Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Warning: This News Story Will Depress Your Intellectual Instincts

Posted By on Tue, May 20, 2014 at 10:05 AM

The news media machine has set its sights on "trigger warning" policies cropping up at universities of late. In essence, and according to the New York Times, these warnings are "explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans." Frequently, these policies are being brought forth by students themselves.

Scene is getting reports that a lot of these student factions also binge-watch Game of Thrones, so...

Anyway, students at high-minded places like Oberlin, University of California - Santa Barbara, Rutgers, University of Michigan and elsewhere have either formally submitted policy drafts for this kind of stuff or are at least openly discussing the notion.

At Oberlin, students published a trigger warning policy in the school's Sexual Offense Resource Guide that stirred controversy this year. The policy has since been tabled to await further input. “As the resource guide has always stated, the task force values both academic freedom and support for survivors of sexualized violence. We do not see these as contradictory projects, but rather that both are necessary to create an appropriately challenging and effective learning environment," Meredith Raimondo, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and co-chair of the Sexual Offense Policy Task Force, told Inside Higher Ed. IHE sums up the matter quite well:

The policy said that “anything could be a trigger,” and advised professors to “[r]emove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals.”

In the event that a work is “too important to avoid,” the policy said professors could issue a trigger warning by avoiding “spoilers” but giving a “hint about what might be triggering about the material,” and explaining its academic value.

For example, it said, “Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a triumph of literature that everyone in the world should read. However, it may trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide, and more.”

The policy also said faculty members may “Strongly consider developing a policy to make triggering material optional or offering students an alternative assignment using different materials.”

A class on either African politics or African literature or Imperial history or any such combination would be in truth losing a cornerstone of those subjects by allowing students to pass over Things Fall Apart.

An editorial in the Oberlin Review responded to critics of the trigger warning policy:

Trigger warnings exist in order to warn readers about sensitive subjects, like sexual violence or war, that could be traumatic to individuals who have had past experiences related to such topics, not to remove these subjects from academic discussion. They do not “glorify victimhood”; instead, they validate the life experiences of certain members of our community and allow individuals to make informed decisions.

All of this controversial back-and-forth was taking place in April, but this week the national press began spotlighting the trigger warning trend all over the country. The wave follows what seems to be a bizarre cultural trend of people demanding intellectual comfort in all areas of life. The educational process is built on a system that, among other things, acquaints students with discomfort in order to sharpen their minds. The world by all accounts is not a completely cheery place. Bad things happen. Literature and even nonfiction narratives illuminate truths of the greater world, which in turn crafts more critical students who might someday improve the world and eradicate some of its horrors with the power of their education.

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