A new study show that trigger warnings, used as exhibit A in the argument that college students are babies who cant handle life, barely exist in reality
Weve heard it many times before: college students are coddled, politically correct children who cant take a joke, enjoy a holiday or even fulfill the requirements of a class without wanting professorial hand-holding. The proof of this round generalization of an entire generation? Trigger warnings.
For the past few years, trigger warnings a written or verbal heads up that the content of an assignment, article, movie, etc might contain material potentially upsetting (triggering) for trauma survivors have been at the center of conversation around young people, most of it quite negative. But a new study shows that the actual use and influence of trigger warnings are so low as to be almost nonexistent.
As it turns out, the whining babies afraid of some imagined slight werent college students after all.
According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, while over 60% of college instructors think that trigger warnings pose a threat to academic freedom, only 7.5% of them say that students have tried to require the practice on their campus and 15% had students request warnings in their courses. But the most shocking number, considering the years of panicked hot takes on the subject, is that of the people surveyed, less than 1% said their institution requires trigger warnings.
As Jesse Singal at New York Magazine points out, the national debate on college students and trigger warnings has always seemed to lack hard evidence, instead relying on a small number of anecdotes to fuel the outrage. One that comes up again and again, for example, is how Oberlin College released a document explaining triggers and how to avoid them in the classroom. But when faculty raised important and understandable questions, the administration pulled the language about trigger warnings from the document.
Students didnt storm the administration building in protest; there wasnt a huge uproar on campus. Teachers simply voiced concerns and those concerns were heard not quite the campus controversy pundits seem to want it to be.
I understand the worry around mandated trigger warnings, and agree with feminists like Roxane Gay, who writes that the practice offers an illusion of safety thats not really there, and Tressie McMillan Cottom, who notes that warnings arent affixed to the real sites of oppression on campus. I also believe, as someone who has suffered from PTSD, that peoples triggers are so varied its near impossible to anticipate what might cause a reaction.
Its a subject that absolutely does need thinking about, conversation and debate but not at an overblown level that paints college students with such a broad brush, and not at the expense of what is really happening at universities across the country.
Another interesting statistic from this new study is that nearly a quarter of instructors surveyed say that at some point theyve provided a warning about course content not a trigger warning, or a college-mandated statement. Just a heads up in the syllabus, presumably as my colleague Lindy West put it to treat students, especially those from marginalized communities, with a modicum of respect and humanity. How controversial.