The Effects of Trigger Warnings

AnxietyWithin the past month, a controversial decision was made by the University of Chicago. Namely, the university sent letters to each incoming freshman stating that it does not support the idea of ‘trigger warnings’ on campus. This has sparked a massive online debate about the benefits and detriments of having trigger warnings and safe spaces on academic campuses. They were first instituted as a way to make students feel more comfortable in class – lectures with potentially upsetting subject matters are marked with a trigger warning, and safe spaces are designated all over each campus. Now, those with mental health issues, and even those who simply have not grown up with as much privilege as others, are fighting back against the University of Chicago’s decision.

Upon this announcement by the University of Chicago, an article was published in The Huffington Post detailing how this decision could detrimentally affect underprivileged students. For one, the University of Chicago is assuming that trigger warnings were put into place to deter students from disagreement and debate. However, they date back to a long time ago. It was around 1900 that the term ‘trigger warning’ was initially put into place, when doctors were attempting to discover what exactly triggered PTSD experiences in soldiers. More recently, it has migrated into the online space to mark articles that may trigger harmful behavior or regression. For example, a post about an eating disorder would be posted with ‘trigger warning’ to warn those in recovery that it might trigger disordered behavior. The root of trigger warnings, therefore, is protection rather than attempting to quell debate. Outlawing them may cause more mental health issues on campus.

Unfortunately, the number of mental health issues on college campuses only continues to grow. A large percentage of college dropouts do so because of a mental health issue. Alerting students that a lecture may cover potentially triggering material could be the deciding factor in whether or not a student continues in school. It is commendable for the University of Chicago to be promoting debate during a time in which society fears universities are becoming too politically correct, but they may have wanted to go about it in a different way.

The letter is worded in a way that makes it seem as if those with mental illness are somehow in control of how they react to certain things, and are therefore weak for not being able to handle controversial topics. The University of Chicago responded by encouraging struggling students to visit their counseling center and other helpful mental health facilities. While it is wonderful that the university advocates for mental health treatment, the letter itself can be deemed irresponsible. All in all, it will be interesting to see the progression of this situation.

For more information and behavioral health news, visit the New Horizon Counseling Center website.

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