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Apodaca: This column might trigger mixed reactions

May 03, 2014|By Patrice Apodaca

Before you read any further, I must caution you: This column is about trigger warnings. Proceed at your own discretion.

In case you haven't heard of them, trigger warnings are the latest controversy to infect the educational realm. These cautionary messages are similar to those you might see on the Internet and in other media that inform users of potentially distressing content. They first appeared on feminist websites to warn victims of sexual assault about information that might trigger post-traumatic stress disorder, and have since become more widely used.

Recently several colleges have adopted or are considering policies on trigger warnings. At UC Santa Barbara, a student-led initiative calls for such alerts regarding reading materials, lectures, discussions or films that involve depictions of graphic violence, sexual assault and other difficult subjects. If adopted, the resolution would allow students to opt out of these parts of courses without penalty.

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Several other colleges have received similar requests this year. Students at the University of Michigan, Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, Oberlin College in Ohio, Rutgers in New Jersey, Scripps in California and Wellesley in Massachusetts have also asked for more sensitive treatment of potentially troubling readings, films, lectures and works of art.

Not surprisingly, this development has elicited alarm, anger and heavy doses of sarcasm from many quarters. Some commentators and editorial writers have castigated the policy suggestions, labeling them as either political correctness run amok or a troubling slide toward censorship.

Critics also see the moves as another indication of what they believe is a trend toward overprotecting our youth. College students aren't kids, they're young adults who shouldn't be coddled and shielded from ugly truths, they argue. And while most do acknowledge that post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious condition, they contend such policies would do little to help sufferers while creating a chilling effect on important academic work and possibly even exposing schools to increased liability.

Some of the trigger-warning proponents have given their critics plenty of ammunition.

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