Hey U of Chicago: I’m an academic & survivor. I use trigger warnings in my classes. Here’s why.
E Price

An honest response to your (rhetorical?) questions: it seems to me like many of your examples of what “triggers” are exemplify exactly why requiring trigger warnings in the classroom is unworkable.

Speaking as a PhD student and instructor of many undergraduate classes, I question why any professor would find it pedagogically necessary to screen graphic imagery of rape, violence, or gore in the classroom. If someone *does* do so, I’d agree that it would make sense to let people know in advance—merely as a matter of good taste, never mind thoughts of PTSD or mental health triggers.

But there’s a difference between graphic imagery and mere reading or discussion, just as there’s a difference between obviously disturbing material and the (vast range of) more subtle things that some people might find upsetting.

Your examples underscore this. There is no conceivable way an instructor could anticipate that a Kia Sportage, or apples, or weight loss, or hypodermic needles, or any of countless other kinds of subject matter, might be traumatic for somebody in his or her classroom. Trying to do so leads down an impossibly slippery slope.

Moreover, it’s unfair to say the U of C is unfriendly to students with disabilities. That’s not what the policy letter is about. PTSD is a specific diagnosable disability, as are other mental illnesses, and any university office of disability services can and will arrange accommodations for a student with such a diagnosis. But that doesn’t involve requiring content-based trigger warnings for an entire class. And short of a diagnosable condition, there are infinitely many things that might prompt someone to feel “internal, subtle distress,” and no instructor can or should be expected to anticipate that, or change a course to accommodate it.

If a person has specific emotional sensitivities, ultimately it’s that person’s responsibility to do exactly what you describe yourself doing: figure out how to deal with them. No instructor, or institutional policy, can do that for you. And it’s fair to assume that most of what an instructor assigns to a class *is* pedagogically necessary, not merely optional, so if someone genuinely can’t handle it the best solution is probably not to take that class.

Bottom line: as an educator and a proponent of intellectual freedom, I do *not* “want to make [my] classroom a space where everyone feels free from emotional harm”… because *no place on earth* actually qualifies as a space where everyone feels free from emotional harm. It’s impossible. That’s life. I want to focus on what *is* possible: to make my classroom a space where everyone feels free to engage in a robust but civil discussion of challenging material.

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