Imagine you have been through a traumatic event and people keep casually talking about events similar to it. Every time someone brings it up, you find your chest get tight, you start feeling shaky, and you try to hold back tears. This doesn’t sound fun, does it? This happens to people every day. These “episodes” are called panic attacks and, while there is no science to preventing them, there is one major thing that we can all do to help at least a little bit: trigger warnings.
Just in case you don’t know, a trigger warning is a statement at the start of a presentation, piece of writing, video, etc. that alerts the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing or disturbing material. These are typically used for sensitive topics such as sexual assault, abuse, military combat, and graphic pictures or language. Trigger warnings originated on the internet primarily for those with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). The idea is to flag content that shows or discusses common causes of trauma so that people can choose whether or not to be involved with that material.
Some people believe that trigger warnings should not be used during college because, as college students, we are supposed to be growing both emotionally and intellectually. While I agree that this growth is essential and that it happens most when students are challenged, I also believe that students can grow and be challenged while receiving warning about sensitive content. Trigger warnings are not meant to encourage a student to leave the room during a discussion or not to complete a reading assignment that contains sensitive material, but to allow them the ability to prepare themselves for the upcoming content so they can actively engage with the material at hand.
The thought behind trigger warnings is not just that anxiety attacks, panic attacks, flash-back episodes of PTSD, etc. are highly unpleasant. It is the fact that they temporarily render people unable to concentrate regardless of how much they may want to. Trigger warnings can help to prevent these types of things from happening, therefore helping all students to stay engaged with the content.
Obviously, it would be very difficult to predict every instance of potentially triggering material – some triggers are simply unpredictable. But things such as sexual assault, military combat, graphic images, etc. are easy enough to anticipate. Those who wish to ignore the warnings can do so without a second thought while others can thrive in classes because of them. With appropriate warnings in place, students would be able to employ effective management techniques to prepare themselves for the material that is about to be presented.
So, with all of this information, why do we still have so many people that refuse to implement trigger warnings? Why is it, that some professors make it seem like adding one sentence to their lecture, presentation, or email would be a life changing event for them? When it would, in fact, change the lives – or at least the days – of those who need the trigger warning. Give a trigger warning and help someone out. It’s that simple, so why doesn’t it happen more often?