Should professors provide trigger warnings for literature?


According to a recent article published in the NYTimes, student governments at several major American universities are calling for trigger warnings for rape, violence and other sensitive material to be placed on syllabi, forewarning students who may be upset by such depictions in the literature and media read and discussed in class. And they aren’t talking about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Works proposed for trigger warnings include popular tenants of the western literary canon such as The Great Gatsby, Shakespeare and ancient Greek myths. The concept of trigger warnings, rooted in feminist thought, has gained traction on social media sites. Students in favor of adapting the idea for the classroom argue that it would provide “explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans”.

However, many professors find the movement ludicrous, arguing that trigger warnings “suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace”. Lisa Hajjar, a sociology professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, even suggests that the idea is detrimental to academic freedom. Hajjar, who believes that the graphic depictions of torture she uses in her courses about war are essential, says, “Any student can request some sort of individual accommodation, but to say we need some kind of one-size-fits-all approach is totally wrong. The presumption there is that students should not be forced to deal with something that makes them uncomfortable is absurd or even dangerous.”

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