The debate over Haidt and Lukianoff’s cover story rages on. From Atlantic reader Elizabeth O'Leary:
Trigger warnings protect people who are CURRENTLY experiencing things like abuse or suicidality. They are similar to the movie rating system, which gives you an idea of what to expect (rather like knowing that there is an elevator in the lobby, to use the desensitizing example from the article). The use of trigger warnings indicate that you will not be punished for not participating in discussion/class. Their use may be more appropriate in classes that are required by all students. Their use may be more appropriate as part of the syllabus or course description.
I have a lot of thoughts about the points the article brings up, but the tone of the article annoys me. It was not written as a thoughtful piece but as a provocative one intended to be aggressive towards the sensibilities of many current college students. There are a lot of great ideas in the piece, such as how does protecting one person from harm change the experience of the entire group, but the point was not developed the way it needed to be.
I think the comparison to film ratings is revealing. Why do we rate films at all? Because children watch movies, and we want parents to have good information in deciding what is appropriate for their children. This protective attitude must end at some point in life; Greg and I believe that it should end by age 18.
We believe that in the long run, trigger warnings are harmful for people who have suffered trauma, and we explain why in the article. But what I’d like to expand upon here is the harm they do to everyone else.
I teach in New York City. Suppose that part of my teaching was to take students on field trips all around the city. Suppose further that every time we went to The Bronx, we took along a police escort and an ambulance. Just in case. And suppose that I told students that they didn’t have to go to the Bronx, if it would make them feel unsafe. What would students learn? They’d come to fear The Bronx, and the people who live there.
When we tag ideas and authors as dangerous to read, we are teaching students to fear ideas and authors. This is antithetical to the purpose of a university, and to the kind of fearless thinking that most universities say they want to instill.
Reader V. Reish raises a hand:
Would someone like to hear from an actual mentally-ill recent college grad who has been in cognitive behavioral therapy for years? Ok, then let me just state this as unambiguously as possible: