By Jesse Turner
This week, University of Chicago Dean of Students John Ellison sent a letter to incoming freshmen saying that the university does not support “so-called trigger warnings” and “safe spaces, where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.” This is not a welcoming or inclusive letter.
Trigger/content warnings are not meant to warn people that differing opinions are meant to be shared. I have never seen a trigger warning used in this manner, despite many people’s beliefs that my generation is so weak that we can’t handle hearing an opinion even slightly different than our own. On social media, I have come across trigger and content warnings informing the reader that the following content will discuss things like abuse, suicide, sexual assault, and police brutality. I have never seen the content warning, “I am about to share a conservative opinion.” So stop believing trigger warnings are useless and a sign of weakness.
One of my professors at PSU used a very helpful trigger warning in her syllabus. She informed us that in a class about death, we would specifically be discussing Death with Dignity, suicide, and dying in low-income and marginalized communities. In no way was she saying, “Here’s what we will discuss so don’t take this class.” She was saying, “Here’s exactly what we will discuss, so proceed with caution and take time to prepare and take care of yourselves.” That’s what trigger warnings are. They are a cautionary step, not the end to a conversation. Yes, freedom of speech and freedom of expression are both integral and important. But why does someone else’s freedom of speech mean that I have to listen to and read every story and conversation about rape and child abuse that comes across my timeline? Am I really stifling your freedom of expression because for my own sanity I don’t want to read another story about Brock Turner getting away with only 3 months in prison?
Not wanting to hear about sexual assault and abuse constantly doesn’t make you weak, it makes you healthy. Stop praising the University of Chicago for not caring about the mental health of their students and instead taking a hurtful and deeply misinformed approach to content warnings and safe spaces.