Engaging with the discussion of Trigger Warnings in 2016 we are talking about a mesh of old and new understandings. The old understanding is from the area of mental health with specific relation to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Trigger Warnings are used to make someone suffering from PTSD that the material or event that they are going to be exposed to will potentially onset a traumatic episode. The new understanding presented by Intersectional Feminists and Liberals alike is that trigger warnings are needed to bring warning to potential provoked emotional responses of disdain or discomfort. This new understanding has taken over the old understanding by using it as a hostage for politics within higher education and the narrative that higher education needed a change to be more inclusive and a safe space.
When we talk about provoked emotion we talk about emotion that is transferred with intention from one person to another through a medium. Take for instance the medium of film – horror films (e.g. Wolf Creek) provoke the feeling of fear through scare tactics. Comedy (e.g. The Rat Race) films provoke the feeling of happiness through comedic behaviour and timing, and drama films (e.g. Bridget Jones’s Diary) provokes the feeling of sadness. These emotions felt are understandable through the context for which they are transferred. Which in this case is the genre of film and the engagement of the person watching. This engagement is individual choice. We have the choice for how we engage with film and to what extent. We have the choice to make how much the movie affects us and in what way. This choice is not presented what it comes to evoked emotion. Evoked emotions are brought on through subconscious mind from external influences. For example different smells can influence the emotions by evoking emotions of past experiences. Like the smell of baked goods and reliving the emotion of going to grandmas and enjoying her baking. Music also is a powerful tool to evoke emotion. Songs can take people back to when they went to their first live concert and experience the emotions felt. Songs can take people back to their wedding day to experience the emotions of getting married or the song they had their first dance to as husband and wife. Evoked emotions are not controllable, they are in the subconscious and react to things that we can not control – they can happen wherever and whenever. What can cause evoked emotions is anything and it is unpredictable. A provoked trigger warning is to control a sense of what to experience, an evoked trigger warning is a preventative measure to not have someone with PTSD experience an episode. These warnings and these emotions are exclusive but they are being meshed together to fight for change in higher education.
I have mentioned in past blogs about academic and proud feminist Christina Hoff Sommers has provoked the Third Wave Feminists and Liberals alike into imposing trigger warnings and safe spaces with her speeches and presentations around American Universities. Many other presenters suffer from the same opposing force when talking on American campuses – Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro and Steven Crowder are further examples. As there is a belief that Sommers is a threat to the mental health, well-being and safety of the students – so measures were needed to have taken place. Take into consideration the old understanding of trigger warnings around PTSD and analyse the behaviour which is presented publicly in many online videos (this is just one of many – Georgetown) where Sommers has talked. And the behaviour at which people who oppose her want the new understanding of trigger warning introduced. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious issue for which people suffer – there is no control over what can trigger a PTSD episode as it is an evoked subconscious reaction. To push for the new trigger warnings on people who are presenting opposing information to the ideology of only a section of the student populace questions the importance of this specific agenda.
The individual well-being is questionable when you know you are going to a speech by someone who has a different viewpoint to your own. How are you going to engage with the fight for the new trigger warning understanding when you silence those that wish to engage different points of views – views that you present to be ‘triggering’. Psychotherapy is a solution to PTSD which has been found to be a success in treating and getting rid of PTSD. One therapy within psychotherapy is exposure therapy where the patient who has PTSD – under the guidance of a trained professional exposes themselves to their trigger in which they can engage and understand the difficulties around that trigger and then to further be cured of that trigger. The introduction of the bastardized version of trigger warning is meant to be seen as a preventative measure to the old meaning of trigger. To have a trigger warning on content that is a trigger of an evoked emotional response does not get rid of the trigger. It presents the person with PTSD a chance to decide on the engagement with the trigger, but if they so choose to engage there is no certainty that an evoked emotional reaction will not happen. This ‘preventative measure’ is not a solution to curing a patient of PTSD but an attachment to the new understanding of trigger warnings. There are disciplines on university subjects where people will have to engage with material that is seen to be a trigger (both old understanding and new). Law students have to engage with criminal law and the cases that involved rape. This can be a trigger for evoked emotions but it is a necessary engagement in the field of law. There is no way around the degree where someone can not learn about rape with regards to the law. To understand this, to engage with the material, yet require a trigger warning is not understandable as there is a difference between professors using intense examples to explain a point compared to a requirement in the field of study that has to be learned.
Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces are perceived solutions to the problem of mental health issues in higher education facilities. Trigger warnings are to prepare students for possibly “triggering” information ahead and Safe Spaces are a place where anyone (‘anyone’ changes to marginalized depending where you get the information from) on campus can go to in which they escape away from fear – fear of personal identity being challenged. While it is simple to understand the basics there are a number of factors that I find makes these solutions unnecessary. To engage with a solution of mental health on campus is to find a solution that is not just a preventative solution (like trigger warnings) but to find an individual, case by case solution for which the triggers for mental health are stable and under control. Safe Spaces are problematic as they do not address the issues of mental health or ‘fear’ at hand. They just provide an escape for which people will go out of their way to avoid potential harm and difficulties so they can collect themselves. This is not a long term solution.
Trigger warnings are used to warn people who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that the information they are continuing to be exposed to may trigger their PTSD. To create these warnings is to say they are needed in higher education. Looking at the facts and figures there has been an increase in which University students are developing mental health issues (PTSD being one of those issues) over the years. Though the rate in which cases of PTSD have been triggered on University campuses specifically by information being taught is yet to be known, as there are ethical and personal issues incorporated into University policies that prevent this information from being released. This is not to justify that students need to have a mental breakdown in public in order for solutions to be solved. But shows the significance of what University represents and that higher education facilities have an understanding about the solutions that are provided and those solutions are adequate in capability – of stabilizing and of aiding help to people who suffer from mental health issues like PTSD.
The idea of trigger warnings is to give people a heads-up about the potential harmfulness of information being spread. Though there is an understanding that the students who suffer from mental illness (like any students who do not) like PTSD have a responsibility to the university also. When going to University the responsibility of the engagement is on the student. Students choose the subjects that want to learn, students choose the field that they want to go into and students choose the degree for which they are exposed to the content being presented. Knowing you are going into a field where topics are uncomfortable like wanting to be lawyer and having to learn the law around rape cases. It is a responsibility of the student wanting to be a lawyer to engage with the full scope of the law. If the mental health of a student is not capable of understanding that there are topics in which have to be learned in order to get a specific degree, then the fault of harm rests with the student and not the University. The preventative case of creating trigger warnings only keeps them ‘safe’ on university campuses and not anywhere else. The engagement of trigger warnings only prevents PTSD sufferers from getting triggered by content but not by engaging with the student populace. When people see trigger warnings and have an episode is to say the treatment and methods in which that person is taking care of themselves and treating their PTSD is sub-par or not happening. While this may sound harsh there are treatments in which PTSD sufferers are able to engage with their triggers with which they once had. Mental Health America mentions that PTSD can be treated with success. Psychotherapy, with the help of a trained mental health professional can ease the pain of PTSD and create a successful exposure to once triggering symptoms. It is the individual obligation to seek treatment as that is the first step to recovery. The constant in the individual’s life is the individual.
Safe Spaces are seen as a restorative measure as a way for people who have felt offended or in fear for their well-being are able to escape to a space on campus and relax – free from opposition of any kind. But that opposition is seen to be the problem and this measure of creating a safe space in order for the perceived ‘victims’ to escape to does not prevent people from further imposing on people’s identity. When we look at cases for which Safe Spaces have been created much like in America with academic Cristina Hoff Sommers and her talk at Georgetown University. It was the opposing view that Sommers was presenting that caused for the creation of a safe space. Sommers as a well-known academic in her field talked about her opposition of intersectional feminism ideals that are present in today’s Universities. While there were protests of Sommers to appear on campus the extent for which one opinion can upset an entire university into creating safe spaces is a reflection of the importance on intellectual diversity on university students. While the students creating the safe spaces and protesting Sommers are not a representation of the entire university. The scope at which is has become prevalent on American University campuses begs the question to what extent can today’s university students be logical, reasonable and educated in their discourse of intellectual material without the need for emotional uproar. When someone’s well-being has been compromised by another and they have gone to a safe space to collect themselves, there is no one-time solution to what caused that problem to the begin with. That person in the safe space is going to most likely hear the same opposing views again and again. Again their well-being will be compromised. How is the creation of safe spaces an appropriate solution to intellectual diversity which is expected on every higher education institute? Once someone has left their safe space on campus they are opened to the same material that put them in there in the first place – whether it be an individual concern or a group one. Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces are not a long term solution to this [perceived] problem.
[There are a number of incidences around American University (like one in video below) campuses that hijack the original representation of Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces from what they were in the past – this has added to the challenge for the discussion. Though at least there is a discussion of some sort]