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May 24, 2014

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"Trigger warnings" are the opposite of censorship, this is true. Unless voluntary, they are compelled speech. Which is the opposite of censorship, but also objectionable.

Here's the thing: Some people have broken legs, but most people do not. And some sorts of "broken legs" are more common, or less common, more serious, or less serious. It makes perfect sense to use trigger warnings at a seminar on rape, where many people will have serious issues, and the circumstances are special. It makes a lot less sense to use trigger warnings on an old children's cartoon, just because some people find Little Sambo really, really objectionable.

To the extent we allow other people's outrage or hurt to dictate what we do, we empower those people. People LIKE being empowered. And so, to accomidate the outraged is to encourage people to be outraged. To accomidate the hurt is to encourage people to be hurt. This needs to be taken into account.

Getting back to people with broken legs, we do not, typically, reorder society to make life easy on people with broken legs. We instead try to unbreak their legs.

Perhaps the next time you encounter somebody who is all bare nerve endings, you might reflect on which would be a better road to go down: Making the world around them as soft and unthreatening as possible, or finding a way to get those nerve endings retracted.

I might add that there is considerable research suggesting that the increase in asthma and other auto-immune diseases is a result of excessive cleanliness causing the immune system to go looking for something to do. I wonder if we might have to worry about a psychological counterpart to this phenomenon?

Thank you for that.

I had not thought deeply about the issue, and actually it was only through your previous use of them on this blog that I became aware that they were a thing. What you have to say rings true to me. Trigger warnings are simple civility (a much underrated virtue).

I truly don't get the objection to the idea of their being applied to university course materials. It's an educator's job to know both his/her texts and have some regard to the welfare of her/his students.
For those of us who don't need them, they are as easy to skip over in the automatic way we do with the WB screen shot you post above.

"Getting back to people with broken legs, we do not, typically, reorder society to make life easy on people with broken legs. We instead try to unbreak their legs."

We can't "unbreak" a leg. There's no such thing. Literally all we can do is give the person a cast so that things don't get worse while the leg slowly heals on its own. And now I'm picturing you in a doctor's office taking casts away from patients, yelling at them that they should just "unbreak" their legs. After all, we don't want to "encourage them to be hurt", do we? Such bullshit.

Yes, we can "unbreak" a leg. All you're pointing out is that it isn't done instantly. But it IS how we respond to broken bones. Not by ordering society so that people with broken legs can go about their lives without troube, by unbreaking legs.

A free society requires people to have thick skins. The more we permit people to be thin skinned, the less free we become.

As I mentioned earlier, I think there are multiple issues involved. I pointed out that these newer forms of 'literature' are fighting it out with traditional forms in university curricula, so proposals for trigger warnings can be proposed by the newer lit folks to get a rise out of traditionalists, or proposed by traditionalists to put a higher burden on new lit folks. This is also an area where students can express power. Many of the examples I have seen originate with students. I'm not saying this is good or bad, but given that students have few other ways to express their power in regards to the curriculum, it's not surprising that they would use this.

Another aspect of this is the disappearance of the canon. If everyone knows the basic outlines of the stories etc, it means that you don't need trigger warnings. However, as people encounter more stuff that they are not expected to know, the more that trigger warnings make sense.

I do have a question for the good Doctor. Could it be that trigger warnings had their origin in slash fiction, where known characters are interacting in ways that are surprising and shocking and then migrated to other types?

And those of us who have suffered trauma do heal. Mostly. Eventually. But that process is slowed if people keep punching us where it hurts... To beat the broken leg metaphor into the ground, I trust Brett is not suggesting that we "unbreak" a leg by continuing to hit it. Rather, we provide a cast which *protects* the broken limb while it heals.

And that's all anyone is asking.

I keep seeing discussions of this which act as if people are demanding that these books never be written. No. For one thing, one hope is that if a rape scene, for example, is really written well, someone who has never experienced it may have some glimmer of understanding of what it is like.

Warning. That is all. As one comment I read said, just to know that this is a book you should read in privacy, not in the library...

I have had a traumatic situation in my life. (Not rape, something else.)I am largely healed, as it was more than 20 years ago. I never will be completely. One factor that I think is skewing the conversation is that most of us do not want to talk about this in public, so our voices aren't heard.

When the wound was still tender if you poked it, I found it best to avoid some situations. I didn't, after all, have to read a novel or see a movie that would hurt. After a while, I could do so - but I'd make sure I had someone with me who knew the situation, and would deal if I started crying.

I couldn't avoid some real life situations that brought it back, but could deal with them *as long as* I had some warning. But the warning helped - it let me not react visibly, not display my family's tragedy for someone else's curiousity. It let me prepare myself.

Going back to the legs metaphor... My father's legs were not broken, but paralysed. If he were caught by surprise, he could be knocked over by a simple bump - which risked serious injury. But if he had warning, he could brace himself, with his canes, to stand a pretty strong push.

Give us the warning to brace ourselves.

Getting back to people with broken legs, we do not, typically, reorder society to make life easy on people with broken legs.

And yet we do. Consider someone who is in a wheelchair, because of a broken leg, or a lost one, or for some other reason -- temporary or permanent. We have laws which cause sidewalks to be constructed with ramps, precisely because people in wheelchairs find getting over abrupt steps up and down to be problematic. And, incresingly, those ramps come with pre-constructed raised dots, so that those who are blind will have some warning that they are about to move from the sidewalk to the street.

And those dots are, effectively, physical (as opposed to verbal) trigger warnings: messages to those who need to know that something is about to happen.

My problem with trigger warnings is not with the circumstances when they are provided for those who have PTSD-level trauma and need to know. It is the tendency, the entirely predictable tendency, to expand them far beyond that. To, in fact, anything that might make someone even slightly uncomfortable. And then to sue if their "right to be protected from the slightest discomfort" is abridged.

I know that sounds like a typical slippery slope argument. But it is already apparent that this is the way things will go; indeed, that they are already happening. Perhaps we can craft legal language to make clear what is real trauma which needs warnings, vs what is mere discomfort. But I am not optimistic.

Are trigger warnings about PTSD or are they about sensitivity to people's feelings in general? Because there's no limit to the latter. Dr Science herself speaks mostly about rape and PTSD, but then she brings in the Loony Tunes "trigger warning", which sounds like something you'd have to slap on virtually every piece of fiction and quite a lot of nonfiction published before, say, 1950 (or maybe later).

I suppose as someone who follows the Israel/Palestinian issue and how it is discussed, I'm sorta used to the idea that Brett mentions--that proclaimed "sensitivities" are a weapon that people employ against others. This isn't an example Brett probably would have used, but I read about it a lot. Try getting people to agree on that subject what material should get a trigger warning. Might as well be safe and issue trigger warnings for every single work that has anything to do with the issue. If you think I'm being silly it's because you don't follow it much. One man's fair and balanced treatment on this subject is another person's deeply racist or antisemitic and offensively one-sided propaganda tract. Legitimate protest to one side looks like a racist or antisemitic attack to the other.

So PTSD--yes, trigger warnings are appropriate. Racist statements--maybe, but then, on subjects like the I/P conflict, who decides what is racist and deserves a trigger warning and what isn't? Do we just put a trigger warning on the whole subject? Might as well. It's not for nothing that people often seem uncomfortable talking about it. Of course, even that is political. Why should this particular subject be treated with kid gloves?

So we could have different levels of trigger warning. "Might trigger PTSD" would be the really serious one. The others would be a running bureaucratic highly politicized joke. Seems like a reasonable compromise.

wj:

Perhaps we can craft legal language to make clear what is real trauma which needs warnings, vs what is mere discomfort.

I don't think anybody is proposing laws (not that I'm aware of anyway). Maybe you are talking about university policies. If so, I agree.

It's extremely hard to craft functional, non-restrictive general policies for complex, delicate subjects.

Whenever possible, I'd leave it up to the person most familiar with the material and the teaching environment. In other words, the professor. To quote Dr. Cooper, who was linked in the original post:

Those of us who teach about traumatic material – say, war, or the history of lynching, or rape and sexual assault, or domestic violence – usually alert students if they are going to encounter violent material. But all of these materials are not the same. Showing a rape scene, particularly in gender studies courses that are often appealing to students who are trying to make sense of some personal experience of sexual violence, does require sensitivity and a willingness to provide alternative assignments.

The article itself is well worth reading and I commend DrSci for including an articulate opposing view, even if I disagree with the characterization of it as "hurting people with PTSD is just the price we pay for learning."

We put trigger warnings on films, in some countries quite extensive ones. On British DVDs they can get quite hilarious:
language: some
language: infrequent, mild
contains strong battle violence and mild sex

To the extent we allow other people's outrage or hurt to dictate what we do, we empower those people.

How the heck does a warning on a website, or film, or cartoon, or book, dictate what you do?

Can't you still watch or read the content?

If it helps some people and doesn't interfere with your participation, what's the problem?

We put trigger warnings on films

movie studios spend a lot of time and money adjusting scripts and editing footage in order to get an acceptable combination of warnings/ratings on their finished product. they do this for financial and marketing reasons, not nor artistic reasons.

books, not having to be concerned about that stuff can be edited for artistic reasons, and not for content police reasons.

i prefer the book model.

It was just meant as an example of trigger warnings occurring in everyday circumstances without creating an outcry. They are not the Hays Code (which was de facto censorship).

the warnings in movies were originally, and are still primarily, for the purpose of protecting children from adult material. but this trigger stuff is about protecting adults from ... whatever.

But the general purpose is the same, some basic (usually not deliberately biased) info whether there is material included that could pose a 'risk'. As long as it is not mandatory (iirc only the age limits are in the context of movies) and/or ideologically biased, I see it as helpful and non-threatening. It would be different, if there was a mandatory (non-removable) sticker on books saying 'Reading this endangers your immortal soul' or 'This is just pure hate speech'. A discardable paper slip saying 'Potentially religiously controversial material inside', ideally with a short note on context, would be more on the helpful side.
Of course this can be overdone. Cf. 'may contain nuts' on a bag of hazelnuts.
The minimalist way would be just keywords like on the top of scientific papers.

Btw, this type of paper slips already exists for the benefit of booksellers. And for the public there are organisations (although usually quite biased ones) that produce info lists on new books and movies, so potential consumers can inform themselves about potential risks. There are people that find even the ultra-biased infos useful and be it in the 'they condemn it, so it must be worth a look' sense. Why do you think the Index Librorum Prohibitorum was so popular? ;-)

Sorry for yet another addition. I myself use theatre/music/movie reviews in the daily paper often in the negative way because I know that applause from certain critics means that I would very likely hate the stuff while a scorcher from them can be treated as a recommendation.

I once knew of a movie critic like that (Pauline Kael). Invaluable, to have someone who is such a marvel of consistency -- even if consistently wrong.

I once walked out of a seminar room because a student's presentation of the treatment of "disgust" - the topic of the class - in avant-garde/cult/splatter film was a bit much for me, so I do empathize to some extent; but I fail to see why this can't be solved by the professor prefacing the session with some kind preparatory remarks, as he did in this case.

A general labeling policy for "controversial" content is a very scary idea and the examples being discussed - Great Gatsby, Mrs Dalloway, Merchant of Venice (what about Hamlet?) - do suggest that the bar is very low: one shouldn't study literature if one is afraid to confront the subjects of suicide, addiction, depression etc. - these being universal themes throughout the history of literature (I'd be ok with "American Psycho" being treated with cautiousness).

And what about the people who, say, object to depictions of homosexuality for religious reasons, do we have to be sensitive to their feelings as well? This is a dangerous road to go down and there is no reason why adults at university level shouldn't be able to deal with these matters without resorting to shallow labeling practices.

Though the place where this is happening is at the university, where there is a power asymmetry. It's a power asymmetry that the students (generally) enter into, but an asymmetry nonetheless. In that context, I think trigger warnings make sense, if only to remind clueless teachers.

I do think that there are bandwidth questions as well, and a book, that can be set aside or skimmed, is different than a movie, so I'm not advocating trigger warnings on everything.

"Though the place where this is happening is at the university, where there is a power asymmetry."

A power asymmetry, and the overwhelming dominance of a particular end of the ideological spectrum. I think that latter has as much or more to do with the fad for "trigger warnings", as the former.

So, if it were overwhelmingly a professoriate from the right of the spectrum, we would expect them to be more concerned with possible traumatic events in their students' past that we wouldn't need those warnings?

The fact that one end of the spectrum discusses this as a possibility while for the other, moral correctness is determined by 'taking it like a man' might have you consider what that means, not that I think you ever could.

This is a dangerous road to go down and there is no reason why adults at university level shouldn't be able to deal with these matters without resorting to shallow labeling practices.

These are the points that I'm just not seeing.

I can understand why trigger warnings might be annoying to some people, but how are they *dangerous*?

And why should "adults at university level" be assumed to be prepared to deal with any and all material that they may encounter?

People come from all different backgrounds, and have all different experiences.

To be perfectly honest, it would make complete sense to me if a professor who is presenting "depictions of homosexuality" in the context of a university course to give some heads up to the students about what they are going to see or read.

Because for a non-trivial number of people who go to any given university, it might be disturbing to them to see that.

People from strict religious backgrounds, people who are dealing with their own unresolved sexual identity issues, people who grew up hearing from parents or peers every day of their lives that gays are weird bad and evil.

Who the hell is harmed by a comment in the syllabus saying, by the way, as part of this course you will be expected to see / read / discuss issues about homosexuality?

And for homosexuality you can substitute any number of other issues.

Censorship is a bad thing, and doesn't belong in the university context. Trigger warnings, or whatever you want to call them, are not censorship. Nobody, at all, is prevented to see read or otherwise experience any kind of content by a trigger warning.

I simply am not seeing the harm in a pre-emptive comment to the effect that "hey, we're going to cover this, it might disturb you" .

Somebody needs to explain this to me, because it is beyond me.

Undergraduates are typically somewhere between 17 and 22 years old. These are not all seasoned, mature individuals. I'm not seeing the problem with the kinds of things that Doc S is talking about here.

wj at 12:46 (excerpted):

My problem with trigger warnings is not with the circumstances when they are provided for those who have PTSD-level trauma and need to know. It is the tendency, the entirely predictable tendency, to expand them far beyond that. To, in fact, anything that might make someone even slightly uncomfortable....I know that sounds like a typical slippery slope argument. But it is already apparent that this is the way things will go; indeed, that they are already happening. Perhaps we can craft legal language to make clear what is real trauma which needs warnings, vs what is mere discomfort.

Perhaps because I'm a taxonomist (no, really), this is my first question. What requires/necessitates (*even* if only as a courtesy) a trigger warning?

I have seen warnings, for example, for "cisgenderism." This seems, for reasons I can't fully articulate, extreme.

I suppose I am used to the type that the good Dr mentions: for rape, incest, and related topics; the assertion that this practice spread from fanfic communities to the greater Web, probably via feminist sites, seems plausible enough. I think I probably first saw them on feminist sites before blogs in general. And it seems reasonable, I suppose, for those topics.

But what are the categories? Even if there are only two (topics which require trigger warnings and those that do not) things will get muddy very quickly, and many will be context-dependent: a site with content dealing mainly with, say, PTSD issues caused by combat injuries -- or an LGTB community surely does not need a warning for subjects inherent to their content.

Further, how much of any given text has to be about the topic to merit a warning? Mentioned in passing? Using a single word? Or discussed in some detail or explicitness?

Once things become context-dependent, standardizing the practice of providing such warnings is...complicated.

Would a standardization actually be needed? I would see the whole practice as just a recommendation, i.e. with no legal obligation to use labels (excpet in narrowly circumscribed circumstances).
Btw, what about deliberately false labels intended to lure in certain audiences?

But what are the categories?

Different places have different categories.

Would a standardization actually be needed?

No.

I would see the whole practice as just a recommendation, i.e. with no legal obligation to use labels

That thing you see is called "reality".

Russel, are you seriously trying to tell us that you want to add homosexuality to the list of potentially disturbing topics: any reading of Virginia Woolf or Christopher Isherwood will necessitate a preemptive warning? - this is frankly discriminatory and the opposite of what an education in literature should achieve.

And what about people objecting to adultery? Warnings for Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary and most of Updike? And I'm sure people will also be "disturbed" by premarital sex and interracial relationships - shall we cater to their tender sensibilities as well?

Your post is proof of how easily something designed to protect trauma victims from public embarrassment and pain can morph into something very different, very stupid and, yes, dangerous.

"I once knew of a movie critic like that (Pauline Kael). Invaluable -- to have someone who is such a marvel of consistency. And consistently wrong."

I don't know, I thought "The Sound of Mucus" was a pretty good trigger warning for "The Sound of Music".

One thing that kills me about broadcast news is that their trigger warnings -- "When we come back in a minute, we'll tell you about a rape at a local bar. The news may shock you" -- are so obviously teases and popcorn-making breaks.

I guess the romance novel supplies it's own trigger warnings by having a well-endowed woman on the front having her bodice ripped by a guy with muscles in his face.

Just saying, American culture gets a hold of something and, for Mammon's sake, will take you everywhere at once.

Good post, Doc.

"Unlike the vast majority of recent commenters, I actually know what I am talking about" could be construed as a trigger warning for "Shut up!"

Kidding.

I think we're conflating two issues here:

A. Giving trigger warnings is not censorship, and I don't think anyone is saying it is.

B. Being required (*) to give trigger warnings may constitute a kind of censorship, or lead to self-censorship, which is what some folk are objecting to.

(*) "Required" here is not just a legally binding term - i.e., you can go to jail if you don't do it! - but also means "you can get in serious hot water if you don't." E.g., you can be sued, or hauled before student councils, or subjected to other penalties or losses, if anyone objects to your failure to "warn" them adequately.

The former (A) is a matter of "civility" (as someone upstream put it) or "recommendation," and that's just fine with me, and probably with most of the rest of the doubters. I never used one myself (they didn't exist, as such, Back In The Day) and in retrospect I don't think I would have, but I wasn't using video, by and large, and the disturbing topics in my field - war, colonialism, racism, poverty, etc. - were so intrinsic to it I scarcely think anyone would have been surprised to encounter them, even vividly, in any of the readings. If I were teaching now, I'd cast a fresh eye over my reading list, and give a "heads-up" where I thought it might be needed. No problem.

The latter (B), however, remains a real concern for those still teaching (and a hypothetical one for those of us in retirement). If the choice is between assigning a text (or video - and I acknowledge that's more volatile) that might require one or more trigger warnings, because who the hell knows what someone may object to? and assigning something much more innocuous, the implicit pressure will be always to make the safe choice. And that's a kind of censorship.

Saying "Trigger warnings are the opposite of censorship," though catchy, doesn't address this concern. It's off the point. It doesn't help.

dr ngo:

Well put, that's pretty much what I was trying (and failing) to get across on this thread and on russell's of the same subject.

Doesn't that exact pressure already exist? Definitely at schools but to a degree at universities too, I'd say. Teachers already run a high risk of getting into trouble for assigning books that the local fundies find objectionable and there are organized attempts to keep any real discussion of certain topics out of the classroom entirely (evolution is just the most prominent example but anything questioning certain American myths is also a common target).

Hartmut:

I would agree that pressure does exist.

I don't think it's a good thing, and am not eager to have it expanded.

Russel, are you seriously trying to tell us that you want to add homosexuality to the list of potentially disturbing topics

I don't want anything. I don't care if no trigger warning is ever issued.

What I don't see is the *harm* in issuing trigger warnings.

The arguments against appear to be one variety or other of slippery slope.

There are actually schools that have trigger warning policies in place, of varying degrees of force and comprehensiveness.

Have any professors at those schools been sued, or otherwise punished, for any material they presented?

Have any decided to not present or discuss any course content due to the need to preface them with warnings?

I'm just looking for someone to demonstrate actual harm. In real life, not hypothetically.

And I would just as soon try to prevent "actual harm, in real life" rather than sit on my duff and wait for it to happen.

I am normally a great admirer of Russell, but on this point he seems to be taking up a position analogous to climate-change deniers. "Well, we're not underwater yet!"

(He also says he sees no "harm in issuing trigger warnings." NO ONE DOES, as I tried [apparently unsuccessfully] to explain. It's not the "issuing," it's the *requirement*, if any. And does he seriously expect someone who assigned a "safer" text to avoid exposure to then turn around and announce that fact to the world??)


Hartmut: the pressure you allude to is real, but is far more common at the secondary school level (or below) than in college (university), which is where the "trigger warning" controversy has mostly emerged. In the US, the distinction tends to be visible: HS and below most kids are in state schools, under local control, which in many respects are still considered to be in loco parentis. Colleges, many of which are not under state control, are supposed to represent a step into adulthood, with the students assumed to be taking more responsibility for their own well-being and the staff/administration believed to be more "expert" than the parents or local school board.

This distinction is MUCH disputed, as you may well imagine, and there are plentiful cases of HS students trying to claim the rights of college students/adults (e.g., freedom of speech) and, conversely, communities trying to force colleges to conform and discipline their students as if they were still in HS, but in general it still seems to be useful.

A college professor assigning a controversial text criticized by community members would normally expect the full (?) backing of the administration, on the grounds of "academic freedom" if nothing else. A HS teacher - not so much.

(Here in North Carolina, the U of NC asked incoming students a year or two to read a book favorable to Islam. Some fundies objected. The U basically ignored them.)

Since the righties don't want trigger warnings, then no trigger warnings for them!

They get NO warning, when the walk into class one fine day, that their senses will be assaulted with inhomogenous coupled differential equations, the solutions to which will DISPROVE BIBLICAL FUNDAMENTALISM.

Sucks to be them, but they earned it.

I'm just looking for someone to demonstrate actual harm. In real life, not hypothetically.

Just find this a bit amusing, considering that the "actual harm" standard has failed as well with regard to the NSA data collection issue - no actual harm has been shown ver. But scary government.

As to "trigger warnings" in college, Doctor Science says this:

My extensive experience with trigger warnings on fiction is that the custom emphatically does *not* have a chilling or censoring effect on the production of (written) porn or violence. What it *does* tend to do is make writers more aware of how they're writing sex and violence, and make them think about whether they're doing a good job, about how they're treating human experience.

Doctor Science's second sentence sounds to me as though there actually is a "chilling effect". Because, in fact, "trigger warnings" change the content of "how they're treating human experience". Doctor Science thinks that the content is changed in a positive way, but we don't really know that, do we?

oops, edit:

"Just find this a bit amusing, considering that the "actual harm" standard has failed as well with regard to the NSA data collection issue - no actual harm has been shown."

So embarrassed.

Just find this a bit amusing, considering that the "actual harm" standard has failed as well with regard to the NSA data collection issue - no actual harm has been shown ver. But scary government.

Yes, well, let us know when you find some trigger warnings whose scope and usage is classified, and we'll be glad to take this parallel under consideration.

we'll be glad to take this parallel under consideration.

"We"? Is this the royal we? Or are you speaking for the whole community?

I'm quite happy to be included with NV, so there's you're 'we'.

Doctor Science's second sentence sounds to me as though there actually is a "chilling effect"

Not to me. If anything, the presence of a trigger warning is likely to lessen any tendency towards self-censorship, providing a 'safe' space where you are less likely to offend.

. If the choice is between assigning a text (or video - and I acknowledge that's more volatile) that might require one or more trigger warnings, because who the hell knows what someone may object to? and assigning something much more innocuous, the implicit pressure will be always to make the safe choice. And that's a kind of censorship.

While I accept the point, I disagree strongly with the "always".

In any event, we're debating a hypothetical.
Right now, trigger warnings are merely an optional tool of civility (my word, btw, and I do feel it's a seriously underrated virtue). Like anything else novel, they are encountering some resistance.

trigger warnings whose scope and usage is classified

Perhaps if we all keep our unpleasant thoughts safely classified in our private mind, where they belong, no harm will come to others. Just as the NSA data collection, unrevealed, didn't worry anyone's pretty little head.

providing a 'safe' space where you are less likely to offend.

"being less likely to offend" isn't a passive state of being. It's a decision to say different things so as not to offend. That is called self-censorship, or a chilling effect.

I simply am not seeing the harm in a pre-emptive comment to the effect that "hey, we're going to cover this, it might disturb you" .

for all values of 'this', or just some ? and if my trauma isn't on your list, what do i do when your book upsets me unexpectedly?

Well put, that's pretty much what I was trying (and failing) to get across on this thread and on russell's of the same subject.

Not mine, the issue was raised on an open thread by sapient.

It's not the "issuing," it's the *requirement*, if any.

With respect, when I looked at the actual policies in place at the schools that had any kind of trigger warning policy, the policies were expressed as guidance, and as (at most) a recommendation.

No requirement.

I'm happy to defer to you, as someone with actual experience in academia, when you say this will inevitably turn into something more oppressive.

All I'm saying is that the reaction seems to be out of scale to what the actual reality is.

When I look at what the actual policies call for, I'm not seeing any 'there' there, censorship-wise.

Just find this a bit amusing, considering that the "actual harm" standard has failed as well with regard to the NSA data collection issue - no actual harm has been shown

Violation of constitutionally guaranteed rights and ubiquitous, secret program of government surveillance of private citizens' communications, with absolutely no indication or requirement of any indication of wrong-doing.

Guidance from colleges that professors presenting content that might be disturbing give their students advance warning.

A nice try, sapient, but perhaps a bridge too far.

I've no wish to further encourage the inevitable thread-jack, so that's enough from me on the topic.

All I'm saying is that the reaction seems to be out of scale to what the actual reality is.

Part of that, I think, is preemptive.

Another part is that, in my opinion, it's one thing to recognize that some content (particularly in films) is generally offensive to a lot of people (falling under "prevailing community standards"); it's another to pick out certain people from the vast numbers in our society and assume that they are victims.

Obviously, in our big country, there are a lot of victims of various crimes, injustices, etc. Some people have been traumatized by these things. What I think I object to about "trigger warnings" is that they are a ploy by a small (but seemingly growing) branch of feminism that hold women to be incapable of functioning in society (can't watch movies, can't read fiction, can't take an elevator without a chaperone, etc.), needing special consideration because they're too fragile, because rape is so prevalent. And if people haven't been raped, they most definitely should be afraid of it happening on the elevator!

I think it's a creepy trend, and I'm coming from a generation that worked very hard to be sure that women were taken seriously for work that they were historically considered unsuited for, because they were way too fragile, too weak, too seductive, too distracting, too likely to get into trouble, couldn't listen to bad words, etc.

I have no objection to voluntarily letting a general audience know that a film might be disturbing. Turning into a way to infantilize women is what bothers me.

Sorry about the itals.

</i>

Just as the NSA data collection, unrevealed, didn't worry anyone's pretty little head.

Speak for your own pretty little head. My pretty little head has been worried about this for around a decade, since very scant warnings about the coming sea change ran out ahead of gag orders regarding the hardware being at the telecoms.

But yeah, WRS. Particularly the part about how there's no reason for us to worry our pretty little thread about something having absolutely nothing to do with it.

But yeah, WRS. Particularly the part about how there's no reason for us to worry our pretty little thread about something having absolutely nothing to do with it.

Feel free not to carry on. My comment was an aside, but obviously you didn't choose to self-censor in pursuing it.

Turning into a way to infantilize women is what bothers me.

What strikes me about the "warning" thing is that it's driven primarily by people who want to be warned.

It's not being imposed from outside, or from above, by some cadre of PC content police who don't think women (or whoever) are incapable of dealing with disturbing content.

I don't really see it as my place to tell other people what they should or should not find disturbing. Nor do I think it's useful to characterize folks' statements about what they themselves find disturbing to be "infantilization".

If the warnings don't apply to you, they're easy enough to ignore.

I take dr ngo's (and others, including you, sapient) point, from his own experience, that things like this tend to expand. It's a worthwhile concern.

But there's nothing mandatory about any of it at the moment, and few if any folks are demanding mandatory requirements.

There don't actually appear to be all that many schools that have any policy about this at all. The "emerging trend" that gets cited in most articles consists of a handful of students writing to their school newspapers.

I'm looking for some kind of concrete examples of censorship, in any form, whether explicit or just via peer pressure or the threat of potential pressure of any kind. And I'm looking for anyone, anywhere, who is asking for any kind of content at all to be removed from public discussion.

I'm not seeing those things. The things that people are, legitimately, concerned about do not appear to be in evidence, and don't appear to be intended, by anyone.

I don't see anybody here having a major problem with people asking to be warned. Or with those who are asked then doing so. Where the problem some of us are concerned about arises is if/when it becomes a right, buttressed by legal sanctions, rather than a request. Especially, when some of us think it likely that the right/request will spread far beyond those who are raising the issue currently. The differences of opinion here seem IMHO to be between those who think that a very improbable scenario and those who think it all too probable.

So perhaps we should have a different debate. How likely is it that a request for a warning turn into a right to a warning? And how likely is it to be claimed, not just by those that most of us (being reasonable people) think really need it, but by those who merely find anything contrary to one or another of their beliefs? Not, note, traumatic experience, but just beliefs. especially if people can come to that with examples from recent (or not so recent) American (or other) history.

russell:

Not mine, the issue was raised on an open thread by sapient.

You are very right. H/T to sapient.

wj:

The differences of opinion here seem IMHO to be between those who think that a very improbable scenario and those who think it all too probable.

I'd agree that's the distinction, and I'm obviously in the "probable" camp. Or at least in the "possible, and not entirely improbable" camp.

What strikes me about the "warning" thing is that it's driven primarily by people who want to be warned.

Primarily, it is. There are people who are petitioning college administrators (not profs - administrators - which says "policy") to make "warnings" a policy. And, you know what? As I said previously, general warnings about films (which are already part of what happens in publishing films) about violence and sexual content, they're absolutely okay with me. I too like to know what kind of film I'm going to be seeing (although I read reviews, so I don't really have to rely on the ratings system). Maybe people who are sensitive about stuff should learn to read?

I don't really see it as my place to tell other people what they should or should not find disturbing.

Me neither. But don't "trigger warnings" do that?

Nor do I think it's useful to characterize folks' statements about what they themselves find disturbing to be "infantilization".

And I never said that it was. For someone who gets easily offended by mischaracterization of comments, you very freely mischaracterize mine.

There is a wide range of stuff that people find offensive. Sex and violence in movies are very commonly found offensive. Most such movies (unless they're home videos or foreign films) carry a rating. Why do we have to issue "trigger warnings"? Why do we have to claim PTSD? Why do we have to be a rape victim to be disturbed at a graphic portrayal of rape? These depictions fall under "viewer discretion is advised" and general community standards.

thompson,
myself, I think I'm in the Far from certain, but rather more likely than not camp.

Nor do I think it's useful to characterize folks' statements about what they themselves find disturbing to be "infantilization".
and sapient replied
And I never said that it was.

If you could, I wonder if you could explain just what exactly you meant when you said when you said

I have no objection to voluntarily letting a general audience know that a film might be disturbing. Turning into a way to infantilize women is what bothers me.

The reason I ask is that this is precisely where I had some problems with what you wrote.

The 'audience' for trigger warnings is actually a specific group, students in a university. Being a university professor, I agree that these could be turned into a way of making life miserable, though I have found that the academy is quite adept at finding ways of making life miserable for people employed by it while at the same time patting itself on the back for its generosity of spirit. What does strike me is that this is taking place in a situation where there is a power asymmetry. I agree that university is where you challenge young people, but I'm also very aware of the fact that there are faculty who view this remit of challenging young people as justification for giving them whatever those faculty members want and not considering the needs of their students. Because, at the end of the day, professors have to determine whether to grant credit or not, there is this evaluative function, and if there is anything that prevents or hinders a student from doing what 'we' ask (I'm speaking of professors here), we have to be ready to deal with it.

There's something about that 'we' when you use it here

Why do we have to issue "trigger warnings"? Why do we have to claim PTSD? Why do we have to be a rape victim to be disturbed at a graphic portrayal of rape?

These 1st person plurals are actually very different groups and conflating them makes it very confusing. The 'we' who issue trigger warnings are the people who assign and require students to watch something. The 'we' who claim PTSD are women and veterans who say that things like this are problematic. And the last we is everyone?

It seems like each person talking here has a different idea of the scope and application of trigger warnings, who asks for them, who gives them and who institutes them. This may support the point that the idea of trigger warnings is going to reside on a slippery slope. But it seems that the world keeps getting more and more explicit, and a failure to acknowledge that gets everyone into trouble.

I have no objection to voluntarily letting a general audience know that a film might be disturbing. Turning into a way to infantilize women is what bothers me.

Every time I see a movie, I see something like, "rated GP, viewer discretion is advised" or "rated R, viewer discretion is advised." These are the ratings, according to Wikipedia:

G – General Audiences – All Ages Admitted. There is no content that would be objectionable to most parents and guardians. These films may not contain rude language and no serious cursing. As with violence it must be mild and minimal, if any, without any blood or gore.

PG – Parental Guidance Suggested – Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children. These films are generally inappropriate for young children and may contain milder swear words, crude or suggestive humor, short and infrequent horror moments and/or mild violence.

PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned – Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13. These films may contain sex references, up to four uses of explicit language, drug innuendo, strong crude/suggestive humor, mature/suggestive themes, moderately long horror moments, blood,and/or moderate action violence.

R – Restricted – Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian. These films contain some adult material and parents are urged to learn more about these motion pictures before taking their young children to watch them. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R rated films unaccompanied by an adult. These films may contain mild or implied sex scenes, prolonged nudity, strong violence often with blood and gore, strong horror scenes and explicit/illegal/prolonged drug use.

NC-17 – No One 17 and Under Admitted. These NC-17 rated films are patently adult and children are not admitted. These films may contain strong graphic violence with a very large amount of blood and gore, sex scenes, explicit content, rape or sexual assault, depraved, aberrational behavior, sexual nudity, or any other elements which that are not suitable for children and strictly prohibited from viewing by minors.

Requiring these ratings to appear with commercial films would be appropriate for a classroom, in my opinion. For noncommercial movies, a similar disclaimer is appropriate, in my opinion. For nonrated videos, a professor could disclaim, stating that the video is not subject to ratings.

And the last we is everyone?

That's the "we" that I think is appropriate for broad university policy.

Every student, it seems to me, has a right to approach his or her professor, in confidence, and explain that he or she is unable for medical or psychological reasons to watch certain explicit content in a video. Depending on the curriculum requirements, allowances should be made for such a request. If the student is a film major, or it's a law school criminal law class, the student might have to suck it up or change careers. Not trying to be mean, but people doing certain work have to experience certain things.

As to books, I don't know what to say about that. I think the curriculum could manage to put very harmless work in an English 101 class, but if people want to learn literature in any depth, they have to deal with human experience. They need to have a "heads up" from the get-go that literature deals with pain.

You know, people can always major in engineering or go to comm school.

Also, just wondering how often it comes up that crazily offensive videos are shown. Back in the day, when I was in school, I watched a couple of disturbing things (one of which was in high school), but mostly we didn't watch movies. We read books. Is that obsolete?

And the point with the ratings, lj, is, instead of it being: "Class? Class! May I have your attention! May all student who have been raped please leave the room!"

Instead, the ratings appeal to "everyone's" sensibilities (religious, traumatic, whatever) without pointing to "victims."

Why do we have to claim PTSD?

I'm curious, and am not asking this rhetorically or in an attempt to be argumentative, but to try to understand what you're saying here: when you say "claim PTSD" are you dismissing most claims of PTSD as being illegitimate or misguided? There still a very large stigma attached to behavioral health issues in this country, and while I'm obviously coming from a cultural background that has a very different perspective on the prevalence, scope, and severity of PTSD than the general public. So I could see that. My phrasing presumably makes it pretty clear how much I agree with it, but I do know that a conviction that PTSD is exaggerated and is often (or even usually) oversensitivity masquerading as a genuine medical issue is a far from uncommon attitude in the US; is said attitude what you're alluding to here, or am I misreading?

And the point with the ratings, lj, is, instead of it being: "Class? Class! May I have your attention! May all student who have been raped please leave the room!"

It would really serve the discussion better if you didn't give examples not based in any kind of reality in order to mock the opposite viewpoint.

You ask:
Back in the day, when I was in school, I watched a couple of disturbing things (one of which was in high school), but mostly we didn't watch movies. We read books. Is that obsolete?

Yes, yes it is. There is pressure to provide more and more information to students and there is a pressure to make things more entertaining and appealing. This is why more teachers rely on providing the larger bandwidth of video for examples, and try to choose things that grab student's attention. In addition, the classroom itself has a much wider range of students and sensibilities. And the university professoriate, as a class, can be relatively clueless, though not as clueless as to ask everyone who has been raped to leave the room.

As an example that doesn't get into the messiness of trigger warnings, there was a recent discussion of an event at a large conference about Japan studies where a panel was discussing modern Japanese manga culture and at the end of the panel, one of the Japanese participants of the conference (but not in the panel) spoke up to complain that the manga used were not indicative of Japan, and was upset that the speakers were presenting these images were suggesting to their students that what was portrayed in the manga were things that were normal in Japan. There was an interesting discussion about this, with none of the questions resolved, questions that dealt with what viewpoint a particular culture should be presented from, how a researcher's focus on a particular subject could give a wrong impression and a number of other interesting points. I think the parallel is that it is easy to lose sight of how shocking some things can be when you work with them all the time.

With respect, you're misreading, Nombrilisme Vide.

My father, a WWII veteran, most definitely suffered from PTSD, which was undiagnosed. My guess is that PTSD of parents was the reason for a lot of the worrisome things that happened in the next generation. I'm pretty sure the behaviors he exhibited became a cultural issue. I don't want to continue making that mistake.

I know that rape victims also suffer from PTSD - not questioning it. But, you know, a lot of other people probably do too. Accident victims? Children of violent parents (even if they weren't specifically targeted for abuse)? People who've witnessed horrific disease? I mean, a lot of horrific things happen in this world, and it's not my goal to minimize any of it. But valorizing a certain class of victims (rape victims, for example) minimizes the experience of other people. Like the survivors of the recent (or less recent ... constant) mass shootings. Kids whose parents are in prison. People who have survived Katrina or other devastating weather. Immigrants who crossed the border under horrible circumstances. I can't even imagine the everyday pain that a lot of people feel.

But our educational system (liberal arts) is about offering the best of our culture, often literature and art which deals with these very things, to students. There are certainly other paths, but the purpose of literature is to wrestle with what happens to people in difficult situations - situations that we all face, or that we all might face.

I don't know how many people are forced to watch rape films in college. I'm guessing not very many? (Again, I read books, mostly.) The articles don't mention (from what I read) what the offending material was. 12 Years a Slave? Last Tango in Paris? Maybe we'd have a better grasp of this issue if we knew what was being assigned.

It would really serve the discussion better if you didn't give examples not based in any kind of reality in order to mock the opposite viewpoint.

That was humorous to me, because it very much reflects my high school reality. Honestly, lj, you might be the picture of an intelligent, compassionate, sensitive, responsible professor (and from what I know about you, you are), but there are people in the world not like you, or working in substandard institutions, and, by the way, not living in Asia, where your experience might be different still.

And the university professoriate, as a class, can be relatively clueless, though not as clueless as to ask everyone who has been raped to leave the room.

Or maybe even that clueless. Honestly, I know some really clueless people who are very good at some things, but extremely clueless at others.

What's wrong with treating everyone like regular non-stressed people who might not want to view extreme violence or sexual content?
there is a pressure to make things more entertaining and appealing. This is why more teachers rely on providing the larger bandwidth of video for examples, and try to choose things that grab student's attention.

Maybe this is a more serious issue than "trigger warnings." I'm, frankly, worried about a curriculum that uses videos and entertainment, rather than literature and art, as its main teaching tool.

I think the parallel is that it is easy to lose sight of how shocking some things can be when you work with them all the time.

Isn't that the whole point of being at a university though? It's a revelation at many levels. Obviously, freaking people out to the point of disability isn't the point. But making people go, Whoa! I had no idea! is the point. Even if it's the professors who are saying Whoa!

The point of using quotes is to suggest that someone said those exact words. If you think that is a humorous aside, it suggests a commitment to feminism that is not really too grounded. I also know that while I haven't heard that particular phrase, I do know of professors doing hair-raisingly clueless things. But if a teacher at my school said something similar to that and circumstances indicated that there was no explainable context, I'd be raising the issue of his employment.

Isn't that the whole point of being at a university though?
Look, you can't claim to have some knowledge of cluelessness at the university and then claim cluelessness about how things are at the university. It is self-refuting.

Obviously, freaking people out to the point of disability isn't the point. But making people go, Whoa! I had no idea! is the point. Even if it's the professors who are saying Whoa!
Some discussion of trigger warnings is precisely what you suggest, which is to raise awareness in professors. So I'm not understanding why you are taking issue with them so vehemently. Maybe it's just me misreading, and I'm not trying to be argumentative, but if you feel that one needs to (as I do) make teachers step back and critically examine their materials, then I don't understand why you are so opposed to some notion of trigger warnings based on individual campus circumstances.

it suggests a commitment to feminism that is not really too grounded.

I would request that you not question my commitment to feminism. You are wrong if you do, and you have no idea what my experience is, thank you very much. I consider your quoted comment an unnecessary personal insult, after I was extremely respectful to you. If you don't like my sense of humor, you can ignore it.

I'll assume that the rest of your comment is a good faith attempt to understand my position. I believe that the concept of "trigger warnings" as opposed to a general disclaimer about sex or violence is extremely patronizing. Many of us don't like watching explicit sex or violence. In addition, as an educational tool, when people are no longer in the world of academia, they should still be able to see movies and read literature. They need tools to determine what to see or read. They have to rely on the usual tools, ratings, or reviews, to figure out what to do then. Students should be able to practice "real life" in school. Perhaps profs should suggest how to use these tools.

And sure, I've been away from university and law school for a long time, although I live and work in a university community, and have had other very important relationships with universities. I don't really care, lj, if you want to disregard or disagree with my opinions.

Don't question my commitment to feminism just because it isn't the frail flower brand of feminism that Doctor Science preaches. The women that I grew up with are the ones helping to run the world.

Me neither. But don't "trigger warnings" do that?

No, they don't.

Every student, it seems to me, has a right to approach his or her professor, in confidence, and explain that he or she is unable for medical or psychological reasons to watch certain explicit content in a video.

How will the student know what the content is prior to reading or watching?

Some stuff is obviously quite well known, some not. And, frankly, I've never gone wrong betting against folks actually knowing much about our "common culture".

I take everybody's point about the undesirability of a desire for trigger warnings being elevated to a right, and/or laws being passed to require them (!?!), and/or university courses being bowdlerized as a consequence of a mandatory policy.

Where has anything like that happened? Even in contexts where trigger warnings are dead normal, and have been part of the etiquette for years and years, I do not see that happening.

As noted in the other thread, to a very great degree I'm just playing devil's advocate here, because I have no dog in this fight.

What I'm seeing is a hue and cry about censorship, and things being elevated to rights, and laws being passed.

And when I look at *what the scope of the policies are* that have actually been proposed or implemented, I'm just not seeing any of that.

Anything can turn into something else, but you also have to be clear about what the thing is now, as it exists.

I don't see that, in any of the reporting or (with all due respect) the bulk of the comments, here or elsewhere.

It's like some kind of PC red scare.

And when I look at *what the scope of the policies are* that have actually been proposed or implemented, I'm just not seeing any of that.

Then don't worry about it. Other people think that this is a problem:

A Resolution to Mandate Warnings for Triggering Content in Academic Settings,” urges university officials to require professors who present content that may trigger the onset of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to warn the students ahead of time and refrain from docking points from those who opt out of attending class that day. The resolution also directs A.S. executives to bring the proposal to the attention of the UC Student Association board and the Academic Senate and asks that the office of the Student Advocate General appoint a staff member to devise a list of trigger warnings.

In other words (forgive me lj),

"Warning, class! The content that will be presented on Thursday might trigger the onset of PTSD. All victims of PTSD are excused from class on Thursday! Be here Tuesday, of course, because there'll be a test."

Well, it WAS an attempt to be humorous, but under the guidelines of the University of California, it's kind of what needs to be said?

russell: I don't really see it as my place to tell other people what they should or should not find disturbing.

Sapient: Me neither. But don't "trigger warnings" do that?

russell: No, they don't.

Actually, rather than saying nothing, "trigger warnings" certainly do tell people that they should find the content disturbing. Saying nothing tells them: ...... Nothing ....

Nothing is really much more in the spirit of "not my place to tell people what they should or should not find disturbing" than "TRIGGER WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTENT MAY BE DISTURBING!!!"

Look sapient, as this is the first time you've trotted out your 'this is what a feminist looks like' t-shirt, I'm not convinced and just as you invite me to ignore you, you are more than welcome to ignore me. at any rate, it's clear that your definition of respectful is different from mine. My definition puts statements like

Don't question my commitment to feminism just because it isn't the frail flower brand of feminism that Doctor Science preaches. The women that I grew up with are the ones helping to run the world.

as outside the set of 'respectful'.

Unsolicited advice, I know, but you'd get a lot farther asking people to respect your commitment if you respected theirs.

as this is the first time you've trotted out your 'this is what a feminist looks like' t-shirt, I'm not convinced

It doesn't really matter to me whether you are convinced or not. If you don't remember reading my views on feminism in the past, then perhaps you weren't paying attention. That's fair, as I certainly haven't memorized your views on every topic. And if you want to go through life believing that Doctor Science represents the views of all feminists, go right ahead.

There are many women who are, in my generation, firsts in many previously all-male professions. I was a witness to that struggle, even a participant, and it wasn't by fearing elevators or by insisting on "trigger warnings" that it happened. I'm glad that our society is hoping to make strides to end sexual violence; it's a battle that needs to be fought. It remains to be seen, however, what steps will be effective without jeopardizing the work women have done to share power in the workplace.

And if you want to go through life believing that Doctor Science represents the views of all feminists, go right ahead.

Someone is having trouble with reading comprehension.

Someone is having trouble with reading comprehension.

Glad to see you "trotting out your 'this is what a feminist looks like' t-shirt" Slart.

WTAF, sapient?

Actually, rather than saying nothing, "trigger warnings" certainly do tell people that they should find the content disturbing.

Look, this is simply false.

I appreciate your concern for women's equality, and you are correct to note that women have not earned whatever level of parity they have by fearing elevators.

All good.

Nobody, including Doc Science, is making any kind of claim that her views represent the views of "all feminists". There are no views that represent the views of "all feminists".

Feminism is not exclusively defined by "women sharing power in the workplace". Trigger warnings are not exclusively about feminism. In the university context, they're not even primarily about feminism, as far as I can tell.

If people want university professors to give them a heads up about potentially disturbing content, there is nothing per se wrong with the university asking professors to do so. Whether as guidance, or an explicit policy. Nothing whatsoever.

If that expands into some kind of censorship, or if the dreaded "chilling effect" causes professors to begin to bowdlerize the content they present, that would be a problem.

So far, that doesn't appear to be going on.

The motivations of folks who are interested in having trigger warnings at universities don't align with what you think feminist priorities should be. So be it. Different people have different ideas about what's important.

Actually, rather than saying nothing, "trigger warnings" certainly do tell people that they shouldmay find the content disturbing.

Fixed. Otherwise, what russell said.

I>Feminism is not exclusively defined by "women sharing power in the workplace". Trigger warnings are not exclusively about feminism. In the university context, they're not even primarily about feminism, as far as I can tell

I agree that feminism is a broad topic, and that women face gender issues all day long in many categories of life. However, that women can make a living and support a family without depending on a man are big wins, and they happened too recently to take for granted. Without that first step, there's very little to talk about.

As I mentioned previously, I'm not opposed to warnings about sexual content and violence. That is already the norm, and I'm in favor of it. I just don't see why it has to be correlated to victimhood.

Perhaps I did miss your extensive statements about your deeply held feminist beliefs so I invite you to reference them. I am certainly open to the possibility that I might not be remembering posts outlining your commitment to feminist principles. The closest I can find is this thread or this one. If there are others, be my guest. I live to learn.

How insulting you are, and how ridiculous it is to go through this exercise, lj. I've been here long enough for you not to intimate that I'm dishonest about my beliefs.

Why don't you look here, or here, or here, and there are many more. Oh, and here, where McKinney compared pregnancy to driving, something that escaped your memory before, and which we discussed here.

How insulting you are, and how ridiculous it is to go through this exercise, lj.

Sapient, no more than you insulting Doctor Science's for some brand of shrinking violet feminism that only you can see in her. It seems like she isn't much of a shrinking violet, but that's just my opinion.

At any rate, I looked at those old threads and I see you arguing about abortion, which, while a feminist issue, seems for you less a discussion about the principles of feminism and more about the joys of getting to swing the elbows in an argument. And in this thread, you taking the concerns expressed at UCSB, a school with a high population of veterans and claim that it 'infantilizes women', which, as russell has tried to suggest any number of times, isn't feminism, it's just obscuring the discussion.

Of course, there is also this:

Obviously, in our big country, there are a lot of victims of various crimes, injustices, etc. Some people have been traumatized by these things. What I think I object to about "trigger warnings" is that they are a ploy by a small (but seemingly growing) branch of feminism that hold women to be incapable of functioning in society (can't watch movies, can't read fiction, can't take an elevator without a chaperone, etc.), needing special consideration because they're too fragile, because rape is so prevalent. And if people haven't been raped, they most definitely should be afraid of it happening on the elevator!

I don't have the chutzpah to call myself a feminist because my mom worked and I've got daughters, but even if I did, I don't think I'd try to lump Dr. Science into the "small (but seemingly growing) branch of feminism". Sounds more than a bit like 'feminism would be great if it weren't pushed by all these women'.

Not that I think that you believe that, I just think you let your argumentation take you out on a limb that you can't get down from. I don't think you really have any beliefs, you just like mixing it up, and when called on this feminism line, you went with the "I would request that you not question my commitment to feminism." Why? because you argued with McKinney because you remembered him equating driving to pregnancy and then said

(and no, I'm not going to do the research t to find where he said that - if he's evolved, he can say so - it doesn't seem that he has)?

Pardon me if I don't find that to be the gold standard for feminist thought.

And as far as the "You are wrong if you do, and you have no idea what my experience is, thank you very much." you are welcome to discuss your vast array of experiences. You argue in that thread above that because of the suffering of your relative, you have some special insight into abortion. Now that has morphed into an ability to suss out what is and is not appropriate for feminism. It is great that you make your life experiences count for so much.

On the other hand, if you don't like my observations, you are welcome to ignore them. You don't have to read them, so there is no reason they should bother you, eh?

you are welcome to ignore them

And ignore them I will.

The Baffler weighs in.

h/t BJ

Thanks, russell. I hadn't seen this, and obviously it's an article I agree with, from an author who doesn't have to prove her feminist bona fides. Some of the links there look interesting too.

that Baffler article sums-up my position on this pretty well.

The Baffler article does seem to indicate that those of us who were concerned that the warnings would proliferate to ever more areas were not totally adrift from reality.

FWIW, the Baffler article refers (as do most similar articles) to the Oberlin policy to demonstrate the proliferating aspect of trigger warnings.

As noted elsewhere, by me, Oberlin is not a typical place.

As always, I have no dog in this particular fight, I can see legitimate arguments and concerns on both sides.

I was intrigued to see the Baffler piece discuss something (IIRC) thompson had raised, which is the connection between trigger warnings and phenomena like school privatization and education as a consumer good.

thompson, do you have any interest in expanding on that?

apologies if I'm mis-remembering who brought that point up...

wj:

seem to indicate that those of us who were concerned [...] were not totally adrift from reality.

Or merely that we are adrift with company. :)

I think russell's point about a lack of current, apparent harm is a valid one. That doesn't mean I'm not concerned about next year or next decade.

Something I've been trying to find the words for and failing is that I often rail against the media and the populace for being caught up in the "threat-du-jour" and losing sight of actual scope of the perceived threat.

Oddly enough, I often grumble about my Uni administration being too reactive in response to what I view as largely inconsequential complaints or issues of the student body.

(As an aside, that shapes my broader concerns about "student-as-customer" higher education.)

And here I am, being very reactive to what could very well be a nonexistent trend, just a handful of student complaints that went viral.

We all have things that set us off, or plug into our view of larger trends and culture wars.

That doesn't mean I agree with russell's devil advocacy on the issue, as I still think its a concerning trend and should be resisted.

As someone (dr ngo, I think) said upthread, it's important to resist things before they become damaging.

But I the reality check is important.

I was intrigued to see the Baffler piece discuss something (IIRC) thompson had raised, which is the connection between trigger warnings and phenomena like school privatization and education as a consumer good.

I pointed out that as schools strive to catch student attention, they are often putting more bandwidth in the class. One aspect of this is, as Geier quotes Cottom, is that

Call me cynical, but the “student-customer” movement is the soft power arm of the neo-liberal corporatization of higher education.

There is certainly some truth to that. But the fact that teachers have to compete for views and the academy has to absorb some of the philosophy of the marketplace, well, that train left the station a long time ago.

And too many professors think that the classroom is their fiefdom and for a student to question how they do something is considered to be open rebellion.

There is also the tendency, in the academy, to push arguments to their final conclusion, no matter how illogical they might become. Every one of these articles gives the example of The Great Gatsby and notes that it was suggested by a student(!) at Rutgers(!!). I'm relatively sure that the student was being sincere (though the dry tongue in cheek argument that parodizes something that finds its full flower on college campuses), is a column from the student newspaper with the running title of 'Nothing, if not Critical' really the best place to take the pulse of what is happening?

When I first came to Japan in the late 80's, I lived in a building that had another foreigner, about 10 years older than me, who worked at a conversation school. Though our schedules were different, we occasionally got together and he had offhandly mentioned that he had been in the army. He had a Japanese-American girlfriend who also worked at the same school and one evening we decided to watch a movie. Details fade, so I can't remember how it got picked or why, but we ended up watching Catch-22.

I'm not sure if one has to watch films in some darkened room or if it is just a nod to the original circumstances, but the lights were out. In the movie, there is the repeated interaction in Yossarian's dream, where he hears a voice say over his intercom 'help him' and he goes back to help Snowden, who seems to have only a leg wound, but keeps saying 'I'm cold'. At the interaction where Yossarian realizes that it's not just his leg, but that his flak jacket is basically keeping his insides in that I hear him sobbing. I think that I pretended that I had fallen asleep and said nothing and when the movie ended, he said he needed to get back and left.

I'd like to say I remember what happened afterwards, but I don't know if I was afraid to enquire about what had happened or he stayed away so he wouldn't have to talk about it, and I'm not sure if his girlfriend filled me in on some details or what. So I'm not going to claim that the experience crystallized some philosophy within me. It did, however, make me start to think that you err on the side of caution and thinking about that has certainly shaped my notions of trigger warnings. I can certainly see how triggers may treat some as being unable to cope, thus 'infantilizing' them, but I am also very much aware that it is far too easy to bully someone and tell them to get a thicker skin as a way to justify it.

As someone who cries freely during movies and when reading literature (and even other times), I believe that sometimes tears are appropriate, welcome, and therapeutic, and maybe purposely evoked by the writer. There are a lot of things that more of us should take the time to mourn. Those of us who have experienced deep grief (most people my age) know that it comes in waves, and that it's triggered randomly. It's the way we never forget.

People who are worried about the effect of trigger warnings aren't necessarily (at least in my case) trying to be callous. I have no problem with 1) general warnings like those that already exist, and 2) making accommodations to individuals who request it, in private.

Katherine Geier makes the points better than I did about why trigger warnings aren't necessarily a good answer as a policy.

thompson, do you have any interest in expanding on that?

Yeah, I'd be happy to, although honestly I’m probably not the best person to do it. I’m not a professor and I don’t have decades of experience in higher education, nor do I study trends in higher education. So I’m not speaking from a position of expertise.

I’m a postdoc, and I’ve interfaced with students, professors, and administrations for more than a decade in various roles (undergrad, grad, TA, lecturer, researcher, etc). So I’m not entirely without perspective.

But that is the context of my comments, and I’d treat them as educated opinion, not as fact or indisputable expertise.

Why talk about students-as-customers? Because they *are* customers.

Take the University of California, for example. ~50% of its core operating funds (basically funds used to run the university instead of research units) comes from students:

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_California_finances )

So the UC (hardly unique) has to attract students in order to run the university. In addition, if it wants to expand (for example, hire professors in a new study area, build new computer labs, etc), it needs to expand the number of students.

It also wants the best students, and students that go on to be successful. This supports future alumni fundraising efforts, increases prestige, etc.

So the incentive is there: more students have a direct impact on the universities ability to function. Students are customers and universities need them.

(As an aside, I think this also contributes to the excessive production PhDs.)

None of this is inherently a bad thing, but it can result in behavior that detracts from the core educational mission. I’ll try to frame some of the issues I’ve observed and heard from colleagues. I’m not going to go into too much depth, because this is already getting long. I’ll try to tie it back to trigger warnings at the end, but at that point I’m well and truly out of my element (I’m in STEM).

I interact with faculty and admin both professionally and socially pretty regularly, so I can relay some of what I hear from my higher-ups. The problems are vague and hard to pin down. They also get convolved with a lot of “kids these days”, “get off my lawn”, “it was way harder back in my day” kind of talk. So, take it as it is. I’m going to touch on “resortification”, “grade inflation”, and “commoditization”. But there are certainly other aspects as well.

Basically, if schools want a large number of highly qualified students, the thought is they need to aggressively recruit. Which leads to “resortification” of campuses: High end gym facilities, incredibly appointed on campus housing, lounge pools, etc. A prominent example in my mind is a graduate program I’m acquainted with has a liberal petty cash account for student events...basically they get free booze and food during recruitment and a couple of times each week. It’s an extreme example, but there are lots of little ones. Nicer recreational facilities, nicer recreational activities: better recruits.

This also ties into grade inflation. If you’re recruiting the best students, it wouldn’t be fair to tie them to a bell curve, as they are all exceptional.

(http://www.gradeinflation.com/tcr2010grading.pdf )

In reality, there is pressure to not grade as harshly. I’ve (as a TA) had to regrade and/or institute curves because faculty was concerned that not enough students would pass. In one example, I had to rework course materials because a substantial number of my students hadn’t taken the prereqs. They were seniors, were supposed to have taken a class the end of their junior year, and hadn’t. It came down from on high that the class should defocus prereq material so these students would be able to graduate on schedule.

I’ve had faculty complain to me of similar problems. I’m also aware of an instance were standards for a PhD program were specifically relaxed over the objections of the professor due to an overly high attrition rate.

Bear in mind, most of my experience is in engineering programs. These people are going out and building things that other people depend on. Some of it is in medical programs...which also gives me pause.

Finally, I’ll touch on “commoditization”, which has aspects both at uni’s and society at large. Basically, there was a time in the US when a degree was a gateway to a middle class life. Now it is frequently looked at as the bare minimum.

People need degrees. Failing out a student means your probably crippling their ability to get a good job, and BTW they have a crushing amount of debt associated with the degree they don’t have.

And in academia, more and more universities have a model where electives make up substantial sections of the degree: Education a la carte. Frex: You must take (3) classes that have a history component, (3) with a writing component and (2) that satisfy diversity.

Students are going to take the class that (a) satisfies their requirement (b) doesn’t kill their GPA (e.g. is not challenging) and (c) is entertaining.

What is going to have more students: “Intro to Human Sexuality” or “Intro to how your preconceived notions are wrong”?

Classes that don’t enroll students get eliminated and the professors are reassigned to other classes. Classes they aren’t interested in, and/or have to develop lecture material for (time consuming). This puts pressure on professors to provide classes that meet those (a) (b) (c) standards.

I can see how professors might worry about poorly worded and overly broad “trigger warning” policies might force them to choose between warnings that might discourage potential students or limited what they teach.

And there is a final angle to all of this. If a university wants to recruit the most, brightest students, bad press is a problem. A class, or art installment, or what have you, that generates student complaints might make the news. A blog might pick it up, and than a local news channel, and then cable news is trying to drum up controversy: University of Don’t Send Your Kid Here is an unsafe environment for students.

Even if it was relatively innocuous and educationally relevant, that professor is getting a talking to. Maybe the class is reassigned. Maybe the syllabus refocused. Maybe they just have to waste a few days in meetings.

None of this should be construed to say that I think warning people about graphic or strong themes is a bad thing. Even from a pedagogical perspective, surprise is rarely a good educational strategy. And it’s certainly a decent and civil thing to do. And as LJ (I think) said upthread, professors can be clueless, so there may be some value in a well crafted policy to guide teachers.

But in this context of a shift towards students as customers, I see “trigger warning” policies as more likely than not erring on the side of overly broad, so that no student gets missed. Remember, it’s generally not the reasonable, sane complaints that make the news.

Again, I’m probably not the best person to talk about all this, I’m sure dr ngo or LJ are far more qualified than I am. So take it for what it is: Insider perspective, but not expertise.

And two quick thoughts on what LJ just posted:

And too many professors think that the classroom is their fiefdom

Yeah, absolutely.

student newspaper with the running title of 'Nothing, if not Critical' really the best place to take the pulse of what is happening?

Yeah, I agree. I tried to speak to that in a previous post...its easy to make mountains out of molehills, especially when it touches on a subject you feel strongly about.

I've been reading all this trigger warning stuff through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where colleges in California and New York and the Midwest have been battlegrounds on this subject for well over a decade and where people on both sides use victimhood as a weapon, utterly convinced they are right. ( I'm not exactly neutral on this subject, but can see where some on both sides try to censor the other.) According to one side, universities have become hotbeds of fashionable lefty antisemitism. Actual incidents of antisemitism are conflated with criticism of a cherished ideology and/or country. On the pro-Palestinian side, people talk of how Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure and how Joseph Massad and others are falsely accused of antisemitism, but then some pro-Palestinian protestors try to prevent visiting Israeli speakers from being heard. Some Jewish students claim to feel unwelcome because of what they claim is an antisemitic atmosphere encouraged by what is taught in classrooms or what is allowed to occur in protests.

Here is an old New York Magazine article on a polemical pro Israel film called "Columbia Unbecoming", which describes the issue at Columbia some years ago.

link

I just typed in a bunch of links and lost them when I went to look for another, but you can find plenty on your own if you google combinations of words like "California college" "antisemitism", "Palestinian", and so on.

I don't doubt that there are genuine cases of anti-Arab racism and anti-semitism that have occurred on campus but I also don't doubt that most of what this is about are students hearing things they don't like and feeling victimized by it. And no doubt sincerely so. Introduce the concept of trigger warning and each side will want to place trigger warnings on the material seen as essential by the other. The attempt to shut down opposing points of view already happens on this subject on both sides, so I would expect "trigger warnings" to become another weapon to be deployed in the ongoing struggle to discredit the opposing point of view.

Some of this ties in with what Thompson said. And politicians quickly feel the need to spout off when this topic comes up. It happened in New York and it happened in California. I suppose trigger warnings could be a face-saving mechanism for all concerned. Tell the students that their deep felt sympathies might get trampled on, and then they can decide if they want to risk learning something they might not want to believe. Slap trigger warnings on everything from Herzl's writings to Hamas charters and Amnesty International reports. Trigger warnings can go on Benny Morris's books when he discusses Israeli atrocities against Palestinians, and on the interview where he says that the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians should have gone further. That ought to be sufficient cushioning for everyone's delicate sensibilities.

If I seem cynical, it's mainly because I take for granted that people claim to be hurt by hearing things they don't want to hear--and to me the trigger warning concept looks to be more of the same. Sure, it's justifiable in extreme cases (PTSD, though the writer of the Baffler article said that even in those cases avoiding the subject was the wrong way to go. But not suffering from PTSD and not being an expert on how people cope with trauma, I can't judge that claim.) But I don't think it will stop there.

(PTSD, though the writer of the Baffler article said that even in those cases avoiding the subject was the wrong way to go.

I think that the article that Glier notes misreads that research. From that piece

Trigger warnings are designed to help survivors avoid reminders of their trauma, thereby preventing emotional discomfort. Yet avoidance reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming the disorder. According to a rigorous analysis by the Institute of Medicine, exposure therapy is the most efficacious treatment for PTSD, especially in civilians who have suffered trauma such as sexual assault. For example, prolonged exposure therapy, the cognitive behavioral treatment pioneered by clinical psychologists Edna B. Foa and Barbara O. Rothbaum, entails having clients close their eyes and recount their trauma in the first-person present tense. After repeated imaginal relivings, most clients experience significant reductions in PTSD symptoms, as traumatic memories lose their capacity to cause emotional distress.

bolds mine. This seems to suggest that the patient be put through these under a trained clinical psychologist. This seems a bit different from having someone put up a movie with some scene that sets something off.

I do think you have a point that people will exploit it. I think this is getting more play because this is an area where students, who certainly aren't allowed to determine other things in the curriculum, can say something. This is not to suggest that there is anything wrong with this, but when people are blocked from participating in one way, they often find another way to participate.

To echo LJ's comment, exposure therapy has virtually nothing to do with expecting or requiring people to be immersed in disturbing experiences without warning or preparation. Basically, the opposite.

Also FWIW, I just want to note again that trigger warnings in the academic context are not proposed so that students can avoid content that they have a strong disagreement with. They are proposed to allow students to prepare for, and possibly avoid direct experience of, content that will be viscerally disturbing to them for reasons other than the intellectual content.

russell:

trigger warnings in the academic context are not proposed so that students can avoid content that they have a strong disagreement with

Yeah, its a good point, and a useful one to keep the discussion grounded. The concern with trigger warning *policies* is that they will potentially be exploited. Donald provides a great example of an active debate on campuses where both sides try to suppress the speech of the other (at least I can think of examples on both sides).

And you're right to point out that exploitation hasn't happened, and most proponents are pretty clear they don't want it to happen.

Maybe that blunts some of the concerns, I'm not sure.

So, something that's been missing for me in this discussion is data on the problem that trigger warnings fix.

Students certainly have traumatic histories, university classes certainly deal with traumatic themes at times, professors are often clueless (as LJ points out).

How much of a problem is this? How many students fall through the cracks in the current setup (e.g. many professors providing trigger warnings at their discretion)? How much would trigger warnings help?

The proponent's of trigger warnings haven't cited much beyond hearsay (which, in all fairness, is what the opponents are citing). A problem with almost every aspect of sexual violence and abuse.

And DocSci in the OP raises the point of underreporting and shame, which no doubt makes the problem appear smaller than it is.

But if anybody had thoughts or links pointing to the scope of the problem and the scope of the effect of trigger warning policies, I'd be interested to hear it.

C'mon, Thompson! Asking for real world data, rather than suppositions and anecdotes? That's not what the Internet is all about!!

"I think this is getting more play because this is an area where students, who certainly aren't allowed to determine other things in the curriculum, can say something."

I don't know. It seems to me that students on the IP conflict find plenty of ways to complain about the content of courses when they find it offensive. Some methods they use are simple expressions of their right to free speech, while other methods amount to attempts at censorship. That was part of my point with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. If trigger warnings are extended to situations beyond PTSD, then I think they will be used for political posturing and attempted censorship. What if a professor's material only gets trigger warnings from one side? Does that mean he or she is biased? Does the professor have tenure? Where does the school's funding come from? Of course, this kind of pressure already happens--trigger warnings would just be a new way to exert it.

On PTSD, I would defer to students who suffer from it and won't take the Baffler writer's word for what does them the most good.

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