Are trigger warnings becoming an impediment in classrooms? Can it be argued that school, especially higher education, is a place where students should be challenged and confronted, up to a point, with issues that make them uncomfortable? How do instructors, administrators, and students come to an agreement on what that point is?


Colleen Clemens, College Professor, Writer, Editor, Tutor & Parent

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I am a believer in the trigger warning. In fact, I am shocked that suddenly this issue is a debate in academic circles. I have been putting a trigger warning on my syllabi since 2008.

A little background: I teach classes about gender and violence and continue to study literary texts that have female protagonists who enact violence. I also teach courses about women writers around the world, and sexual violence is often prevalent in those texts.

Here is the statement on my syllabus: "If at any point you must leave the class, please do so quietly. Several of the readings could be triggers, and I want you to feel safe in the class at all times." It is bolded and italicized.

I can't think of a reason NOT to tell a student that you care about their safety. Usually on the first day of class a student will raise their hand and ask what that statement means. I explain that we read about a lot of violence and I know that those who have endured trauma could feel unsafe or triggered. It sets a great tone to the semester for the students to know the class is safe for them.

And I will tell you a secret: I have not in eight years had a single student who left. It seems to me that just knowing they can and aren't going to be punished for having a flashback is enough for students.

So to say that such warnings are pandering and softening our students seems like bunk to me. How is recognizing the humanity of our students anything but positive?

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