Monday, November 19th, 2018

Let’s Talk About It

Posted on January 28, 2018 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

Johnna Ossie, Managing Editor

Question: During the first week of classes, one of my professors introduced themselves and said they did not believe in trigger warnings. The subject matter of the course is very intense and has the potential to genuinely upset and trigger students. The professor said that since we are all adults, they don’t feel like it is necessary to alert students before triggering content crosses our paths. I’m nervous that I’m going to have a bad reaction to course content and my professor will be unsympathetic. What should I do?

Answer: Since we are all adults, I don’t feel it’s necessary to censor my language when I say that your professor’s lack of caring for people in the class who may have experienced trauma makes them an asshole. Or maybe, if I can give them the benefit of the doubt, they don’t understand what a trigger actually is. A trigger doesn’t mean “this makes me uncomfortable.” Discomfort is an emotion that most people can sit with, and often have to sit with when learning about hard things. Discomfort does not a trigger make.

Why are trigger warnings important? Well, let’s talk about it! When someone experiences a trigger it is usually a result of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A lot of events can cause PTSD. It’s often talked about in terms of veterans, but any one who has experienced a traumatic event can be diagnosed with PTSD. Symptoms can include reliving the event, depression, nightmares, panic attacks, debilitating anxiety and suicidal ideation, among others. For some people, PTSD can be debilitating. Often, with time, people learn to cope and go about their lives, but that doesn’t mean the trauma has gone away, it hasn’t disappeared into the ether never to rear it’s head again. It doesn’t mean your professor can sit in class and ramble on about something deeply upsetting with no prior warning for those they may be affecting.

Unfortunately, my dear friend with an asshole professor, I’ve had a lot of experiences at USM where professors have failed to provide trigger warnings. As a result, I have spent the rest of those class periods shaking in a bathroom stall, or sitting outside trying not to hyperventilate in a way that’s too obvious, or dissociating and not remembering the entire chunk of time after the trigger. Is that a helpful learning environment?  Nope. Did I get anything out of class that day other than reliving some of the most horrific memories I have? Not really. Did I learn that I can’t trust my professor to foster a healthy learning environment? Sure did. Did I somehow become “tougher,” more capable, or become suddenly relieved of my PTSD by reliving my trauma and sobbing in a public bathroom? Definitely not.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a real and serious condition. Your professor’s failure to care for students’ well being is alarming on a lot of levels. If they aren’t receptive to discussing why trigger warnings are absolutely, 100%, seriously, hugely necessary, you will probably have to go around or above them to get support. You could try talking to someone in the counseling center or talking to Sarah Holmes (Assistant Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator) as they may be able to approach your professor as well and reinforce why trigger warnings are important. Or you could cut this out and give it to your professor – feel free to send them my way.

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