University is already a tough time on the mental health of students. It is believed around 1 in 5 university students have some kind of mental illness. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) being one of the illnesses and a key factor in today’s social political agenda on campuses. PTSD was synonymous with the word ‘trigger’. ‘Trigger’ being anything that may bring back memories and cause intense emotional and physical reactions. Mental illness is still a serious issue within humanity but aspects of mental illness have become a set agenda for today’s social issues. In particular today’s Intersectional Feminists and Social Justice Warriors (SJW) are pushing forward the right to have safe spaces and trigger warnings on university campuses.
The word ‘trigger’ has been bastardized by current day university students to reflect the feeling of anything that opposes one’s viewpoint, values, ideals or sense of morality. On one side of the debate the word ‘triggering’ is seen as a joke or current day meme to suggest anyone that gets offended by something subjective is representing a ‘triggered’ childish tendency (this point came in retaliation). While on the intersectional feminist side, to be ‘triggered’ is kept in the serious understanding of mental illness but what this side presents are perceived to be too broad, deals with hypersensitivity or a case of over-the-top political correctness. Such as the instance on Twitter with Melody Hensley where she claims cyber bullying in the form of harassment, stalking and trolling caused her to develop PTSD. This onslaught arising from being outspoken on feminist and atheist issues.
Social media is a necessity in today’s world. Social media impacts our public and private relations with friends, family and work. The openness of social media allows anyone, anywhere the freedom to look at what we post and critique that in any manner that is available to them. Social media does not provide a mandatory rule in which people need to provide details about them in any public manner. Anyone can create a fake profile with a fake email and still use social media. Reddit only needs a username and password. Facebook and Twitter need an existing email, a birthday, name and gender. These details can easily be faked. There is an ease of anonymity that is present on the internet in general that provides a gateway to be outspoken, this includes responding to people who are opinionated. While the appropriateness of this is for a different discussion. The significance of knowing that this happens should be obvious to the majority of users online – the ease for which you can say something is reflected in the ease in which you can be responded to. In particular to social media users whose job relies on social media. In any medium in which an opinion is said; regardless of an educated opinion or not, is open for discussion and criticism. A sole impact of social media is to break down the boundaries in which people can talk and present a conversation wherever they are and whenever they would like to. To put any opinion on Twitter like what Melody Hensley did is free to be responded to. This discourse of information further creates a topic regarding freedom of speech.
In universities this idea of being unsettled with someone who has an opposing view, or just a different view is the real world scenario of what happened on Twitter but face-to-face. The significance that it is happening in Universities is an important aspect as the fundamental point of universities and higher education is to bring rational, logical and educated discussions to the front and find solutions.Universities are built upon the freedom of intellectual expression, developing students from childhood to adulthood (Chiang & Hawley 2013) and as a source to expose students (and staff) to different worldly views. Higher education facilities are a haven for intellectual diversity and intellectual inclusivity. To be inclusive of all opinions is to allow all voices to be heard and treated the same way, regardless of the impact in which something was said or the way it was said. Trigger warnings get rid of this inclusivity and intellectual diversity by limiting the scope for which a topic can be discussed. Trigger warnings have been around in small areas around higher education by faculty members and organized clubs presenting the warnings themselves, with no outside or systematic obligation – a form or self-regulation. However, to put this topic to the entirety of a university begs to question to what extent would trigger warnings be created for and who gets to decide what ‘triggers’ people. Is any class that can be determined to have any historical or current lessons on any marginalized group, on any group that does not belong to the majority, on any individual who feels excluded or on any feeling that gets hurt. The accessibility to have the power to determine what people should and should not learn is quite the privilege.
Emotions are not something higher education can deal with as emotions come in all shapes, sizes and variations. The psychology of trigger warnings has a negative impact in which it can create a seeded disturbance in students who were once fine. To see the words ‘trigger warnings’ creates the perception something in the class can be deemed inappropriate, offensive or scary. This perception attaches itself to this emotion and the constant engagement on the material being shown creates a constant need to look at what part of the material is offensive and why is it offensive. This creates a perception that what you are seeing whether or not it is the “trigger warning” intended material, how is it provocative in a negative way as it was related to a trigger warning. To be at university is to be there by choice, the engagement for which a student has with the university is up to them. Knowing the impact and what it takes to go to university a person who has a diagnosis of PTSD would be taking the necessary precautions in which the PTSD will not come up. For the individuals who do not have the diagnosis or are not taking the precautions the university should have no obligation to cater to those who do not take care of themselves. Universities provide adequate engagement to the well being of the students. With psychologists, psychiatrists and general practitioners there are professionals ready to engage with students and understand their needs. Psychology and science provides research that shows the engagement in which people with mental illness are open about their circumstance provides the first step in which a containable or permanent solution can be reached in which people would not be triggered by something that would trigger them before. This is also publicly seen with the R U OK day and many other mental awareness campaigns that are supported and promoted each year.
Chiang, S, & Hawley, J 2013, ‘The role of higher education in their life: Emerging adults on the crossroad’, New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development, vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 3-13.