Sunday, October 18, 2015

Trigger Warnings and Warning Triggers

We are living in a strange time in college mental health. One the one hand we are negotiating through thorny issues related to trigger warnings in higher education; faculty now are being counseled to take care to issue warnings to those who may be offended by course content, to soften their language, or to avoid upsetting topics altogether. Trigger warnings actually have a long history in mental health, starting with helping combat soldiers recover from trauma, then later survivors of sexual or physical trauma for the same reason. The concept now has expanded to virtually anyone with a sensitivity to something (is there anyone who does not have this?). Emotions are high on all sides of this issue. Those in recovery do not want to be overlooked or re-traumatized. Teachers and other leaders do want their speech infringed.

On the other hand, those of us working in higher education are increasingly alarmed about the press on "school shootings" (though many of these are actually targeted crimes and not random episodes of violence). Also unsettling are the debates about open and concealed carry of firearms on campus. Some have left the field altogether due to their anxiety over this. Campus police departments tend to align with the opposition to carry, and even these experts in campus safety are concerned. Others seem aloof, uninformed, or blindly supportive with no acknowledgement of the complexities involved.

So everyone has a right to their opinion, and there are good reasons for having several different views on these matters. But, seriously, are we to soften the hardships of life for everyone through our speech, but harden life for everyone through access to our weapons?