I am a University of Tennessee student who enjoys the simple things in life. I enjoy my drinks cold, my ped walkway free from harassers, and my speech free from trigger warnings. As students, our free speech is vitally important and without it we would be oblivious. We would never know if fraternities were hosting some average rapper because they would not be able to blast rap music in presidential court. We would never know who was upset about the election because they would not be allowed to hold demonstrations. And most importantly we would never know we were all damned to hell by 50-year-old men in Walmart khakis because they would be at home eating left over Stouffer’s lasagna from the week before. While these are silly examples they are absolutely necessary to the fabric of our campus.
A trigger warning is when a professor explains that there is going to be things in the curriculum that may offend some people. “NPR Ed recently reported on their survey of more than 800 faculty members at universities around the country… about half of the professors said they’ve used a trigger warning before introducing difficult material, and most said they did so by choice, not policy or student request” (Smith). Trigger warnings are becoming more and more prevalent among professors across the country, but some see this as a risk. “Trigger warnings suggest that classrooms should offer protection and comfort rather than an intellectually challenging education. They reduce students to vulnerable victims rather than full participants in the intellectual process of education.” (Graham).
Many Universities are seeing the threat that trigger warnings bring to their campus. “The University of Chicago sent a welcome letter to incoming freshmen, posted online Wednesday, where they made it abundantly clear that they do not support ‘trigger warnings’ or ‘safe spaces’ in classes or on campus” (Holmes). University courses are meant to challenge and push students out of their comfort zones to ensure that they are prepared for the world outside of the college. The Universities would be doing their students a disservice to coddle them and take away their ability to have candid thoughts about provoking matters.
The Rock is quite possibly the epitome of free speech on our campus. The Rock has no trigger warning, the only thing that you can expect is that it will have a different image or message every time you see it. Messages that have been painted on The Rock ranged from Jimmy Cheek’s resignation to marriage proposals. There have also been countless male body parts spray painted on there and many “F&%k Lane Kiffin” messages. While not everything on The Rock is worthy of our time to look it, it is important that we have something like it on campus that allows us to express our ideas openly and freely. “What is to become… if our young can no longer go to college and be challenged by the free exchange of ideas?” (Lythcott-Haims). Lythcott-Haims presents an important question for us, but as students at Tennessee we can look to The Rock as the answer. It gives a voice to the students, it allows for a free exchange of ideas, and it is a platform for all to see.
A person’s ability to think candidly is necessary to how they react to the situation they are in. It shapes how they deal with grief, good news, excitement, and countless other emotions. The things that make us feel these emotions may not necessarily be good, but they help shape us into the people we are today. Now imagine if we were stripped of our ability to think candidly. We get this trigger warning:
****Josh Dobbs will throw a last second hail mary to beat Georgia****
This warning completely strips away the ecstasy the viewer will have in that moment. Now another warning:
****Josh Dobbs will throw an interception to end the Tennessee vs. Texas A&M game****
This warning will cause the viewer to expect the outcome so they will not feel as much sadness when it actually happens. These times of ecstasy and sadness are to be experienced with your fellow students. When the good happens, we celebrate, and when the bad happens we come together as a student body. “A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought” (Haidt). Our ability to think candidly when we are caught off-guard is healthy, and trigger warnings will take that away.
The University of Tennessee is a great place without trigger warnings and adding them might take away some of the things we love and cherish. The purpose of a university is to fully equip a student with all the tools necessary to be successful in the real world. When we don’t expose students to candid thoughts we are coddling them to be comfortable. The Rock, holding demonstrations, and playing loud rap music on campus will all be in jeopardy if we include trigger warnings on our campus.
Graham, Edward. “On Trigger Warnings.” American Association of University Professors, Academic Freedom and Tenure Investigative Reports. August 2014, https://www.aaup.org/report/trigger-warnings
Haidt, Jonathan. “The Coddling of the American Mind”. The Atlantic. September, 2015. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/
Holmes, Lindsay. “A Quick Lesson On What Trigger Warnings Actually Do.” The Huffington Post. 26 August, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/university-of-chicago-trigger-warning_us_57bf16d9e4b085c1ff28176d
Lythcott-Haims, Julie. “Millennials Will Soon ‘Define’ America and That’s a Problem for Ideas.” The New York Times, Room for Debate, 21 Dec, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/11/02/when-a-generation-becomes-less- tolerant-of-free-speech/millennials-will-soon-define-america-and-thats-a-problem-for- ideas
Smith, Iman. “Content Notice: Here Are A Few Ways Professors Use Trigger Warnings.” NPR. 21 September, 2016. http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/09/21/493913099/content-notice-here-are-a-few-ways-professors-use-trigger-warnings