Trigger Warnings and the Post-work Society

Another good professor falls prey to the insanity of trigger warnings.

Soon, I will have to create a club for the last remaining practitioners of the belief that college is a place of work and not a place of consumption.

I was brought up to believe that school is work. Not a place where you come to purchase qualifications that will prepare you for work but actual work. I always expected my professors to treat me as (young, inexperienced, largely ignorant but still) a colleague, an equal. And they did that, for which I am grateful.

The workplace is changing, however. Instead of a place where all of us come to develop personally, intellectually and professionally, it has become a space where the lucky few manage to peddle their foibles and weirdnesses while everyone else watches them on TV, simultaneously fearing and aspiring to their lifestyle.

College prepares students for the post-work mentality by telling them that the public space is dead. It has been colonized by sloppy, unschooled, gushing emotions to the extent that everything is now located within the realm of the private.

Political activism has been substituted by feel-good hashtagging, and Trump is leading in the polls as a result of offering emotional release instead of inviting voters to engage intellectually. If the classroom has been turned into a place where we are directed to emote before we even try to learn anything, why  would the voting booth  be any different?

And only the few old farts like myself are grumpily refusing to participate in the collective Emote-fest and insist that it might not be a bad idea to preserve a tiny little space that will not be fully occupied by irrationality.

28 thoughts on “Trigger Warnings and the Post-work Society”

  1. The last year of high school (the 13th grade in Italy, which means we were all 18 by then) our history teacher decided to show us Pasolini’s “Salò” without giving us any kind of warning beforehand.
    It didn’t end well.

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    1. How did your teacher even attempt to justify this and connect it to history?

      Wikipedia just makes it sound like a pointless sadist snuff film.

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      1. We were studying WWII at the time, and the film is set during the end of that period. The teacher wanted to discuss about the topics touched in the movie, like power, domination and violence.
        The teacher didn’t suffer any major consequences, he was just asked to prepare the students psychologically the next time and apologized to the class.

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      2. “Wikipedia just makes it sound like a pointless sadist snuff film”

        It’s Pasolini, a real artist, so it’s a lot more than that. But it seems more appropriate for a film studies class at university than a teaching aid for history in high school…

        And even for the university you’d need to prep the students rather than just show it to them cold.

        One of the themes in the movie (I think) is the destruction of individuality in closed environments (also found in some other movies I’m fascinated by like La Chinoise and Kynodontas).

        It occurs to me that trigger warning culture has the effect of coccooning people into virtual closed environments in which their individuality is liquidated as they blend together in an unsightly and unsavory mass of unarticulated feelings…. yech!

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  2. I thought trigger warnings were supposed to be an accommodation for students with PTSD in order to give them time to prepare themselves for material that could trigger flashbacks. Why is everyone discussing them as if they were censorship?

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    1. I have discovered, to my great chagrin, that religious students are traumatized by the depiction of divorce and adultery in works of literature. They are also traumatized by me saying “Oh God.” Catholics are “triggered” by lectures on the inquisition. This gets to a point where I stopped showing any movies in class at all because every movie known to humanity “triggers” somebody’s religious, moral, cultural, etc sensibilities.

      I have discontinued half of the activities I used to do with students (debates, presentations, vocabulary of politics, etc) but there are still people who are offended, traumatized, insulted, and eager to tell me how I made them feel.

      This is so much worse than any censorship because with censorship there is at least a clear set of guidelines to follow. But this is different. It’s a reality where all that people want to do is emote all the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have discovered, to my great chagrin, that religious students are traumatized by the depiction of divorce and adultery in works of literature. They are also traumatized by me saying “Oh God.” Catholics are “triggered” by lectures on the inquisition. This gets to a point where I stopped showing any movies in class at all because every movie known to humanity “triggers” somebody’s religious, moral, cultural, etc sensibilities.
    Nobody’s seriously traumatized. In this case they’re confusing “I’m traumatized” with “I don’t like it” unless they’ve grown up in some weird bubble. Are they?

    How much trauma could you inflict with a showing of Y Tu Mama Tambien?

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    1. Of course, there is no real trauma. They are told they need to be ultra – sensitive, so they enact inflamed sensitivity. And profs like the linked one reinforce the idea that it’s what they need to be doing.

      And I’d never screen Y tu mama tambien. If 9 Queens caused endless aggravation, I don’t want to imagine what this one would do.

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        1. It’s a really funny, light-hearted, good movie.

          But it’s Argentinean so there was some profanity. Plus, the main character LIED which is a sin. I wasn’t very much into discussing how lying is a sin with students who routinely tell me that bunches of dead grandmas prevent them from doing homework.

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          1. One of my students emailed me just this point. She added that she is willing to bet this student spends half his time reading actual porn on the downlow. 🙂

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          2. Something is deeply wrong with these youngsters. How can one be 18 and not be obsessed with reading anything that might turn out to be pornographic? Especially when it can be justified as school assignment.
            Someone who has easy access to porn if they want it? I mean, I remember when you could make a cup of coffee and drink it while waiting for ,i>one jpeg to load. This was a problem when the only computer was shared at home, with your parents, who might come home at any moment.

            Slightly dated but still relevant:

            Just remember that people do it on their phone. :/

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  4. You might have seen this story: An entering freshman at Duke recently objected to being asked to read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (as a possible text among many — in other words, he was not required to read this specific text: he could have read something else).

    His objection? He’s a Conservative Christian and thus raised to be sexually pure. This book, which has discussions of sex in it, including Lesbian and gay sex, would ruin his sexual purity. He also specifically objects to the drawings of naked women in bed together. Drawings are more harmful to his purity than words, apparently.

    This is, I repeat, a student who has been accepted to Duke University.

    Full disclosure: One of my former (and excellent student) students is on the committee who chooses the books for entering freshmen to read.

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    1. That’s precisely why I keep saying that it’s ridiculous to assume that the students who want to police and control the curriculum are all ultra – Liberal. What I have encountered (both at Yale and here in St Louis) are students who have endless moral / religious objections even to quite harmless material. But we don’t hear about the conservative policing of college teaching, for some reason.

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  5. “And only the few old farts like myself are grumpily refusing to participate in the collective Emote-fest and insist that it might not be a bad idea to preserve a tiny little space that will not be fully occupied by irrationality.”

    Like this blog. So far in the Canadian election season (Oct 19th election day) we’ve been getting pictures of dead babies and photo ops of politicians with cute animals instead of policy discussions. The received wisdom from the political strategists is that elections are decided by Low Information Voters who vote based on name recognition.

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  6. I wrote this on someone’s facebook post:

    Look, I would use language like this in a warning, if I needed one. “Look, this course is about racism, so we’re going to be looking at racist material that’s going to make all of us squirm.” Or, “This course is about sex and violence, in part, so we are going to see vivid descriptions of sexualized violence. You’re going to need to take responsiblity for your own emotional reactions in dealing with this material. You can talk to me about this if you want, or simply find your own solution.” What triggered my reaction was the necessity for a mealy-mouthed apologetic earnestness. The tone has to be right, and has to have an educational message of its own. For example, what tone would you use to warn a colleague about something that might be upsetting? How would you address that person as an equal, even accounting for the fact that not everyone is a hipster?

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    1. Thank you! This is all I see being asked for in terms of content warnings. Of course, there are some who go further, but I don’t see why providing this information is so damned hard. Most syllabi provide “content warning” enough already. Seems like a lot of sound and fury over something that takes almost no effort.

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    2. Thank you! This is all I see being asked for in terms of content warnings. Of course, there are some who go further, but I don’t see why providing this information is so damned hard. Most syllabi provide “content warning” enough already. Seems like a lot of sound and fury over something that takes almost no effort.

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      1. Are my comments not getting published or am I not making myself clear?

        It is so damned hard because I cannot possibly predict everything that students are likely to find traumatizing. How could I have possibly predicted that my lectures on the Inquisition or the Pope’s relationship with General Franco would be perceived as offensive to the racial and religious identities of some of my students? How could I have predicted that a movie about two 9 – year-olds that I expected to be completely inoffensive would prove offensive because it mentions divorce?

        Maybe it takes you no effort to predict these mortal offenses that happen over everything and nothing but I am not equipped to deal with this sort of sensitivities.

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  7. I’m with Clarissa here. I steadfastly refuse to put a content warning on my syllabus or on any material. I also won’t alter my syllabus based on silly student whims. And in my 18 years of teaching higher ed, I have had exactly one complaint (and it was from a very conservative student.) Perhaps I’m lucky. Or perhaps it helps that I generally teach material published between 1780-1950.

    But I also think my lack of trouble in this area stems from the fact I simply refuse to entertain the possibility of student discomfort with academic course work. Even if the material is sincerely disconcerting (19th century justifications of slavery are particularly disgusting), I just make sure to approach it in such a way that emphasizes inquiry and analysis more than emotional response.

    I honestly think “trigger warnings” convince students that the classroom is an emotionally fraught space. But the classroom is a space for intellectual– not affective or emotional– stimulation. We are all human of course and if a student does have an emotional response to the assigned material at some point, I believe I can handle the situation on a case by case basis.

    In some way, this goes back to trusting teachers and professors. Are we experienced professionals who assign material for intellectual/pedagogical reason? Or are we lascivious sadists who delight in terrorizing conservative students with sexually provocative material and in torturing liberal students with triggering memories?

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