Newscorp columnist Rita Panahi is a huge critic on how universities in Western countries are going, especially when it comes to trigger warnings. I personally don’t have a problem with using trigger warnings on – line. I think sometimes things sensitivity is good. In an education context, I think it’s good for a teacher/ tutor/ professor to be able to deal with sensitive topics in a likewise manner and be in tune with the emotions and experiences of students. I DO NOT believe that “trigger warnings” should be used to silence debate or be used to demonise people with different points of view. I wrote about a situation where I think that so – called “trigger warnings” were abused here.
One day last week (I think), I read an article from the U.S.’s “The Atlantic” written by Jonathan Haidt. The origin of the moddly – coddling culture that has dominated the American college culture, at least the way he saw it, was interesting:
It’s difficult to know exactly why vindictive protectiveness has burst forth so powerfully in the past few years. The phenomenon may be related to recent changes in the interpretation of federal antidiscriminatio (sic) statutes (about which more later). But the answer probably involves generational shifts as well. Childhood itself has changed greatly during the past generation. Many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers (sic) can remember riding their bicycles around their hometowns, unchaperoned by adults, by the time they were 8 or 9 years old (sic). In the hours after school, kids were expected to occupy themselves, getting into minor scrapes and learning from their experiences. But “free range” childhood became less common in the 1980’s. The surge in crime in the ’60’s through the early ’90’s made Baby Boomer parents more protective than their own parents had been. Stories of abducted children appeared more frequently in the news, and in 1984 images of them began showing up on milk cartons. In response, many parents pulled the reins and worked harder to keep their children safe.
The flight to safety also happened at school. Dangerous play structures were removed from playgrounds; peanut butter was banned from student lunches. After the 1999 Columbine massacre in Colorado, many schools cracked down on bullying, implementing “zero tolerance” policies. In a variety of ways, children born after 1980 – the Millennials – got a consistent message from adults: life is dangerous, but adults will do everything in their power to protect you from harm, not just from strangers but from one another as well.
The article goes on to talk about the role of political parties and how they’re interactions have changed since the 1970’s, but I’ll leave it there. The changing of reporting of crimes against children and the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine school massacre were points I didn’t consider. Makes sense though.
However, “factual feminist” and Democrat supporter Christina Hoff Sommers has taken a more very recent approach. She has told YouTube personality, Dave Rubin, Hoff Sommers argued that the “trigger warning” and “safe space” culture started in 2011, partly when college campuses were given misinformation about assault statistics. When the flawed statistics were common knowledge in college campuses, sexism was vastly extended to including things like compliments, especially on appearance. From what I get from the video, (which I’ll post below soon), that’s when the broad interpretations of anti – discrimination laws came into play. Here’s the video I was talking about:
Since then, the political correctness has gone into overkill, with comedians, such as Jerry Seinfeld refusing to do stand – up comedy shows at college campuses because of the level of restrictions they feel they have on them. This, as I argued in a post on another of my blogs, is an abuse of trigger warnings or similar concepts.
I want to add a theory to my own – partly going on what Haidt wrote in “The Atlantic” – and it’s partly in line with “World Mental Health Week” funnily enough. I think we are much more aware and sensitive to mental illness, especially anxiety and depression. Maybe, due to fear of being insensitive to those who are depressed and/ or anxious, society has gone into overkill in a bid to – at least in theory – not exacerbate symptoms or exclude those with mental health issues, particularly related to trauma. However, this is seen as another poor excuse. Last year, English comedian and actor, Stephen Fry, who is himself open about his battle with bipolar disorder, controversially slammed the students who demand “trigger warnings and “safe spaces” and the overall “infantalising” of university students in(particularly American), culture.
While I feel very strongly about mental health and being sensitive to people who suffer mental illness and/ or have suffered a type of trauma, I’m becoming actually less convinced that “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” are necessarily the right way to go about it. Rita Panahi was right to argue in her “Herald Sun” piece that what’s currently happening to Western universities isn’t doing anyone any favours.
What’s your view? Are “trigger warnings” useful or harmful? How should schools and college/ university campuses deal with controversial and/ or traumatic topics?