The importance of Trigger Warnings
Wednesday, August 31, 2016 32 Comments
I expect Universities to be places of enlightened thinking
The University of Chicago flunked the test
© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
A Mental Health Awareness Post
A Trigger Warning is no different from a RATING
A Trigger Warning is NOT content censorship – it is a WARNING. Period. It allows for the use of coping strategies by those students who need them.
It is absolutely insane to put forth some black and white argument expressing fear that supporting its use in ANY circumstance will facilitate its application to all situations where some student might take offense.
- Few thinking individuals are up in arms about impinging on the rights of people who want to watch certain types of films simply because they are rated X to guide those who do not.
- Rational people do not insist that the ban on guns in schools be lifted, holding up 2nd Amendment Rights (the right to bear arms, for my non-American readers).
And yet, The University of Chicago sent out a letter to incoming Freshman outlining their [non] logic as they disclose that they will not support the use of Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces on their campus.
Rather than using this issue as a chance to increase Mental Health Awareness, which is to be expected from any institution claiming education as its purpose, The University of Chicago has chosen to issue what amounts to a gag order.
We have a L-O-N-G way to go where educating people about Mental Health is concerned – but for a University to be so blatantly unaware is both frightening and appalling. I’d yank my kid out of that “educational” environment in a heartbeat!
Why all the fuss?
Regular readers are aware of the reasons for my reluctance to use the WordPress reblog function – so I hope you will jump over to the posts below to read the rest of the excellent points surrounding the words quoted below.
In her introduction, Maisha Z. Johnson explains the issue in terms anybody might easily be able to understand, EVEN the decision-makers at The University of Chicago, especially John Ellison, U of C dean of students (who is declining to respond to emails, etc. by the way).
THAT would mean, of course, that they’d bothered to upgrade their egregious lack of education about mental health issues before responding in what I feel strongly is a cruel and ignorant fashion.
Two college students return to campus after both were present for an act of violence.
One of them was physically injured in the incident. In order to return to class, he asks to have space around his desk to allow him to stretch, because sitting still for too long would aggravate his injury.
How would you feel about his request? Would you understand why such an accommodation would help him heal? Expect his professors to oblige?
Now, the other student’s pain isn’t visible – it’s emotional.
He wasn’t physically hurt, but he lost a loved one, and he’s traumatized. Certain reminders have resulted in panic attacks, and he’d rather not experience that again – especially not when he’s trying to move on with his life and get an education.
So he also makes a request, asking his professors if they can give him a warning before covering material that relates to the type of violence that took away his loved one.
How would you feel about this student’s request?
What he’s asking for is a content warning, also commonly called a trigger warning. And it’s a huge source of debate.
. . . when it comes to an able-bodied person experiencing a temporary injury and needing support to heal, there’s usually not much debate about whether or not they should be allowed in class with crutches, a cast, or extra space around their desk.
The sharp contrast between this acceptance and common attitudes towards trigger warnings reveals something disturbing about our society’s approach to trauma and mental illness.
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Isn’t it PAST time we ended mental health stigma?
And isn’t it appropriate to expect that our schools and Universities would lead the Mental Health education charge, not make things worse?
As I told you in a prior post, The Importance of a Diagnosis:
Nearly 44 million American adults, along with millions of children, struggle with “mental health” conditions each year, ranging from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ASD, OCD, PTSD, TBI to ADD/EFD and more.
According to NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Health), nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States have experienced impaired mental health in the last year alone, and 21% of all prisoners have a recent history of a mental health condition.
And I’ll bet you a year’s free coaching that those statistics represent only the tip of the mental health iceberg because
so many individuals are afraid to admit they are struggling.
And yet, the University of Chicago feels that forcing their faculty to keep mental health needs and mental health topics locked away in a closet is a legitimate approach. For SHAME! (and regular readers know I usually disapprove of the use of that s-word).
Springing potentially PTSD or panic-attack triggering content on unsuspecting students is what I consider “cruel and unusual” treatment that could easily be avoided with a few well-considered trigger warnings.
However, Julie A. Winterich, an associate professor of sociology and the director of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Guilford College, reminds us in her article, A Middle Ground on Trigger Warnings, that “what preparing oneself looks like differs based on where each specific student is in the healing process.”
“As noted by Mental Health America, people can have very different reactions. One student may need to seek counseling, while another may need to focus on mindfulness techniques and other strategies before coming to class. And yet another may need to skip class altogether.”
She explains her approach in her article, and asserts that students are still responsible for missed content, just as they would be if they missed class for a physical health reason.
Another Academic Rings In
Kevin Gannon has this to say about it on his post entitled UChicago’s anti-safe spaces letter isn’t about academic freedom. It’s about power.
As a faculty member, I would be enormously dismayed if my dean sent this letter to my incoming students. Because now they’ll come into my class already having received a clear message about what my institution seems to value — and it isn’t them.
The Chicago letter reeks of arrogance, of a sense of entitlement, of an exclusionary mindset — in other words, the very things it seeks to inveigh against. It’s not about academic freedom; it’s about power. Know your place, and acknowledge ours, it tells the students. We’ll be the judge of what you need to know and how you need to know it.
And professors and students are thus handcuffed to a high-stakes ideological creed. Do it this way, in the name of all that is holy and true in the academy. There is no room here for empathy, for student agency, or for faculty discretion.
A Mental Health Blogger’s personal point of view
The argument against using trigger warnings in a classroom environment is that students should be able to just deal with what triggers them and to have trigger warnings is to limit freedom.
While I do believe that exposing ourselves to our triggers can loosen its power over us that is something we need to decide for ourselves. We decide where and when, how much or how little and who is with us when we do it.
Having the exposure sprung on us in the middle of a lecture surrounded by random classmates and a professor who potentially lacks understanding is not the time to do it. A professor does not get to decide when we face our triggers. We decide that.
Mental health STIGMA has been allowed to run rampant!
People suffering from even common mental health diagnoses have been put in a position of shame because of their supposed mental “shortcomings” — and every single person who passes on the stigma or fails to call it out as bad, wrong and awful when they witness it has put them there.
I sincerely hope that the remainder of the colleges and Universities will not only refuse to follow in U of C’s misguided footsteps, but that they will ring out in censure.
I would like to read that they have send letters to their incoming freshmen that they support the needs of ALL of their students.
Trigger warnings take only a second from class time as they increase Mental Health awareness, but they give students who might be triggered a chance to gird their loins.
How is that impinging on the objectives of educational institutions in the slightest?
And don’t forget that Peer Coaching help is on the way:
Please don’t wait ’til the last minute to let me know that you are interested in Peer Coaching Basic Training (to get off the fee-based treadmill).
The next training is scheduled to begin in September, but only if it makes its minimum enrollment. Waiting to find out makes everybody really nervous – especially me!
MY SINCERE APOLOGIES to anyone who has already sent me an e-form expressing interest in this training without hearing a word in response. Following today’s e-glut weeding I located a some email alerting me to the existence of blog feedback forms. I am SO sorry.
I will be getting in touch in the afternoon and early evening as I find additional form notifications — or you can leave me a comment below (using the same email address so I can use the e-search box for your contact details).
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You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on this site and elsewhere.
For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —
Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
(in case you missed them above or below)
- When Fear Becomes Entrenched & Chronic
- Complex PTSD Awareness
- PTSD Overview – Awareness Post
- Understanding Fear & Anxiety
- If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Blame the FOOT!
Related Articles ’round the net
- Trigger warnings, safe spaces: Your guide to the new school year
- How the Trigger Warning Debate Exposes Our F*cked Up Views on Mental Illness
- UChicago’s anti-safe spaces letter isn’t about academic freedom. It’s about power
- How trigger warnings help me
- A Middle Ground on Trigger Warnings
- The Chicago Letter and Its Aftermath
- Should mental health issues be discussed at school?
- Why We Need to Stop the Mental Health Stigma
- David’s Story (Stigma, schizophrenia & suicide)
Mental Health Awareness Posts – 2016
- Presidential Proclamation — National Mental Health Awareness Month
- What to do When Someone You Know May Have a Mental Health Problem
- May is Mental Health Awareness Month (ECC Reference)
- May is Mental Health Awareness Month (Autism Speaks)
- May is Mental Health Awareness Month (great infographic)
- May is Mental Health Awareness Month (Southern Laced – more inforgraphics)
- May is Mental Health Awareness Month (MHA-NYC – lots of stuff!)
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