The Trigger Warning Debate

  By Ana Torres.

Trigger Warning affect students. Media Credit:

Trigger warnings are previews given to students who have experienced traumatic experiences. Professors allow students brace themselves or avoid sections of the text. According to Lisa Leff, reporter of Bureau of The Associated Press:

“Trigger warnings are advisories often written in bold type and affixed to a post, tweet, YouTube video or increasingly, a class syllabus. It is a feature of some feminist web sites and originally used to warn rape and domestic violence survivors, giving those who might be negatively affected a chance to opt out.”

According to Theresa Gannon, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and counselor at Lehman College’s Counseling Center:

“[Trigger warnings] should be issued even if some students have never experienced abuse. Reading about such experiences can be traumatic.”

Gannon also stated that some professors are not aware of the psychological affects that strong texts have on their students. Those who have had traumatic experiences may react by leaving the classroom, losing concentration, or simply dropping a course.

Gannon stated: “some students have gone through tough experiences and keep them in their subconscious; reading about stuff that is similar to what they have gone through, no comma can bring it out and cause them to react emotionally.”

Some professors believe assigning texts that address sensitive topics without warning is not to be taken personally – their goal is to discuss the text without any regard to student’s feelings.

Kayla Castillo, counselor and advocate for the Careers in Teaching program at Lehman, said that trigger warnings should be delivered to a certain extent. She stated: “In my experience, professors have never given any warning about the content of the text and I think that’s because they generally feel like that’s their role…their purpose is to provide knowledge to students and help them discuss certain subjects.” Castillo also expressed that some professors are simply not educated well on sensitivity training. Having the proper sensitivity training allows professors to be more sensitive to their student’s needs and more conscious of their feelings when reading impactful texts.

Lehman professors rarely use trigger warnings in their syllabi or in their assignments. Some students would argue that such warnings give away the “gusto” of the text.

Danica Aragon, an accounting major, stated: “Trigger warnings shouldn’t be given. There are descriptions for all classes. If a student signed up for a class, I assume that they went ahead and read the description of that class and prepared themselves for those kinds of texts. If they receive a warning, their reactions would not be as genuine as if they hadn’t known.” She has never received a trigger warning from a professor.

However, English professor Heather Heim stated: “I think it’s a good idea, but it depends on the text. It would be a good idea to give a warning if there’s something really vicious in the text. For short works, I wouldn’t give a warning, but if it’s a long text, I might.”

Heim also stated, “I think sometimes people need to discover a text on their own and not be told ahead of time as though they were a child. I don’t usually say ‘hey, there’s a rape scene here, prepare yourself for it.’”

Although several students have never received a warning before, they do not mind them. “I can appreciate it because everyone‘s sensitivity level is different and it would be a bit inconsiderate to just expose a student to what is typically considered sensitive material without a warning” said Kendra Velazquez, a biology major. She feels that giving a warning that is not too explicit about an expressive scene in the text makes for a fair warning.

The fact that many of our fellow students and professors had no idea what trigger warnings were shows that Lehman is not focused on distributing these warnings. Seeing both sides of the spectrum, it is no wonder the topic of trigger warnings is an on-going debate that is based on preference.


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