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]
Safe Spaces are a problematic idea for Universities. On one hand they give groups of people the ‘freedom’ to go somewhere and be themselves. On the other who gets to say what groups need a specific space on campus and why do they need a space for themselves. Safe Spaces are places where students who feel they have been marginalized by either their sex, ethnicity, religion or sexuality can go and be themselves (with other people like them) free from any metal or physical strain. But how do you go justifying the feeling of marginalization and present this feeling as a problem for the entire University to solve and not a sole issue.
There is an ideal in society to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. To give a voice for those that do not have a voice of their own. While a simple idea the acting of this is to give people who are marginalized in society the opportunity and to teach the abilities of equity for all. But that is all of society. When we simplify the area to Universities – where the fight for Safe Spaces is currently occurring. Then we have to look at what Universities and higher education represents. Universities are the next stage in academia, a challenge for people’s perceptions of the world and, for the development into adulthood. They are accessible for anyone at any time of their life, it is the independence of the student that dictates the role in which higher education will play in their life and the success the student will get from attending. Universities are a safe place to talk, to live, to experience and to attend. The understanding of intellectual freedom underlines the understanding for what information is presented and why it is presented. When we are presented information (opinions, facts and discussions) that we do not like we know that they are not being shown to us for the purpose of mental harm but for intellectual enlightenment. To further understand why we have our point-of-view and why we do not have the point-of-view of others. The intention is not malicious but a safe engagement of information we otherwise would not engage with ourselves. Our lecturers, tutors, peers and other academics that we share the higher education experience with are debates, challenges and utilities to further get a sense of self-understanding and self-growth. Every University has an understanding of what is expected and what is understood even when it is not said so clearly.
Safe Spaces are challenging this representation of Universities and other higher education institutions by condemning that they are not safe, that there is a significant amount of students that are marginalized for who they are and nothing or very little is being done about it. These Safe Spaces are a solution to this perceived problem. The fights are in our Universities so the problem must be somewhere within. On the website the demands there is a list of at least 88 American higher education institutions that demand change for the systemic and structural racism that they believe is apparent on campuses. Under each school there are a number of demands that are expected to be undertaken on each campus to make up for and fix this injustice. Though it is one thing to believe the outcry of the student population it is another to provide adequate empirical evidence to support this claim – which has yet to happen. For each demand being made there is no specific understanding to how the demand should be done within the university. There are demands calling out certain faculty members of the Universities and demand that they create and enforce the plan that is then to be upheld. This pressure on Universities to abide by these demands has been having a negative effect on the University. University of Missouri for example has had instances revolving around faculty members and student protests. This barrage of bad publicity caused by groups pushing for justice has crippled the University. Missouri has faced a significant decline in student enrolments, a decline in alumni donations, the athletic football team has resigned, faculty members are getting sacked for partaking in the commotion irresponsibly and faculty members are also resigning if they are caught against the loud and vocal group. The University is a reflection of the students. When the students have caused a ruckus in their own University they are condemning the entire University to the public even for those who are not involved.
To create Safe Spaces on campus is to say that the campus is unsafe. That there are problem areas for certain minority groups that are a constant occurrence. For a university to have such a space is unimaginable – a space where there is constant aggression and offensive material to specific groups of people. Where is this space? When we give people areas in which they can escape to we separate the student body. When the entire University is a safe space then the entire student body can be a source for empowerment, confidence, communication and of course safety. But when we separate the student body into identity, then we have people engaging with only certain identities. We also force out identities of people by giving them a reason to feel marginalized. When we give people a reason to not feel like a piece of a whole collective they are automatically on the outside and that is not what Universities are about.
The phrase “Safe Space” has negative connotations attached to it – residing from the identity politics popularized by Intersectional Feminism Safe Spaces are seen as places to escape to when someone cannot handle some form of mental strain. The physical build of Safe Spaces has been described as a place where people can colour in, calm down reading a book, watch videos of puppies playing and escape from what caused them harm. While this is an escape it does not prove to be a solution to the problem, merely a temporary quick fix. What ailed the person can still happen, the person still has to leave the safe space and dealing with the issue at hand can still arise. This understanding provides the connotation that the inability to find a solution to the mental anguish that people will face at University is nothing but hypersensitivity.
For or against trigger warnings and safe spaces there is a constant trend in fighting for the rights of individuals that are marginalized or seen as different in today’s society and those that do not have the voice or capability to fight for themselves. This behaviour of fighting for those that can not fight for themselves – like children or animals. Presents an interesting discourse on what it means to be in a marginalized or group minority and how the law and society are needed to change this. In accordance to trigger warnings and safe spaces the debate has stemmed from the ideology and agenda of intersectional feminism and the continuing fight for the LGBT community. Though I ask how small do groups have to be in order to justify an appropriate reaction and measure for equality?
The social movement from the LGBT community started in the 1940s. This was a charge for equality and acceptance that is still being fought for today. One measure for this equality is based on the amount of people that are, identify, or know of someone that is a part of the LGBT community. In 2011 it is estimated that 8 million Americans which is 3.5% of the entire adult population identify in the LGBT community. In 2013 Australia reported that 11% of the population have a diverse sexual orientation, gender or identity. Within this fight for LGBT rights there has been individual fights for equality and justice around social issues. Australia has had the fight for transgender specific toilets (much like America and the United Kingdom). Brought on by the innocence of a child at primary school winning the legal battle to be recognized as a girl (being born a boy) though having to use the disabled toilet.
Activists have argued that even as an adult there is a transphobic atmosphere still around that needs to be addressed and this is the next phase in equality for LGBT. To deal with this issue it was put forward that to start making transgender and transsexual people feel welcome in society. There is a need to create transgender bathrooms or modify current bathrooms to be unisex or gender neutral. That are as accessible as regular male and female bathrooms currently are – such as in clubs, malls, theatres and parks. The feasibility and economical use of these toilets is seen to be unreasonable as the population of transgender people in the Australian adult community is estimated to be about 0.3%. 0.3% of Australia’s adult population is estimated around 54,000 people. The amount of toilets that activists are fighting to be created in order to justify an acceptance of transgenderism is seen to be over reaching as the geographical spread for trans is in main LGBT friendly areas that promote greater influence, activism, and a higher engagement of LGBT community members. The amount of traffic that is intended for a public toilet does not correlate to the small group of society that identify as trans. While the creation of neutral gender toilets is perceived to cater to the needs of everyone. The majority are reluctant to cater to this minority as they do not want to share bathrooms with the opposing gender, do not like change or see it as a waste of taxpayers’ money (or a waste for whomever is going to pay for it).
While the battle for equality is fought there are instances where the combination of a marginalized individual and the legality of the law are not clear and the change for the law to be accepting for equality is put at a greater challenge. Example of this is the case of perceived mental health and the function of standard societal morality in regards to Stefonknee Wolscht. A 52-year-old man who now lives his life as a 6-year-old girl in Toronto.
Stefonknee who was once called Paul, married to a wife and has seven children but now has moved away from that life and lives with adoptive parents in Toronto, Canada. Has come under the limelight of the public. While the issue of being a trans person is acknowledged there are aspects of Stefonknee’s identity that would challenge current laws and peoples personal understandings. The freedom to live how ever one wants, is up to the individual, how they identify, what they do and how they do it. It is all on them. But when what that individual chooses to be challenges the perception of what is normal to the majority then issues arise. Stefonknee as someone who is trans gender and trans age presents an interesting understanding for what social justice and acceptance offers larger society. Gender dysphoria is accepted as a medical issue that has been researched and understood (as best as it can currently). There is a known difference between a male and female brain. Though for someone to be trans-age; the science behind a medical justification is still to be discovered. (Even the internet has no leads for me and my Universities database of academic sources comes up with nothing that can justify this trans-age identity.)
With such a rare public case such as Stefonknee’s our perception of what it means to be accepting of marginalized people becomes skewed. With identifying as a 6-year-old yet gleefully mentioning that she makes out with bikers and has a full time job ploughing snow. Where does the law fit into this identity? On one side for a 6-year-old to have a full time job is against Child Labor Laws and for a 6-year-old to make out with bikers is Child Abuse. If we correlate the understanding that the difference of the brain makes people either a man and a women and Stefonknee further identifies as a 6-year-old girl where can people stand to make Stefonknee feel that she is not marginalized for the way she lives her life. When even science has no medical understanding for this identity. Science does claim that in order to develop your public-self you must become social about your private self. As self-representation is a reflection and also an aide with mental health. Which provides the understanding of why people would come out as “different” from the majority.