In the social-justice blogosphere, “trigger warnings” have long been standard etiquette for discussing violence or oppression. The warnings preface particularly graphic or disturbing content, cautioning readers with post-traumatic stress disorder that the linked or discussed material may cause flashbacks or other symptoms of trauma. However, in the past year, the trigger warning has leapt from the Internet to the academy. There’s been increasing pressure, particularly from students, for professors to use them in classrooms, flagging required course material that may be disturbing. Oberlin College’s Office of Equity Concerns, for example, suggested that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart receive a trigger warning for “racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more.”
There has been substantial pushback from professors against mandatory trigger warnings. We invited a panel of educators to discuss their takes: Lynn Comella, a sexuality scholar and associate professor of women’s studies at University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Roxane Gay, author of An Untamed State and associate professor of English at Purdue; and Angus Johnston, who teaches history at Hostos Community College and runs the website StudentActivism.net.