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May 24, 2014

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Fair enough, dr ngo, I'll turn in my ethernet cable at the door.

Look, I'll share a personal story. Nothing to do with sexual abuse, or PTSD, or universities. Just a story about dealing with reactions to stimuli.

For many years, beginning in my 20's, I was subject to panic disorder. Agoraphobia. It runs in my family.

It's basically fine now, but for a lot of years even simple, innocuous cues - pictures, movies, conversations - could induce quite strong mental and physical reactions in me.

Dissociation, physical pain, highly elevated heart rate, dizziness. Basically, GET ME THE F*** OUT OF HERE NOW!!!!

Just a plain old garden variety organic mental illness, if you will. And, a dead common one. Lots of folks deal with it.

If you had told me in the middle of a class meeting during that time that - surprise!! - we were going to all file out, get in a bus, and drive over a large bridge, I would have freaked the hell out. Like, really. I would have fought you with my fists rather than let you make me get on the bus.

Nothing bad about it, nothing infantilizing about it, nothing weird about it.

Stimulus -> reaction.

Trigger.

It's really not that hard for me to imagine, in any given population of 17 to 22 year olds, that, let's say, 10 or 15 percent of them have some kind of issue that would make it a really hard experience to be exposed to strong violent, or sexual, or otherwise disturbing content.

In public, surrounded by their peers, with no advance warning of what was coming.

That's just my wild-ass guess, I could be off by miles.

But my experience is that "weird people" - people with issues of one kind or another - are just not that unusual.

Especially if you're talking about very young adults, for many of them first time away from home, living in the big fishbowl that is university campus life.

Maybe my opinion is skewed by my own experience, but I'm just not seeing trigger warnings as a very big deal.

My two cents.

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.

Well, students with a chip on their shoulder will use whatever means necessary to express it. (This is not to dismiss IP issues, just to say that unless you grant someone the sole right to choose what is appropriate and what is not, any topic as divisive as IP is going to attract that attention) That's what people with shoulder chips do. And the idea of teachers and students co-creating a curriculum is something that happens so rarely, it is a statistical blip. But that plugs into my next observation off of Russell's comment

It's really not that hard for me to imagine, in any given population of 17 to 22 year olds,

One of the things that has changed in the university is the prevalence of the non-traditional student. In fact, a quick google suggests that non-trad students are now the majority. Of course, the debate focusses on schools that may have more traditional students, but as the part time student becomes more prevalent, taking the pre-requisite courses often are reduced choices because they have their jobs and lives to deal with. So the question of what they are exposed can be just like a requirement, so trying to anticipate these things is important. And someone might seize on this paragraph

Two-year students, for example, are far less likely than their four-year counterparts to study subjects such as English, history or visual arts, and much more likely to be in technical training or in career-oriented fields such as health care, according to education department data. Among four-year students, there’s a similar split by age: Older students are disproportionately likely to major in business, computer science and engineering.

as evidence that this doesn't really concern them. However, American universities still operate, I believe, on a system of core requirements that are shared by all students, and it is in these classes, where teachers are trying to capture the interest of the students (because department funding generally depends on how many people chose your department for a major), which leads to classes that might have some compelling videos and such.

Here in Japan, folks are trying to make the universities more non-trad friendly, to counteract the demographic cliff we are running off of, so I have spent some time looking at how other university systems do this. One thing that has made the US university system such a powerhouse (in terms of financial clout and foreign interest) is the ability to incorporate non-trad students, which then opens the door to foreign students. I believe that this change is fundamentally due to the GI Bill, where you had huge numbers of WWII vets coming into the university system, which necessitated changes in thinking about a wide range of conditions. That impulse is still there when you see that UCSB has a high population of veterans as students. I always find it problematic when someone from outside a class seeks to dictate some conditions within the class. But I also realize that when you have a product that is as ephemeral as teaching, you also have to think a wider range of things than if you are just turning out plastic widgets.

LJ:

However, American universities still operate, I believe, on a system of core requirements that are shared by all students

That's not entirely correct, I believe. Many universities have core requirements, but they are increasingly a la carte: e.g. you must take 3 writing classes from this list of 20. You must take 2 history classes from this list 40. Etc, etc

I know not every university operates on this system, but the ones I'm familiar or partially familiar with do, and some quick googling through some university requirements point to that being a common system.

So, core requirements, yes. But specific classes? Infrequently, if I could hazard a guess. But I haven't done an exhaustive search.

it is in these classes, where teachers are trying to capture the interest of the students (because department funding generally depends on how many people chose your department for a major), which leads to classes that might have some compelling videos and such.

And conversely, I would argue, it may lead to teachers unwilling to alienate students before they even take the class by use of overly broad and poorly granulated trigger warning policies.

russell:

Thank you for putting a face to some of the challenges that might be faced by students. The emotional toll is a really hard thing to quantify and measure, and often leads to such costs being dismissed out of hand.

This isn't an abstract concept for me. I don't wish to delve into my personal history, but I have been "triggered" by movies in the past (never in a classroom setting). To be clear, while it was obvious to other people that something was wrong, I didn't really panic or make a scene, so not that severe. But I really don't have to extrapolate very far to see how someone with more recent and/or severe trauma could have a worse experience.

But in the pro-trigger warning policy posts and articles I've read so far, they have all referred to students that might have a reaction, or know some students that were uncomfortable, etc. Not pointing to actual data on the frequency or severity.

Which isn't denying that certain imagery or situations couldn't induce panic or pain in some population of students (both trad and nontrad...LJ makes the great point about veteran populations).

It's questioning that the mix of student with trauma and unwarned triggering stimuli occur with regularity. If there is evidence of that, I'd like to see it to educate myself.

If there isn't, there could be many reasons for it. Foremost among them is that trauma (especially sexual violence) underreport. Also, a student experiencing a panic attack is unlikely to advertise that fact, and more likely to hope people forget about it.

It's also possible (and I could also be miles off) that in a university setting, its fairly rare that traumatized students are, without warning, exposed to stimuli that trigger severe responses.

but I'm just not seeing trigger warnings as a very big deal.

I think there's been a number of arguments made about how there may be chilling or censorship issues with misuse of TW *policies* (not the TW themselves). If you are unpersuaded by them, that's understandable, its hardly an argument supported by masses of data.

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