I'm willing to say education is facing an issue on a scale unlike anything it has ever seen before. This issue is causing certain professors and even schools to not only fight with their students, but to actually be scared of them. While I may not yet be in college, I wish to have this problem eradicated before it interferes with my education, as well as the education of countless other minds that are maturing. This epidemic is the concept of trigger warnings or flat out permission to not discuss a piece of art, whether it's a painting, book, movie or any other form, since it may cause the viewer personal distress.
The idea of a trigger warning before a piece of literature or art is to help someone who may have gone through a horrible experience mentally prepare themselves to view something that may trigger memories of that experience. Since its original use, trigger warnings have morphed into something different entirely. Edward Schlosser a college professor, writing under a pseudonym, penned an article on Vox called "I'm a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me," and it is an amazing read. He explains that "the student-teacher dynamic has been re-envisioned along a line that's simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher's formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best." He is not alone in this claim, many other teachers and education professionals have stepped forward talking about how students have become increasingly overly sensitive and demand emotional-babying. Another shocking quote from Schlosser article explains how "I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to "offensive" texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students' ire and sealed his fate. That was enough to get me to comb through my syllabi and cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad, texts ranging from Upton Sinclair to Maureen Tkacik -- and I wasn't the only one who made adjustments, either."
But what makes it worse is that warning students about uncomfortable material may be hurting more than helping them. One of the more common trigger warnings placed in front of literature is one for sexual assault of any form. Meanwhile, Richard J McNally -- a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and an expert on anxiety disorders, writes on the blog Pacific Standard a post that contradicts the very theory behind Trigger Warnings. "Hazards Ahead: The Problem With Trigger Warnings, According to the Research" states that, "Trigger warnings are designed to help survivors avoid reminders of their trauma, thereby preventing emotional discomfort. Yet avoidance reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming the disorder. According to a rigorous analysis by the Institute of Medicine, exposure therapy is the most efficacious treatment for PTSD, especially in civilians who have suffered trauma such as sexual assault." The group of people trigger warnings aim to assist may actually prolong their discomfort and fear by following trigger warnings, even though avoidance may feel better in the moment.
While I have never experience sexual assault, brutal pain or any other horrible experience that may cause me to experience PTSD, I still feel the pain of characters in literature I read who do. Do I want to avoid any teaching of the Holocaust simply because I'm Jewish? No. Do I want to avoid the events of 9/11 because I am a New Yorker who technically lived through it? Absolutely not. While these topics may be tough to deal with mentally, learning the history behind it and why it happened is so much more important and worthwhile as opposed to avoiding it altogether and pretending it never happened. I don't need to be a psychologist to know that sitting in a classroom and dealing with topics one may not like or enjoy because of disturbing content or past experience only makes that person stronger and more capable, while avoidance just coddles the mind and makes it less possible to deal with in a smart and educated manner.
While the idea of trigger warnings is nice, the way it is being used is slowly chipping away at effective college learning more than we'd like to think.