A trigger warning is a disclaimer found at the start of a piece of writing or other media, which simply warns the audience that the following may contain potentially distressing and upsetting material for certain demographics. The reception to these warnings are mixed, with some saying it’s overkill. Here’s why they are wrong:
The University of Chicago recently published an open letter to its incoming first year class about how they do not support the concept of trigger warnings, and that they believe these types of messages hinder the academic process and perpetuate censorship. The supportive cries of the right wing can be heard ringing through the comments section of each news article reporting on this letter. “The social justice warriors are at it again” or “all these millennials just want their hands held, and can’t deal with the real world.”
Trigger warnings are not censorship, and they are not a way to prevent discussion of controversial topics. They also aren’t a way to hold the hands of the ‘PC’ generation. They are literally just a way to warn people of what’s coming up next- a simple common courtesy. The issue with the trigger warning debate is the wording itself. ‘Trigger warning” has become a loaded term, used in memes and twitter mentions to refute arguments or statements made by certain people in the online community.
To really understand the concept behind a trigger warning, one must possess empathy, or the ability to put yourself in the figurative shoes of another. While it must be noted that it is impossible to put yourself in the shoes or mindset of someone who has been raped or who suffers from PTSD if you haven’t shared that experience, one can very easily determine that nobody wants to be re-traumatized over something so easily preventable. This is what triggers do: re-traumatize you. It’s relentless, it’s terrifying, and for the most part it is unpreventable. These warnings provide a buffer to individuals who may find certain content painful to watch or be exposed to.
Another dimension to this debate is that rejecting trigger warnings adds to the stigma of mental illness. It’s basically like saying, “just get over it” or “your mental illness doesn’t matter to me.” Just because it doesn’t affect you, it doesn’t mean you get to decide whether it should exist or not.