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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.