Monday, August 2, 2021

Censoring voices through trigger warnings

Words have power. Even if the smallest word means nothing to you, it could cause fear or bring up a terrible memory someone has tried hard to repress. In an effort to combat this, trigger warnings were created to caution readers before a certain text was read, giving the person a heads up before proceeding.

“The idea was to flag content that depicted or discussed common causes of trauma, like military combat, child abuse, incest and sexual violence,” according to a New York Times article.

Originally, trigger warnings were created to help people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but now it has become an annoyance to many.

In a Chicago University welcome letter, Dean of Undergraduate Students Jay Ellison wrote, “Don’t expect trigger warnings or safe spaces here.”

He then went on to say trigger warnings went against free expression, and that the use of flagging content was “shielding” students.

This causes a deeper argument to rise because it’s asking the question of whether trigger warnings infringe on freedom of speech. It’s also asking if education would suffer if there are trigger warnings placed on anything that could be mildly offensive as well.

However, assistant professor of philosophy at Cornell University Kate Manne thinks otherwise. When using trigger warnings in her syllabi or reading assignments, she says that it’s not to stop the student from reading, but it’s to let others know who are sensitive to certain subjects be prepared before reading them, and be able to gauge their own reactions, according to a New York Times article.

Trigger warnings ask whether we are harming someone more if we expose them to trauma without caution, or censor it from them so they’ll never have to see it.

Maybe the use of trigger warnings are ineffectual. Just because you forewarn someone that whatever is said in the text could hurt their feelings doesn’t take the hurt away. Life doesn’t come with a trigger warning. You know you’re going to be hurt in this world, regardless of being warned beforehand. Because of this, maybe trigger warnings are just a useless effort in trying to prevent the inevitable.

However, if someone is a victim of trauma, maybe they should be forewarned before reading material that could potentially hurt their mental health. It’s not shielding someone if they’ve already experienced the pain; however, it’s a warning that their pain is being discussed so they have time to prepare for it.

In a world where every topic is discussed thoroughly to weigh it’s negative or positive impact on society, trigger warnings could be a way of censoring that voice because it seems too offensive or vulgar. On the other hand, trigger warnings don’t seem to be there to restrict content. They’re there to theoretically pull you aside and tell you that what you’re about to read could cause you unintentional harm, so you don’t have to read if you don’t want to.

Email Shania Savastio at

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