I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this whole trigger warning thing for a while now. At first I thought it had to be a joke. Colleges mandating that professors include notes on potentially offensive material in their syllabi sounded too absurd to constitute a newsworthy story. But then again, assholes like Donald Sterling tend to make headlines more frequently than entire villages of missing girls.
All I have to offer is my humble opinion. What I know is that I was in college not so long ago, and I never would have dreamed my school could care so much about my emotions. That’s because your college does not care. They could not care less about your feelings or any traumas you might have experienced. They care about the bottom line, and if that means posturing empathy to get more money, then they will do so.
My brother graduated from college this spring. I went to his graduation and listened to the president of the university offer encouraging words about finding success in loving relationships as opposed to big paychecks. He ended his speech by welcoming the new graduates into the alumni association, saying, “You will be hearing from us.” That much is certainly true. I get calls from my alma mater every other week asking for a small donation.
If this sounds cynical, you’re right. It is. I can only base my opinions on what I know, on what I’ve experienced firsthand. My brother told me that only a week before graduation, he and a friend ran into the university president in an elevator on campus. He asked my brother and his friend what their majors were. They answered English and History, respectively. The president replied, “What do you plan to do after you graduate? Work at Starbucks?” And there goes the last little bit of faith I had in the integrity of college administrators.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in college, as did most of my peers. I had the privilege to learn from inspiring professors while speaking my mind in a reassuring environment. I’m also well aware that not having a college degree pretty much excludes you from the job market. These are the facts.
But as far as trigger warnings are concerned, I have to call bullshit. The main issue is this: Trigger warnings do not prepare college kids for the real world. Here’s a sentiment I wish someone would mention in a graduation speech: Nobody cares about your feelings as much as you do. In a college classroom, you have the privilege to be offended by an article, movie, or novel and say so. Alternatively, would you tell your boss you can’t get your job done because there’s the chance you might be offended? Here are a couple of new trigger words: You’re fired.
Be reminded that trigger warnings are intended for a generation of people raised on violent video games and nonstop violence in the news. We also base the argument for trigger warnings on the assumption that college kids actually read what they’re assigned.
It’s hilarious to imagine a college kid reading Mrs. Dalloway closely and jolting with surprise at the allusion of suicide: “omg, that came out of nowhere!” I’m worried that trigger warnings will only erode the skill college kids hone for B.S. by letting the racist, homophobic, sexually charged cat out of the bag before they even Wikipedia the book’s summary.
Listen to this—my trigger word is ice cream. No kidding, I get sad when I hear about ice cream or see ice cream, and eating ice cream sometimes sends me into a fit of tears.
By a twisted turn of fate, I have several awful memories that surround ice cream, giving what should be a tasty dairy treat wholly negative vibes. Do I expect people not to eat ice cream or talk about it around me? No, I do not. Ice cream socials have been difficult, sure, but I don’t expect other people to alter their choices to avoid possibly triggering something painful in me. I have my own shit to deal with. So does everyone else.
Honestly, I would love it if trigger warnings existed in the real world. Not just for my ice cream problems, but for the little annoyances that assault the average person on a daily basis. I would so appreciate it if I could be forewarned about a herd of shirtless frat boys jogging down Runyon Canyon so I could prepare my gag reflex. Unfortunately, no one has figured out how to make that work in the real world.
Understandably, victims of sexual abuse and other traumatic experiences deserve a heads up. There is a clear distinction, though, between those suffering from PTSD and coddled twenty-year-olds possibly being offended by Tom Sawyer. It also doesn’t help any important issue to avoid talking about it. Racism is a sensitive issue, but how are we supposed to talk openly about it if we are too concerned about having our feelings hurt in the process? I’m also wondering when it became so intolerable to have feelings in the first place. I have to deal with varying levels of anger whenever I browse the Internet for articles that aren’t mind-blowingly stupid. That is my burden to bear.
We all have our emotional issues, and it is not the world’s responsibility to take care of them for us. By mandating trigger warnings, college kids will inevitably become soft to the harsh realities that exist in the world—the realities young people are expected to improve.
By not confronting these issues head on, regardless of our own personal sensitivities, I don’t know how we hope to move in a positive direction. Limiting the way we talk about problems ultimately limits our ability to change them.