Ethics of Trigger Warnings

As I continue to work on a social justice project for one of my classes I continue to come across so many opinions about trigger warnings and safe spaces at the college level. Some articles are in support, others are against, and still others take more of a middle road. There was one specific article that really got me thinking on the ethics behind using or not using trigger warnings.

The article, The Ethics of Trigger Warnings, was written by Wendy Wyatt, a professor at the University of St. Thomas for Teaching Ethics magazine. In her article she pointed out how trigger warnings did not have their origin within the school system but in group therapy. They were used as a way for patients dealing with PTSD to prepare themselves in case of difficult topics that might trigger a strong reaction for them. It was not meant as a way for the person to avoid the topic but rather to learn coping skills.

For this sense of trigger warnings, it makes great sense to use them when necessary. But bringing the use of trigger warnings into the classroom as a way for students to avoid certain topics that might make them uncomfortable is not how they were meant to be used. Some have argued that trigger warnings are going to create a coddled generation and that is a possibility. I won’t deny that. The overuse or improper use of trigger warnings could very well lead to a generation that does not have the coping skills to deal with these topics in their life.

However I can see the positives in using trigger warnings for some of the harder topics to discuss. As someone planning to be a teacher this is something that I must consider as I get ready for my internship. Using trigger warnings within the classroom can help to establish a community of trust and understanding between the students and their teacher. It shows that the teacher knows the topic might be hard for some to discuss but is not going to avoid it because it will lead to learning for the students. In this way trigger warnings can actually foster learning in the classroom by providing a space in which the students feel it is safe to share their different experiences.


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