Trigger Warnings Cause Harm


There are no trigger warnings in the real world. Trigger warnings provide nothing but coddling of millennials. A trigger warning is the practice of giving students advance warning that instructional or academic materials might set off a difficult or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) response. These warnings are most commonly applied to discussions about rape, sexual abuse, and mental illness and have appeared on message boards since the early days of the Web. However, in the past few years they have gained momentum beyond the Internet and have become a part of the college and university classroom. In 2014, the University of California, Santa Barbara, passed a resolution urging professors to institute mandatory trigger warnings on class syllabi. Professors were told that if they presented “content that may trigger the onset of symptoms of PTSD”, they would be required to issue advance alerts and allow students to skip those classes. (Jarvie)

The classroom is not a place to treat PTSD, which is a medical condition that requires serious medical treatment.  Those who have been a victim of violence or sexual assault should seek treatment by professionals. I see no problem placing a warning on class syllabi to alert those with PTSD. I do however have a problem with students who feel they can opt out of learning the material required in a course because it made them in uncomfortable. A professor at Community College in New York may have solved the trigger warning dilemma. He places a content note on his syllabus that encourages discussion AND responsibility for the material. “At times this semester we will be discussing historical events that may be disturbing, even traumatizing, to some students. If you are aware of particular course material that may be traumatizing to you, I’d be happy to discuss any concerns you may have with it before it comes up in class. Likewise, if you ever wish to discuss your personal reactions to such material with the class or with me afterwards, I welcome such discussion as an appropriate part of our coursework. If you ever feel the need to step outside during one of these discussions, either for a short time or for the rest of the class session, you may always do so without academic penalty. You will, however, be responsible for any material you miss. If you do leave the room for a significant time, please make arrangements to get notes from another student or see me individually to discuss the situation.” (Rosenberg)


College is a place where students come to learn about the arts, science, literature, history, and many other disciplines. It is a place to discuss opposing viewpoints on various subjects and how these viewpoints influence our society. These discussions should challenge us and might cause discomfort. With topics such as race relations, religion, human sexuality, or history, at some point everyone will feel uncomfortable. College is a place to prepare you for the real world, a place where you can learn and talk about serious issues, not shielded from or protected by trigger warnings. Edward J. Graham, American Association of University Professors writes, “Some discomfort is inevitable in classrooms if the goal is to expose students to new ideas, have them question beliefs they have taken for granted, grapple with ethical problems they have never considered, and, more generally, expand their horizons so as to become informed and responsible democratic citizens. 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)


Not all colleges are bending to the pressure of trigger warnings. Purdue University followed the University of Chicago’s lead in January by issuing a statement of principles of free expression. Both guarantee “the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. . . . It is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.” If college students are protected from every uncomfortable feeling, adulthood will be a shocking reality. Attempts to shield students from uncomfortable words and ideas will only cripple them as adults. Rather than trying to protect students from words or ideas that they will most certainly encounter as an adult, colleges should equip students to respect the viewpoints of others and prepare them for world of ideas and words they will have no control over.




Work Cited

Graham, Edward. “On Trigger Warnings”. American Association of University Professors, Academic Freedom and Tenure Investigative Reports. August 2014,

Jarvie, Jenny, “Trigger Happy” at

Parker, Kathleen. Trigger warnings, colleges, and the ‘Swaddled Generation’. The Washington Post, May 19, 2015,

Rosenberg, Alyssa. How trigger warnings could really work. The Washington Post, February 12, 2015,


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