Trigger warnings, you may have noticed, have become a major front in various culture-war battles lately. Whether it’s Lindy West arguing in the Guardian that trigger warnings aren’t really different from the common-courtesy warnings good professors have always given before diving into difficult material, or Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt making the case in The Atlantic that trigger warnings are part of a broader, psychologically damaging “coddling of the American mind,” the subject has elicited a great deal of loud, impassioned argument.
But trigger warnings are more often treated as a useful political cudgel than as something worth examining in their own right. While the articles about them sometimes feature accounts — often hearsay — of this or that trigger-warning incident, these stories tend to come without much context. Why did a given professor adopt trigger warnings in his or her class? Why did a given student ask them to do so? What was the impact on class discussion, on students’ senses that they were free to speak their minds? In short: Setting aside political agendas and preconceptions about trigger warnings, what effects do they actually have?
To make this conversation a little bit smarter and more nuanced, Science of Us is hoping to collect some on-campus accounts of how trigger warnings work and are debated in practice, far from the eyes of most pundits and journalists. So if you have attended a class that used trigger warnings or participated in a debate about whether to institute them, and you have something to say about your experiences, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with “trigger warnings” in the subject line. We don’t need to use your name if we end up telling your story, but we do only want emails from folks with personal experience of these debates on campus.
What will we do with these accounts? Not sure. Maybe this is less of an issue on real-life campuses than media-types are making it out to be, and I won’t get a lot of emails. Maybe I’ll get a bunch and share stories one at a time, or maybe some important theme will jump out, providing fodder for a longer article or blog post. Either way, if you have a first-hand experience of trigger warnings, I’d like to hear from you.