just a coincidence that the plaintiff is disabled (but in a way entirely unrelated to the lawsuit), or do you have to be disabled to have standing*?

      *It would be in bad taste to insert a “heh” here, wouldn’t it?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        You must have a disability in order to be a plaintiff in such a suit, @brandon-berg , but the law is written in such a way that you would likely have to labor for quite some time in order to find a human being anywhere on the planet who did not meet the definition of the word disabled as set forth in the statute and interpretive caselaw. For instance, I require the use of corrective lenses in order to see, as a result of an unfortunate confluence of myopia and astigmatism in one of my eyes. Seeing is a “major life activity,” and therefore I am “disabled” for purposes of the ADA. The ease and affordability with which I am able to resolve my “disability” at no expense, inconvenience, volition, or knowledge on the part of any public accommodation that I might purport to patronize (e.g., in my client’s lawsuit there is no allegation that the plaintiff attempted to buy a hamburger) is irrelevant to the law.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Let me amend that — prompted by @kazzy , I looked up the statutory definition of disability. Vision correctable by ordinary eyeglasses is exempted from the definition of “disability.” So until (as seems inevitable) my astigmatism gets bad enough to be uncorrectible with glasses, it’s by exception not a disability. Give it about ten years.

        But my chronic insomnia would probably qualify me. Mild, as life struggles go, and Ambien is a great blessing. But the statutory threshold is low, by intent of the author. (Ted Kennedy.)Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        you’re… on ambien? Man, I’ve heard horror stories about that drug…Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @burt-likko I’ve been told that my migraine may qualify me.

        But ADA, while it requires ramps, etc., does not require non-flickering light. So people like me (flicker-triggered migraine) and folks with seizures are often at risk in public places, schools and government office buildings in particular; they often have horrid lighting.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Yeah, you’ve shared the fact of your migraines before, @zic, and you have my ongoing sympathies. I get an event that forces me away from work or significant life activites maybe once a year; I don’t have it nearly as bad as you.

        I wasn’t aware of the flickering-light thing — perhaps that is the “undue hardship” exception, which I’m sure was bitterly-fought. A computer monitor by its nature flickers — and I wonder if there isn’t an opportunity for a tech firm to devise a screen that works by some other means out there, because you are hardly the only person who reacts badly to rapidly-flickering light sources.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        My scrip is “prn,” so I’m not on it nightly. But more nights than not, I have trouble falling asleep, which often noticeably affects my work the next day. Gotta take care of business, so if that means using the tools of modern pharmacology, that’s what I’m gonna do.

        I’ve had some funky dreams, nothing worse. Other folks have had much more severe side effects than that, and they need to find a different sleep aid.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        yeah, amazon’s e-ink screens don’t flicker.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        ” they need to find a different sleep aid.”
        … and a new marriage.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        But Ambien may well have prevented my marriage from dissolving. As classic a case of YMMV as can be imagined.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        I hear you on the insomnia. I frequently have trouble sleeping well, and I get about 3-4 bad bout’s a year where I’ll go 3-4 nights in a row with almost no sleep. It’s a killer. I tried ambien, but my body seemed to quickly grow tolerant so that it was no longer very effective. I switched to lunesta, which works pretty well, with no noticeable side effects (for me).

        I also got diagnosed with sleep apnea this year. Sleep deprivation has just about become my core identity.Report

  20. Avatar Shazbot3 says:

    Hey there’s a hippy who wants to provide people with serious trauma a warning to ready themselves so they are not surprised and retraumatized. Punch that hippy.

    If there is an intersting argument about trigger warnings amidst the rhetoric in the OP, it is invisible.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


      Considering that most of the people I know are opposed to trigger warnings are also on the left including people who write for publications like the Nation, hippie-punching is a rather odd insult. It would be one thing is this was Jonah Goldberg vs. the left but there are plenty of people on the left who oppose trigger warnings including many academics like my old undergrad adviser who is LGBT in status.

      Hippie-punching is just an attack that does not want to engage in anything.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        There may be an argument about why trigger warnings are to be avoided or not to be required in certain circumstances. Such an argument could even be offered by an LGBT professor. But Rufus’ post is not such an argument. It is no argument at all. Just a bunch of rhetoric implying hippy leftists are too sensitive and trying to control everyone. Something like that; those darned hippies.

        An article on trigger warnings should include some actual awareness of PTSD, the horror of panic attacks, how easy it is to let a student or reader know what might be upsetting in a book to people who suffer from common traumas (war, rape, sexual abuse, etc.), how students with illnesses have a moral claim (defeasible in some circumstances) that schools take reasonable steps to accomodate their very real illnesses, including panic disorders and PTSD, etc.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        The allergy analogy is somewhat (maybe not quite) apt here. If you taught a cooking class, you have a duty (defeasible under certain circumstances) to let students who have common allergies be warned that the ingredients may trigger an alergic reaction. That duty maybe shouldn’t be a legal requirement. Maybe in the case of severe and common allergies it should be a requirement.

        When discussing rape and war and violence, which can trigger panic attacks or suicidal thoughts (and behaviors) in those with PTSD, we have the same duty. This is especially true given how many female students have been sexually traumatized.

        If you think panic attacks aren’t bad, I once read in a psych textbook a quote from a holocaust survivor saying that in her experience panic attacks were “worse than anything at Auschwitz.” Now that may be hyperbole and deeply wrong, but you get the power of these things from the quote.


      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        I mean, it clearly is hyperbole, but it shows how much pain this survivor was in with the panic disorder.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        I find that silly. There’s no implication that hippies want to control people or anything whatsoever about hippies or the left. Admittedly, I don’t tend to write in the debate club style of post that lays out a very clear and precise argument and then we can all debate on it. But it should be fairly clear from the quote from noted hippie leftist Susie Bright that I’m not making an argument about the left at all.

        So, let’s clarify here. I do not find the idea of giving professors a list of guidelines to allow students a way to opt out of art that might conceivably trigger memories of a past trauma a remotely serious way of addressing the problem of post-traumatic stress disorders. In fact, I find it very hard to believe that a person saying that professors need guidelines so students can allowed to opt out of reading the Merchant of Venice because it could trigger anti-Semitism PTSD has thought seriously about the issue of trauma or even knows very much on the topic. It’s a glib non-solution that should not be taken seriously.

        To be honest, I find the defense that people are making for these programs here- if you took trauma seriously, you’d take these programs seriously, a bit coercive. Wrapping oneself in the mantle of “awareness” can only go so far- these are still poorly thought through knee jerk responses to a serious problem, regardless of the bona fides of the people calling for them. More likely, they were dreamt up by mid-level bureaucrats than hippies.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


        I don’t like the term hippie punching but I agree with everything you wrote in your paragraph and you expressed it much better than I could. It is a variation of Patriotism being the last refuge of a scandal.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Rufus F., absolutely right. The real way to deal with PTSD and show compassion for the victims of trauma is to have a decent mental health system so they could get the treatment they need. We do not have a decent mental health system in the United States. We make too many people pay for the cost of their own therapy that the desperately need when they can’t afford it. Thats how you help people with PTSD.

        That being said, the movement for trigger warnings does seem to come from actual people with PTSD rather than mid-level bureaucrats and they do seem to think that it will be helpful for them.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


      • Avatar Kim says:

        1 in 4 women
        1 in 5 menReport

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Patriotism being the last refuge of a scandal.

        It’s not untrue.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F says:

        I can imagine the call for trigger warnings comes from survivors, but it’s unlikely that they are drafting the guidelines or, more importantly, that trained mental health professionals are. Also, to be honest,I find it unlikely that a sufferer of post traumatic stress related to anti-Semitic violence was triggered by the merchant of venice and called for a warning.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:


        So you agree that trigger warnings are often a good idea when there is violence, war suicide, aggresive sexuality, racism, abortion, dead children, and other disturbing material that could set off a panic attack or harm in someone with a trauma disorder.

        But you are against the college requiring professors to make a good faith effort to provide such warnings?

        Why? Please be specific.

        Also, I deeply reject the claim that if I cared about trauma and mental illness, I’d be in favor of increased help for mental health. I am in favor of both increasing funding for mental health and for trigger warning. And just so I don’t get attacked ad hominem, I am currently in training to be a psychotherapist and plan on working with victims of sexual and violent trauma.

        Also, I reject the ad hominem (mostly rhetoric, barely an argument) suggestion that the argumen for trigger warnings comes from bureaucrats. Where the argument comes from is irrelevant. But, for the record, the argument comes from some feminists. You know, the ones who are joining the war on women. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        I admit that a policy requiring trigger warnings could go too far and violate academic freedom or be an unhelpful and costly bureaucratic measure. It depends on how the requirement is stated.

        Also, please be careful never to imply that trauma triggers only impact those who are too weak who should just toughen themselves up. No one has said that yet, but it is grossly false if someone does say it. Trauma disorders are quite common and are debilitating mental illnesses/disorders. They are common in soldiers and women who are the victims of our mysoginistic world.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        Regarding the Merchan of Venice, I’d say the material itself is unlikely to be triggering. (Ol’ Willy S. doesn’t tend to draw the kids in emotionally like you would hope.) But I would defintely provide a “trigger warning” (or whatever you want to call it) for in class discussions of anti-semitism and its roots in Christianity in Europe. For example, one student could say something about how anti-semitism is not so bad or not a current problem that could be extremely upsetting for another student who had recently (or not so recently) been beaten up by some horrible anti-semite.

        It is good to have these discussions, but you should give a quick note to students (in the syllabus, or verbally, or both preferably) that this material can be triggering and they should be prepared.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        I don’t think I said that I am opposed out-of-hand to any scenario in which a college would require “professors to make a good faith effort to provide such warnings.” What I said was the guidelines as reported are ham fisted and unworkable and an unserious effort to address a serious issue. Reminding me again that PTSD is a real affliction doesn’t compel me to support these guidelines.

        “Why? Please be specific.”

        Because the guidelines as reported are extremely vague and overly broad and don’t really address the problem. I was married for ten years to a trauma therapist and my understanding of PTSD is that it’s extremely hard to predict triggers anyway, but when you then require professors to “be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, albeism, and other issues of privilege and oppression,” and to offer alternate assignments to replace works that might trigger memories of trauma to do with all of the above, you’re not doing anything to help clarify the issue. If I’m an instructor, what exactly am I supposed to be labeling according to that list? And what is the penalty for giving an inadequate trigger warning in my syllabus? Given that American universities rely heavily on temp instructors whose jobs are not remotely secure, one would expect them to err largely on the side of caution. Why take the chance of having one’s contract not renewed? I’d be terrified if I was an instructor. Not to mention extremely confused. And what if a particular subject demands that a particular work of literature be taught? What if a student’s understanding of the subject is seriously compromised by opting out of one of the readings?

        Finally, what specifically are we expecting a guideline requiring instructors to provide trigger warnings about a list of general issues and nothing specific to accomplish in the university and the larger world? It reads like a university trying to protect itself from potential lawsuits. I stand corrected that it was written by feminists. I’d be surprised if it was written by a group of mental health professionals with training in PTSD.

        “Also, I deeply reject the claim that if I cared about trauma and mental illness, I’d be in favor of increased help for mental health.”
        I would too, but I didn’t say anything like that. You might be addressing someone else in the thread though.Report

  21. Avatar Maribou says:

    I don’t know if this is helpful or not, but it came up as I was venting to Jaybird. (I had a long night, my mom made me talk about my dad and then surprised me with the same conversation again at the end of the phone call when I wasn’t expecting to have to talk about it again and wasn’t ready, I spent the rest of the evening dissociating, and I probably turned up on this post as much out of a desire to find some negative feelings that were safe to feel instead of the ones that are too much to feel, as anything else.)

    Anyway, the thing that came up.

    As a survivor of childhood trauma, I often feel like most of the people I meet expect me to cushion them and protect them from talking honestly about my experiences. People Do Not Want To Hear That Shit. The habits of self-hiding and covering up and carefully monitoring every word out of one’s month in case it is the word that ends up telling secrets, get reinforced once you stop hiding, by the many many people who strongly disapprove of you – verbally and explicitly – if you don’t selectively edit your entire experience, and your honest reactions to things, so it doesn’t make them uncomfortable. I have to work SO hard at not smoothing people’s ways in conversations by lying about my own life. Mostly I still lie, more out of a sense of self-preservation for all the times people have reacted critically, than for nobler motives. But with my close friends, I at least make an effort to be honest about what I’m feeling / remembering / etc, without being a messy needy awful person – and it’s almost impossible. It’s so much easier to not make people have to remember that that kind of stuff happens.

    So I guess I feel like most of the people I meet – or “society” as a mass grouping – expects me to not only trigger-warn, but actively censor every fucking word out of my mouth. To make sure I don’t jolt their precariously-strung cocoons, their worldview where someone as (insert the cheerful and admiring adjective of your choice) as me couldn’t possibly be as miserable and confused and incapable and trapped by the past as I frequently am, or even just that I couldn’t possibly be the way I am after the experiences I have had, so it’s easier for them to elide out those experiences. Not so much because of whatever they feel about *me*, but because it fucks up their worldview.

    So I get exceptionally grumpy when I feel like my reasonable desires to not have viscerally painful, immediately-relevant-to-shit-I-am-still-working-through-because-of-events-in-the-last-3-years topics, such as sexual violence and suicide, sneak up on me. Because apparently the world expects me to extend that fucking courtesy to them, making sure I never surprise them with something they find appalling, no matter how much I have to work at passing to do so – so why the hell is it so wrong for me to ask for it in return?Report

    • Avatar Maribou says:

      Oops, I didn’t finish a sentence:

      “So I get exceptionally grumpy when I feel like my reasonable desires to not have viscerally painful, immediately-relevant-to-shit-I-am-still-working-through-because-of-events-in-the-last-3-years topics, such as sexual violence and suicide, sneak up on me. ”

      Should be “So I get exceptionally grumpy when I feel like my reasonable desires to not have viscerally painful, immediately-relevant-to-shit-I-am-still-working-through-because-of-events-in-the-last-3-years topics, such as sexual violence and suicide, sneak up on me, are mocked and lumped in with the politically correct police.”

      Because you know what, yes, that shit sneaks up on me all the time and taking the time to make sure you warn me about the stuff you can warn me about won’t stop that from happening. But 15 times a day is notably better than 20.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        Also, I don’t necessarily think it’s TRUE that any given person, or even literally a majority of people, don’t want me to be honest and not pretend to a less complicated childhood/young adulthood than the one I actually had. I just wrote down my perspective about it the way it feels. I know there’s lots and lots of confirmation bias weighing down what I notice and what I don’t notice.

        On the other hand, I do think it’s true that “society as a whole”, whatever that is, doesn’t want to see or know about horrific stuff that is local to them. We sweep it under the damn rug constantly. Maybe we have to, for society to keep going along and not dissolve into chaos. I don’t know.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Thank you for sharing, @maribou . I have a friend who I’ve only recently got close with who I’m not sure would qualify her life experiences as trauma, but she has certainly endured various tragedies and hardships. I’ve told her — on numerous occasions — that I find it remarkable how willing and able she is to speak openly and honestly about them. Not only does it allow her to be her real self, but it also helps normalize for others certain experience which we should not stigmatize (e.g., fertility issues).

        I can only imagine the gall it takes for people to hear about another person’s difficulties and say or think, “Man, what a sad sack. I was having a good day, too.” How remarkably ignorant, offensive, and selfish. There is obviously a place and time for everything. But the place and time for discussing the difficulties one has faced shouldn’t be “no where” and “never” because such a reality can be unsettling for those of us privileged enough to have avoided such things.

        Thanks, M.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Just wanted to say it’s okay to lean on your friends. We’re all sometimes miserable wrecks.
      You’re allowed to have a bad day, and it’s good for friendships to not be always about happy sunshine — builds trust.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        Yeah, I know that, @kim – but even KNOWING it, it’s almost impossible for me to do and my friends honestly have trouble with it too – even though they don’t want to. There’s something qualitatively different between “I’m sad because my grandma died” and “Here is an awful fact from my personal experience about what humans can do to each other that is extremely relevant to this conversation and maybe being used to ask you to stop insisting on discussing something that makes me very aware of that fact.”Report

  22. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    All I’m going to say is I find it amusing that the same people out there on the Internet who think “trigger warnings” are silly are probably the same type of people who would say they’re going to murder you if you spoil Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, or I don’t know, a football game for them.Report

  23. Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

    I will note that the thing about debates on this issue and issues like this is that everyone has already made up their mind and decided that the opposition is so wrong that they can’t even and other such handy internet phrases.Report

  24. Avatar Jim Heffman says:

    Just to break something out from inside a thread:

    I think the argument that “trigger warnings will neuter our ability to use shock and surprise to induce emotional reaction, resulting in a restriction on the manner in which artists can create art” is valid–but, also, not applicable to an academic setting. You wouldn’t “surprise” someone in a cooking class by handing them a pure habanero pepper without telling them it was spicy. Similarly, I don’t have a problem with the idea that in an academic setting content warnings can be useful, because while teachers often have valid pedagogical reasons for choosing the works in question, the emotional impact should not be one. People’s emotional responses generally aren’t something they can control, and some people suffer responses so severe that they can’t engage rationally with the subject afterwards; this can make academic discussion of a subject difficult.Report

  25. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Perhaps this has been asked & answered already, but in an educational context, why isn’t it on the student to do a little work ahead of time to find out if a particular work may have something in it that is triggering?

    I mean, it’s a lot to ask an institution to pour over every possible piece of art or literature and hope to correctly identify potentially triggering scenes, especially since everyone has different triggers.

    I say, if you have trauma in your past, and you have a trigger, you also have a responsibility to yourself to review the syllabus, and to spend a little time on Wikipedia or the like to find out if the assigned pieces have potential triggers.

    Exception, if the instructor decides to show or read something that is not on the syllabus, then they have a responsibility to inform, since the student may not have had time to research.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      I think we’re talking mainly about the “big Triggers” for “most people”…
      abuse, sexual violence, torture, maybe loud noises.

      There’s certainly nothing wrong with a “trigger warnings provided upon request” philosophy… where you dial the prof and ask “are any of this situation going on?”

      [Maribou explains above why having the student do the research is problematic —
      manytimes reviews quote explicitly.]Report