Commentary: Trigger warnings are necessary

Katie Madden, senior journalism major
Katie Madden, Managing Editor

I’m tired of having to read articles in class that vividly describe gruesome rape cases with no warning whatsoever. I’m tired of having videos of graphic violence thrown in my face. I’m absolutely exhausted of being told to suck it up and deal with it.

For some people the term “trigger warnings” brings to mind ideas of censorship or violation of free speech, while for others it means relief and safety.

The former of these two sides is wrong, and the latter is extremely important to listen to.

According to Google, a trigger warning is “a statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material (often used to introduce a description of such content).”

It simply is a preface to information or media that has the possibility to produce a negative physical or emotional reaction and it should definitely be required in education.

For many people, including myself, trigger warnings are essential for protecting our mental health. I had a distinct experience where a lesson about sexual assault caused me to have a reaction that was so bad I had to leave class.

Had I been previously warned about the nature of the lesson and the examples used that day, I would have been able to prepare myself mentally to deal with the class.

More often than not, when people get trigger warnings, they do not entirely disengage themselves from the lesson, rather they are able to prepare themselves for what is to come.

For students who cannot handle the lecture at all due to its triggering nature, I say that teachers need to accommodate them in the same way they accommodate students with other disabilities possibly by allowing them to leave the room during a particularly gruesome part of the lesson.

Disgustingly, but not surprisingly, many people go beyond thinking trigger warnings are unnecessary and attack those who ask for them. Even looking up a definition for this term, I found phrases like “coddling” and “warning weak minded and easily offended people.”

I am not asking educators to radically change their methods or lessons. I am not telling them to trigger warn every single thing that might offend some students. Trigger warnings are meant for the extreme cases of rape, violence, racism, bigotry, etc.

If educators exercise good judgment and a respect for their students, they should choose to take a minute at the beginning of a lesson to simply say, “Just to let you know, today we will be learning about (insert distressing topic),” allowing their students a moment to prepare themselves for the lesson so they will not be caught off guard and possibly harmed.

Katie Madden, a senior journalism major, is managing editor of the Campus Times. She can be reached by email at and on Twitter @KatieMadden20.

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