On Campus: Trigger Warnings And Microaggressions

September 7, 2016

Many college campuses have so called trigger warnings about controversial topics. Critics say political correctness is out of control and academic freedom is at risk. Clark University Assistant Professor Eric De Barros and Wheelock College Sociology Professor Gail Dines (@GailDines) joined Jim to discuss. 

When teaching about topics such as rape, incest or battery, Dines utilizes trigger warnings to let people know what's coming. She says, "I get there's a bit of confusion between trigger warnings and not teaching stuff or not saying stuff. All a trigger warning is is getting students ready, so that when it comes up...they're not suddenly traumatized in that moment." It's not about silencing topics or students, she explained, but about giving students a choice. With the trigger warning, they are able to deal with the topic in a scholarly fashion, rather than emotionally. 

De Barros does not give trigger warnings when he teaches. He says, "To a certain extent with the courses I teach [like] Shakespeare -- for instance -- and the Pedagogy of Sexual Violence, if we don't know that sexual violence is a part, a significant part, of Shakespeare, it raises questions about the way in which the Western literary tradition is taught to students before they get to college." DeBarros thinks that mentioning possible has the potential to simplify a complex pedagogical process. He said that it's surprising if triggers students are unaware of the content of the literature being studied. Greek literature is itself a trigger warning, he argued. The literature is saturated with disturbing and traumatic instances. He said it is surprising when students don't get that.

They also discussed microaggressions, which are questions or comments that whether or intentionally or not, function as derogatory slights toward people in oppressed groups. Some examples of microagressions include: asking a person of Latinx descent, "How is it possible that you don't speak Spanish?" or avoiding eye contact with people with disabilities. DeBarros dismissed microaggressions as a way to simplify complex pedagogical processes. Dines said that microaggressions are examples of structural inequalities. She said that they cannot take the place of understanding the structural ways of how racism, sexism and inequality work. 


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