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A.S. Resolution Policy Aims to Protect Students From PTSD Triggers

The Associated Students Senate and Office of the Student Advocate General are working together to implement a guideline advising professors to alert students of class content that can potentially “trigger” symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in those who have experienced traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse or fighting in war.

The goal of the policy — enacted by an A.S. resolution passed last week — is to protect students with PTSD who may be harshly affected by content, such as video scenes, and it would allow these students to miss classes containing such material without losing course points. The proposal does not require that professors alter their planned course material, but that they include in their syllabi “trigger warnings” — a term for a warning label on content that might trigger a traumatic response. However, the resolution for the policy only directs A.S. collegiate senators to visit the deans at the three colleges of the university to request the new guideline; thus, the resolution has not resulted in any concrete changes to current university policy.

As defined by the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD develops after a “terrifying” incident involving physical harm or the threat of harm and it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents — rape, being kidnapped, child abuse, torture, car accidents, plane crashes, train wrecks, bombings or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.

Student Advocate Chief of Staff Bailey Loverin, a third-year student in the CCS Literature program, introduced the proposal last week at a Senate meeting and explained her personal experiences in classes as the reason behind the proposal.

“There was absolutely no warning before class that [this material] would be covered,” Loverin said.

Several A.S. Senators, including second-year student Nikki Calderon, immediately jumped on board with the proposal, stating that it will give students “the opportunity to be attentive in their classes and protect themselves.”

“UCSB has lots of resources, but at the same time they can’t reach you when you’re sitting in a lecture, uncomfortably watching a film,” Calderon said. “If they do need to miss a lecture, they could tell the professor ahead of time and do an alternative assignment.”

Calderon also said she thinks there might be a correlation between watching violent material and acting violently in real life, however she insisted that she did not believe in censoring that material.

“T.V. is definitely a factor among children, but ultimately, it’s up to adults to make the right decisions,” Calderon said.

Not everyone has responded positively to the Senate resolution, however. Second-year political science major Jason Garshfield said he was disappointed in the A.S. Senate for passing the resolution, as he said it may hinder the intellectual and emotional growth of some students and that it approaches censorship.

“The learning process necessarily involves exposing people to ideas that will challenge their beliefs and make them feel uncomfortable,” Garshfield said. “People who attend college are implicitly agreeing to be pushed outside their intellectual and emotional comfort zones … I would like to see the Senate have a higher regard for the fortitude and resilience of the students of this university, as well as the discretion of our professors to teach their students at the level they feel is appropriate.”

According to professor of English and comparative literature, and Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, David Marshall, faculty currently tend to warn students if they think certain material might be disturbing. Marshall also said that while he believes faculty should be sensitive to the concerns of students, “thousands of years of art and literature have been provocative and disturbing,” and these works are important because they advance our understanding of social ills.

“Think of ‘Oedipus Rex,’ which contains scenes of violence, patricide, incest, and death. In addition, there are many works of art, film, and literature that contain disturbing images in order to prevent social ills, such as violence against women,” Marshall said in an email. “Finally, I would note that our university adheres to the principles of academic freedom.”

Off-Campus Senator and third-year Asian American studies major Beatrice Contreras said she has an idea of how this resolution could be implemented on campus.

“Ideally, some professors are already [having these warnings], and are putting in UCSB C.A.R.E. and C.A.P.S. numbers on their syllabi,” Contreras said. “The first step is bringing it to Academic Senate, and they can choose to make it a departmental choice to make it a requirement in that class to warn students.”

Over time, Loverin aims to make trigger warnings on syllabi a UC-wide policy.

“[A.S. External Vice President of Statewide Affairs] Alex Choate will introduce this to the next UC government meeting … to make sure this is not just Santa Barbara, but across the nation.”


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8 Responses to A.S. Resolution Policy Aims to Protect Students From PTSD Triggers

  1. nina rehfeld Reply

    June 18, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    hey all,

    i´m looking for students and faculty who would like to share with me their opinion on trigger warnings for an article about the topic in the sunday edition of FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG, germany´s most respectable daily newspaper (www.faz.net). i have been corresponding for FAZ for the past ten years and would be happy to hopefully hear from many of you: please email me at nina@txture.com so we can set up a phone conversation. thank you!

    nina rehfeld

  2. Susan Reply

    May 22, 2014 at 4:09 am

    I’m not unsympathetic. I had PTSD after having a loaded gun aimed at my face during a long robbery. However, the only treatment that’s proven to be effective is Cognitive Therapy which makes you identify, acknowledge and confront triggers, and then use your rational mind to assure yourself that you are not presently at risk; that you are safe. It’s uncomfortable but with each successful exposure and rational conquering of the fear the stronger you get. I don’t think any therapist would recommend avoiding triggers. Avoiding “triggers” only exacerbates PTSD and allows your fears to grow. Before treatment I tried to avoid anything that might stoke my fears. The result? First, I avoided first violent movies, then all movies, first stores like the one it happened at, then all open public spaces – and eventually and inexplicably freeways, bridges, heights — it got to the point that I did not leave the house. My point is that if you have PTSD it’s impossible to avoid “triggers” and it’s harmful for you to try. Also, if you opt to avoid “triggers” in art, literature and history, you will miss out on a great deal.

  3. JanLA Reply

    May 19, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    I graduated from UCSB in the early 90s and am now a professor myself, and I applaud this effort by the student government. As a student at UCSB, I was in treatment for PTSD and was triggered by a reading assignment, an event that was exacerbated when I approached the professor about it and the professor reiterated the ideas and the language that triggered me, pushing the ideas on to me personally and triggering feelings of victimization and rage.

    It is true that students should be up to the task of being challenged in their courses, but they still deserve to be warned about potentially triggering material. I think this issue is less about babying students and more about putting an end to the pampering of professors who are inconvenienced by students’ needs for respect and concern.

    I hope the student government will keep in mind that the human capacity for violence and abuse is boundless and the possibilities for triggering those who have suffered are extremely broad; there is no absolute way to prevent all possible triggering events. You may be able to determine a few of the most likely triggers that should require warnings, but beyond that I doubt you will find consensus. A good addition to the policy, then, would be defining and requiring appropriate responses to students who find themselves unexpectedly triggered by the material.

  4. former californian Reply

    May 19, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    You don’t want an education.
    You want baby sitting.

  5. Roland Van Deusen Reply

    April 4, 2014 at 9:18 am

    For veteran students w/PTSD, please free to share my Youtube
    video, “To Veterans with Invisible Wounds”, used by the VA’s
    nationwide suicide prevention program, it motivates troubled vets to seek help, an is a tool for their families, friends, and counselors.
    The video was in the February 2013 PSYCHIATRIC TIMES, the most widely-read psychiatric publication. Use it where you feel it’ll do the most good. Feedback welcome.

  6. Guest Reply

    March 12, 2014 at 1:38 pm

  7. DC. Matthews Reply

    March 9, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Homeless and multi disabled. I have one instructor who wants to hear no excuses for not being able to compete with more tech educated more resourced, more able. “Reasonable accommodation for disability” needs to be added to the vocabulary of all instructors. Sad that still is not.

    To respond to above JBlack comment – if its one or two things or a schedule adjust, this is easy to do and the instructors job to do. If it is a whole course then ,yes, there is a problem that can’t be overcome with reasonable accommodation for disability. No standards need to be lowered for the able when helping the people with disability to be able. Current or past medical care physical or psych care have little or nothing to do with accommodation of disability needs in class. Schools that cater only to the perfect student are not the best as they also don’t prepare the less socially skilled and less empathetic for playing well with others and other real life professional situations.

  8. JBlack Reply

    March 7, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    I am somewhat okay with trigger warnings… But if you’re missing class because of triggers then you need to PLEASE get some mental health help and consider a different school. Sorry. Professors can’t change their programs and we also deserve to have best education possible. California has other schools that are a lot more accommodating and California has some of the best health resources in the world. I want people to be comfortable but that starts with us getting them help… Not with us risking or lowering our education standards.

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