Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Warning: This may be upsetting to you

Academia has always been an easy target for mockery. Henry Kissinger observed that university politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so low, and one logical extension is that liberal arts departments are steeped in self-importance precisely because their impact on the "real world" is negligible.

Ergo, the recent campus phenomenon known as the "trigger warning." Originating on certain feminist, self-help and social activist blogs, trigger warnings are meant to inform readers that the ensuing material deals with subjects, such as war or sexual violence, that might upset those suffering from post-traumatic stress related to those issues.

Now the practice is creeping toward liberal arts syllabi. The University of California-Santa Barbara student Senate recently passed a resolution calling for professors to label potentially upsetting course material and even excuse "triggered" students from some classes. Oberlin College in Ohio has already implemented such guidelines.

Distressing as such potential incursions on academic freedom and inquiry may be, the real trend here may not be trigger warnings but the torrent of outrage they've set off. They're ripe for bemused chatter, to say the least. A New Republic article supplied a list of warning-worthy triggers: bullying, sizism, ablism, transphobia, slut shaming, alcohol and (seriously) animals in wigs. Even the satirical Onion has been called out for failing to warn readers about disturbing content in fake stories.

I'll admit that some colleges indulge students as much as educate them, but I'd venture to say this isn't a grand mal social movement as much as it is just two overreacting schools. Like Antioch College in Ohio, whose bizarre sexual-offense policy of 1991 wrongly gave the impression that every liberal arts student in America was required to ask their intimate partners questions like "can I touch you here?" during intimate moments, Oberlin's trigger warnings surely have more to do with Oberlin itself than anything else.

But as much as we might enjoy poking fun at delicate English majors, the truth is we're all on a hair trigger these days. We customize our information delivery systems so we mostly see, hear and read what won't upset us too much.

Liberals stay away from Fox News. Conservatives shield themselves from MSNBC. We choose to live in particular neighborhoods or regions in part because we want neighbors who share our values. We rant away on social media, but we're usually just talking to people who already agree with us.

How much difference is there, really, between refusing to read Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart (a trigger targeted novel at Oberlin) because it deals with troubling racial and religious issues and refusing to listen to opposing views that might make you angry?

That's not to compare classic literature to cable news. Given the choice between Fox or MSNBC, we'd be better off skipping both and reading a good book instead. But as we indulge in the great American pastime of accusing young people of being made of weaker stuff than their elders, we'd also do well to examine our own avoidance mechanisms.

— Los Angeles Times

Comments
Rays journal: 7 pitches, 3 straight homers prove too much in loss to Astros

Rays journal: 7 pitches, 3 straight homers prove too much in loss to Astros

HOUSTON — The Rays were engaged in a third straight tight, go-either-way battle with the defending champ Astros on Wednesday.Until they were not.A brutal seven-pitch sequence by starter Nathan Eovaldi changed everything, as he gave up three con...
Updated: 3 minutes ago

AP Top News at 12:49 a.m. EDT

AP Top News at 12:49 a.m. EDT
Updated: 1 hour ago
Supporters of Trump steadfast despite immigration uproar

Supporters of Trump steadfast despite immigration uproar

Trump supporters steadfast even as photos of children in cages and audio of terrified children crying out for their parents stoked outrage
Updated: 1 hour ago
House GOP immigration compromise teeters ahead of votes

House GOP immigration compromise teeters ahead of votes

An ambitious House GOP immigration overhaul is teetering ahead of voting
Updated: 1 hour ago

Australian Senate delivers $106 billion in income tax cuts

Australia's prime minister has won a political victory with the Senate passing personal income tax cuts worth 144 billion Australian dollars ($106 billion) over a decade
Updated: 1 hour ago
Royals lose ninth straight, fall to Rangers, 3-2

Royals lose ninth straight, fall to Rangers, 3-2

Austin Bibens-Dirkx pitched effectively into the seventh inning, Rougned Odor homered and the Texas Rangers extended their winning streak to a season-high five games with a 3-2 victory over the struggling Kansas City Royals
Updated: 1 hour ago
Young immigrants detained in Virginia center allege abuse

Young immigrants detained in Virginia center allege abuse

Lawsuit claims dozens of immigrant children are housed in prison-like conditions at a juvenile detention facility where guards beat children who were in handcuffs and left some young inmates nude and shivering in concrete cells
Updated: 1 hour ago
Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

Cashner and 4 relievers combine on 5-hitter as Orioles weather rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals
Updated: 1 hour ago
Oregon State ousts UNC at CWS, Arkansas tops Texas Tech

Oregon State ousts UNC at CWS, Arkansas tops Texas Tech

CWS Capsules
Updated: 1 hour ago
Homers by Arenado, Blackmon, McMahon rally Rockies past Mets

Homers by Arenado, Blackmon, McMahon rally Rockies past Mets

Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon homered, pinch-hitter Ryan McMahon put Colorado ahead with a three-run shot and the Rockies rallied past the New York Mets 10-8
Updated: 1 hour ago