My Thoughts On Trigger Warnings

I went  college in the 70s. I was 16 at the time. It was a state college, though I suppose  I was in a somewhat sheltered environment, as I was admitted to the Honors College. It functioned autonomously at that time, acting as a small private Liberal Arts College within the larger university. We Honors students were regarded (if noticed at all) by the other students as odd and usually kept to ourselves, though we occasionally played to this image by doing such things as  running one of our own for king during the student elections. But we-and our professors-would have been appalled, had anyone suggested that “trigger warnings” were deemed necessary or appropriate for us or the greater university at large. This would have been so, b/c first and foremost, this was a place where we expected to be met with ideas that could disturb, upset, challenge, and turn our world upside down. That was the entire POINT of coming to college! Second, we were part of the world now and didn’t want to be sheltered. We saw ourselves as emerging adults and wanted to engage with what we saw as important. (An example of this was our petition for our own dorm. It was rejected b/c the university had a policy of not allowing mixed-gender housing at the time, unless you were married. So we simply moved off-campus en masse and rented our own apartment building. We had contemplated a group marriage to satisfy the university requirement but decided to do this instead.) When I went to grad school, no-one said anything to me about what I could say in the classes I taught. It was assumed that I would teach them in a professional manner. Later, when I was a Phil prof, again, no-one said a word about the content of my classes. I would have laughed in the face of anyone who did so.

I think that universities have to give their students a place where they can flourish academically and intellectually in physical safety. I AM against students carrying guns on campus. And I’m all for universities attempting to provide for their students’ emotional well-being. BUT a university is not a high school. Students have to realize that by attending a university, they are stepping out into the world and so will thereby be subject to things that might offend/upset/disturb or worse. Part of being a student is learning how to deal with that. It’s called growing up. Universities, with their many resources, offer wonderful places to do that. But that trigger warnings should be thought necessary? Are students really that much more sensitive and tender than they were back in the 70s? Or are these trigger warnings sent out in letters designed to placate anxious parents?

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