4 Students' Opinions on Trigger Warnings

By Candice Cobuzzi on March 26, 2017

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Trigger warnings have been causing great debate among academics around the country. Should teachers use them in the classroom? Before diving into this topic, let’s define what a trigger warning is.

I would define a trigger warning as a statement that comes before a reading, show, etc. that warns the reader or viewer of sensitive content. Teachers have been advised to use trigger warnings in case a student has posttraumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and could be upset by content in the classroom. Some teachers are worried that this is becoming a form of censorship, and authors are not thrilled with having a warning placed on their work. But what do students think? I went around campus and asked four students what their personal opinion on trigger warnings was, and here are their responses.

In favor of trigger warnings:

Student 1: “I think we should use them. I feel like it’s only ethical to warn people because some topics can be really triggering and sensitive for people. I think the author can get over it and understand that some people may not be able to handle the content.”

Indifferent to trigger warnings:

Student 2: “I honestly am indifferent to them. I think that it coddles people and assumes that people can’t handle certain things, but I also think that it’s important because people with mental illness may be forced to watch or read something they may react to.”

OK in a classroom setting, but not outside:

Student 3: “I believe that trigger warnings should be looked at on a circumstantial basis. I do not think it is critical for an author to be obligated to put out a trigger warning due to the fact it diminishes the ambiguity of books, films, and other forms of media. In my opinion, the purpose of this form of media is to provide the reader/viewer with the ability to have their own opinions and interpretations with no pre-assumptions because it is supposed to create an escape to reality.

“It is an individual’s personal decision to continue viewing or reading if something displeases them, but it is wrong, in a sense, to baby the audience of the author. However, I do believe in a classroom setting a teacher should use trigger warnings because the classroom setting should be a place where people are free to express themselves and not feel as uncomfortable or be put in a setting where their learning is affected due to their past experiences.”

Leaning towards not using trigger warnings:

Student 4: “I think that although I don’t necessarily disagree with trigger warnings, the people that could possibly be affected by the sensitive topic can offer personal experiences that can make the discussion that much more valuable.”

So where do I stand on the matter? I feel that trigger warnings are not a form of censorship and could be used in a classroom. Schools and teachers should not start banning books because of sensitive topics because these topics are helping students grow. However, those suffering from PTSD who could possibly suffer a breakdown in class and feel ostracized need to have this warning. It is inconsiderate and unfair to not think of those suffering. Another possible solution? Providing more support for students with PTSD through the school system. Having more resources for students to use is always a great option.

When it comes to trigger warnings, no one knows the right answer. There will always be people for or against them, but it is important to start having a conversation about trigger warnings as it becomes more prevalent in the classroom today.

I am a senior at Gettysburg College pursuing a career in writing. My hobbies include traveling, reading, creative writing, blogging, and eating pizza.

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