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Trigger Warnings at UCSB



It’s Dead Week, and it’s hitting hard. Students are huddled in the library, ignoring the suddenly perfect weather in order to pump out papers instead. This week, not only am I struggling to prep for finals along with everyone else, but I’m also caught up in a media whirlwind involving something I did two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago, I was focused on campus issues instead of homework. The sexual assaults at our school were all over the news and the campus community was in an uproar. It was the perfect time to present a resolution I wanted to pass through A.S. Senate. “A Resolution to Mandate Warnings for Triggering Content in Academic Settings” asked that teachers mark trigger warnings on any content on their syllabi that could elicit a reaction from students with PTSD. This was never designed or intended to censor anyone or to restrict academic freedom. There have been plenty of accusations in this vein, but once I can explain the misunderstanding, most people realize they are in support of the resolution.

However, there have been a few who found trigger warnings to be so counterproductive to the people with PTSD who are learning to face and deal with their traumas that they just had to take action, even when that action meant false accusations and reports. The most notable of these people is Jenny Jarvie, who wrote an article for the New Republic. In the article, she condemned my actions ⎯ actions that she read about in a Daily Nexus article ⎯ then condemned the resolution … that is, the resolution she never bothered to read. Ms. Jarvie pulled all her information out of one Nexus article, and when it didn’t answer all her questions, she created her own answers. When I addressed that in a response, she complained that Googling the resolution hadn’t given her the information she wanted. Well, the fallible quality of a narrow, front-page Google search has sparked a growing debate. Salon issued a response, followed by hoards of individual bloggers and then some bigger voices – The Guardian, Raw Story, The American Conservative, FlavorWire, The Nation even Dan Savage jumped in.

What started as one badly researched article has become a slew of them. On some sites I have been demonized or framed as hypersensitive and reactionary. My life has been recreated in comment sections and my resolution has been presented as something so extreme and changed that it is unrecognizable. So let me clear some things up:

1. I was not triggered by my classroom experience. It was disturbing and sickening to watch, but I could watch it. However, I recognized the triggering nature of the material, and it inspired action.

2. I did not “go above teachers’ heads.” I took the most efficient route, backed by many teachers, students and campus entities. This was a collaborative effort.

3. We are not encouraging UCSB to act like Oberlin or Rutgers by censoring any and all triggering material, or providing passage-by-passage trigger warnings. Nor, as one website suggests, are we banning content based on mile-long lists of hyper-inclusive triggers, like clustered holes. There are publications reporting fabricated lists of trigger warnings that UCSB supposedly now requires. I’ve learned a lot in the last week about how warped and twisted “facts” are spread and accepted so easily. It’s scary. And suddenly, I’m the bad guy. And suddenly, I’m not anonymous.

On Wednesday March 12 at 11:45, I’m calling into an interview with NPR on 89.3KPCC, the biggest indication of how much of a debate this issue has sparked. Jenny Jarvie has declined to be on air with me because she is microphone-shy. However, they are attempting to bring in Jill Filipovic, the writer of a similar article for The Guardian. To an extent, I have been thrust into a public spotlight. I’m forced to make quick decisions for long-term issues: If I don’t speak now, what’s going to stop the spread of misinformation? But if I do, and this gets even bigger, how will this affect my image and career path? Do I suddenly get a Tumblr and a Twitter and ride this media wave as far as it will go? Or do I refuse any more interviews and hope this goes away? I don’t feel right doing the latter, so for now I will speak. I will not discuss my personal life or experiences in any further depth, but I will speak on this issue and what it positive impact it can have for college students and our society at large.

I encourage everyone to read the resolution in its entirety. This is the version submitted to the A.S. Senate: http://www.as.ucsb.edu/senate/resolutions/a-resolution-to-mandate-warnings-for-triggering-content-in-academic-settings/. In addition, if any student would like to speak to me about this further in person, or express concern, I am available through the Office of the Student Advocate. You can check our office hours on our Facebook page, or you can email me at chief@advocate.as.ucsb.edu.

One positive thing has really stood out to me through all of this, and that is the outpouring of support I have received from my fellow Gauchos, who have not hesitated to express their gratitude for the passing of this resolution. Thank you all for being the encouragement I need to continue.

Bailey Loverin is a second-year literature major. 

This is a Daily Nexus online exclusive.
The views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB and are primarily submitted by students.
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15 Responses to Trigger Warnings at UCSB

  1. Iman Azol Reply

    May 19, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Wow, a middle class white chick with privileged parents wants ‘trigger warnings’ so she doesn’t have to think about the real world.

    Yeah, I’ll get right on that, after I help my disabled vet neighbor get to the VA for treatment for his crippling migraines.

    • Sylvia Mendel Reply

      May 28, 2014 at 3:47 am

      You’re quite a flippant young person, aren’t you. Well, I’m 83 years old have lived through World War II in which I became collateral damage with lasting physical and mental wounds.
      Women know something you don’t just BECAUSE THEY ARE WOMEN. I have worked with Vietnam veterans because of my expertise in post-traumatic stress disorder which affects millions of women including prostitutes most of whom were abused as children. Is that enough to trigger some deeper thinking on your part? I do hope so for you seem like a good and generous young man. But you really must restrain that flippancy. There are millions of children and young women like Bailey Loverin – though I don’t know her at all – but she does speak for all who are used in literature to capture events and personalities through a kind of shorthand. Often making bad characters Jews because they don’t know hot to create negative characters without using ethnicity or other means. I don’t exclude Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway. So Bailey Loverin shouldn’t be crucified because she’s rich and white and I don’t know how you would know that. There’s much more I have to say on this topic. Ms. Loverin is on the right track but there’s a better way to accomplish her goals. Students are often more savvy than professors who profess not always knowing other depths in the literature they assign.

  2. Marion I. Lipshutz Reply

    May 18, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Here are my thoughts, as a feminist who has survived traumatic, gender linked events at an earlier stage of my life and who is also passionately anti-censorship. This is a variation on a post to my Facebook page:

    I just did the following quick experiment. I Googled the book title, “The Color Purple” + “trigger warning” and got about 86,600 results. For another book title, “The Kite Runner” – 1,660 results. For the term “religious persecution” + “trigger warning” – 8,660 results. For Islamophobic +”trigger warning” – 53,600 results. For “PTSD” + “trigger warning” – 40,000 results. For “racist language” + “trigger warning” – about 3,720 results. Misogyny + “trigger warning” – about 75,200 results. I could go on, but here is my point. Rather than imposing unconstitutional prior restraint and viewpoint censorship on faculty, college students who want trigger warnings for their books and syllabi can easily research, write, and circulate them among themselves. A mandatory college-wide requirement is completely unnecessary because this type of information is abundant and easily accessible online. All you have to do is run the searches, based on the content of specific syllabi. Individual students can post the information to a private website. They can blog about it. They can even go to the Goodreads website, which has an entire section devoted to books that “Should Come with a Trigger Warning.” Why can’t students who are in favor of trigger warnings do this for themselves, instead of insisting that faculty do it for them, in a process that is inimical to academic freedom, and that does not really address the underlying issues such as PTSD, and indeed cannot, because that requires the intervention of a licensed psychologist, social worker, or other mental health professional.

    In summary, institutionalized, mandatory trigger warnings for college syllabi and/or specific books do constitute prior restraint and viewpoint censorship – in that they “tilt” prospective classroom discussions in directions not intended by faculty members when they write the original syllabi. They also create a disincentive for faculty members to list “controversial” or “triggering” films or books onto their syllabi to begin with.

    In contrast, when individual college students research and write their own personal trigger warnings, they can avoid the imposition of prior restraint and viewpoint censorship on others.

    Best Wishes,

    Marion I Lipshutz
    MA, Anthropology – New School for Social Research – 1981
    MSLIS – Library and Information Science – Pratt Institute – 1988

    • Guest Reply

      May 18, 2014 at 11:58 pm

      As a feminist who is passionately anti-censorship!? You’ve got to be kidding. Your whole hysterical hate movement relies on the thuggish censorship of all things anti-feminist, pro male or objectively credible. Even worse, both it’s ideology and it’s applications are fascist to the core.

      That said, it’s refreshing to see that you are at least talking free speech in a world full of feminist fascists. Maybe you can help bring Male Studies to the New School or back down the Gender Bigots (feminists) who will most definitely oppose establishing a men’s center at your school. But please do remember that the label ‘feminist’ is a noose around your neck as well as it is ours.

      P.S. The Color Purple is very ‘triggering’ to me because it is an unrelentingly misandrist caricature of manhood. But since I have no problem with ‘controversial’ or ‘triggering’ content as long as I can speak my mind too, there’s no reason to ban the (bigoted) book. Wish the easily offended Gaucho infants could say the same.

      • Iman Azol Reply

        May 19, 2014 at 9:47 am

        I thought her comment was very reasonable and productive. It seems you have your own issues to deal with.

        However, I appreciate you bringing your assholishness to bear as an example to the author of what the real world is like. No doubt she’d like a trigger warning on your comment.

        So I’ll provide one:

        “Trigger Warning: The previous comment was made by an asshole who doesn’t represent all people of his demographic, but is nevertheless the type of person who does exist in the world, and has a right to do so. Learning to deal with his type is an essential part of growing up. Use this as a learning tool.”

        • Guest Reply

          May 19, 2014 at 10:47 am

          You’ll note that I lauded her for the reasonable and productive portions of her comment…that is her call for grown up behavior from ‘triggered’ Gaucho boobs. As for you, if you don’t condemn fascist feminist gender bigots, you’ve got some serious issues to deal with because feminism is evil assholishness on a grand scale. You’ll also be happy to know that ‘my demographic’ is growing broader and deeper day by day thanks to the growing public awareness that feminism is a hysterical hate movement.

    • Sylvia Mendel Reply

      May 28, 2014 at 4:10 am

      You are right on target. The students should play a major role here in supporting each other through readings. Because the “canon” is irrelevant to half the world and to millions of women. Further, it was white men who created the “canon” and all written history. OR uses certain groups to create negative characters. The finest literature reflects these facts but are considered universal because they are about events and people that are relevant to all groups. English literature is mandatory in education yet their literature is probably the most anti-Semitic in the world – except perhaps German literature before World War II. I have challenged this dilemma at public meetings which is nerve racking for me. Yet, I feel bound to identify these lapses and compelled to make them public for the sake of my grandchildren. I have much more to say on this subject. But indulge me on one more point. When there are construction sites in New York where most people walk – not protected by being on a vehicle – women are the objects of the workers’ thoughts which they feel perfectly free to express at the women who walk by. My next plan is to write some very wealthy real estate developers and ask them to keep their workers in or I will make a public spectacle to shame them. That is not censoring literature it is the expectation of private space on the street. Yet wherever diminution of one’s right to privacy and respect exists it must at least be pointed out. What would some of these men say if their adolescent daughters came home crying because they had to take a different route to school to avoid the sexual insult hurled at them without any thought to the insult and to the fear of those thus attacked.

  3. Anti-feminist Reply

    March 12, 2014 at 1:05 pm

  4. Anti-feminist Reply

    March 12, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    The ‘trigger warning’ hysteria is just one more step down the deep, dark tunnel of totalitarian tyranny…brought to us by your favorite fascist 1-in-4 Gender Bigots. The only interesting theme here is how women NATURALLY tend to rape others’s rights to free speech thanks to Woman’s Way of Communicating. For more on that topic see Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman by Phyllis Chessler or read all about HOW fascist feminist professors criminally attack other women over ‘triggering’ free speech on campus.

    • Sylvia Mendel Reply

      May 28, 2014 at 4:27 am

      So what. I’m glad we are all different from each other. It’s still a free country. Women can pronounce what they want to in public. That’s their right – but once those views are permanently on the page discussion is invited and we have been given permission to object. No one is saying “burn the books” which becomes increasingly unlikely since books of paper are disappearing from the planet.

      No, I don’t think teachers should be expected to sound alerts at possible “triggers” for those are very personal. Also, those who teach don’t necessarily notice what they might be. The students teach the teachers more than the other way around.
      This is an age when those who teach are less didactic than in former times and welcome opinion. What one a student can point out is that T.S.Eliot revered and almost worshipped as THE change agent in poetry. He wrote the most disgusting allusions to Jews. No one I’ve encountered in poetry discussions ever alluded to these. It is the teacher’s job to point such allusions out and encourage students to bring their own thoughts to the discussion or to their papers.

      I’ve not had one teacher that performed that duty. Not one.
      That’s why I proclaim at public events the seeming approval of all the writer puts on the page. In every English book I’ve read no matter how many prizes awarded the writer the nasty, or mysterious, or “exotic,” or wealthy is ALWAYS a Jew. That’s when a Jew can’t continue to read the book because the insult poisons the literature. That’s all for now, folks.

  5. Olive Reply

    March 12, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    I really appreciate your efforts for this, I had PTSD from some traumatic medical experiences, and would get flashbacks and panic attacks in class whenever teachers discussed the subject, and I was unprepared mentally to be able to deal with it.

    • Sylvia Mendel Reply

      May 28, 2014 at 4:35 am

      But that is not what a teacher can deal with. You have to present this in an impersonal way – pointing out that such experiences are indeed traumatic – I’ve had some myself during World War II. I can be impersonal about these because the information is relevant to many others. You do have to find a way to note some of your experience and feelings in a paper.
      When I was learning the “classics” at Brooklyn College there was poetry assigned so I had to think through whether I wanted to introduce my own experience or make it work for a general discussion. It’s tricky and I still think you need a group outside the lecture hall or the class-room to decide how you can bring in such material as to relate to the course.
      When you are able to do that you will also experience some relief from the pain you suffered. A teacher/professor doesn’t have the skills you need. You have to make it general = for medial procedures are traumatic and need some understanding and relief which should be provided in the setting where you experienced these. Yet, as I noted teaching professionals can learn from their students. Perhaps you can make this work in assigned papers.

  6. stan klein Reply

    March 12, 2014 at 7:19 am

    I do not know the “real” details in any reasonable depth. Both sides make claims that possibly are true within limits I cannot know (i.e., there likely are “circumstances” and subtle emendations that make any simple depiction of the issues at hand anything but simple).

    I say only this. I have a family member with severe PTSD. It is sadly very real (I have recently read 147 journal articles and 3 books on the condition — both to better understand the problem and to offer a theoretical journal-based interpretation of the part played by memory in PTSD flashbacks).

    One thing to clearly keep in mind is that PTSD comes in varieties — both in regard to its severity and causes (e.g., childhood abuse, horrific accident [often automotive], war, sexual assault– the list goes on).

    While such “fractionation” may lead some to question the validity of the diagnosis, realize there is no logical warrant against multiple realization eventuating in a common set of symptoms. Examples are easy to come by.

    In some cases (I do not know how many, but from personal and second hand — i.e., reading — experience, it is all too clear that for some folk suffering the abusive reality of PTSD, stimuli of traumatic relevance can be extremely hurtful and initiate panic attacks, flashbacks and other symptoms one would not wish anyone (save perhaps one’s worst enemy)to suffer.

    So, while I am firmly against restriction of freedom of speech, I do not see warnings as either counterproductive or endangering free expression.

    And for those opining that this all amounts to little more than hyper-sensitivity gone wild — well it is. But the hypersensitivity gone wild is the plague experienced by PTSD folk, not (necessarily) the individuals offering possible solutions in the form of warnings.

    I quickly note that I cannot know the motivation or personality of those promoting the “warnings”. But that is a secondary (and virtually unrelated) issue. The focal reality is the suffering of certain individuals and an attempt to enact a set of precautionary measures that do not appear to infringe on the right to anyone’s freedom of expression.

    Such a silly “debate”.

    • rubyslippers Reply

      April 9, 2014 at 9:17 pm

      How DO Holocaust survivors manage without PTSD?

      This is such a trumped up excuse for getting attention.

      I bet these special snowflakes watch crime/cop drama on tv (the mutilated woman of the week episodes) and read and see all the Vampire erotica.

      • Sylvia Mendel Reply

        May 28, 2014 at 4:42 am

        Where did you go to school. Are you one of the Holocaust deniers. You know it cost David Irving, one of England’s most prominent historians, millions to defend himself – a denier – against Deborah Lipstadt – the expert on denial of the Holocaust. She was defended by Anthony Julius who wrote a 600 page book on the litter of anti-Semitism that runs through all English literature. Your statement is ignorant and offensive to anyone who has been broken by the Holocaust experience. It’s easier to defend against deniers than someone who derides a survivor with such flippancy. Well, there’s plenty of sand in California to put ones head in.

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