Traumatic times shouldn’t shield learning opportunities

I don’t like orange juice like I once did. Even typing the words brings me back to a time where I would rather not be. It’s what I drank for two years while visiting my once perfectly healthy brother, who, in a split second, transformed to an unfamiliar, mentally and physically debilitated vegetable.A car hit him at 45 miles per hour. It was serious – traumatic enough for my eleven-year-old brain to know that I might not see him again.

The beverage, which seemed like the only one that Children’s Memorial Hospital ever had in stock, is a trigger for me. The definition of a trigger is disputed, but it is most commonly referred to as something – an object, smell, word – that sets off a memory from a traumatic event in one’s life. I don’t drink orange juice, but my friends do. I don’t need to be notified when they’re about to do it, either.

Something like: “TRIGGER WARNING: coma, death, familial hardship,” is unnecessary. Last week, students at University of California Santa Barbara expressed that these precautionary measures are necessary in a classroom in order to foster a productive learning environment.

Students passed a resolution calling for professors at the university to be required to provide trigger warnings on their syllabi, and excusing students from lectures that may trigger feelings that onset post-traumatic stress disorder.

Essentially, students who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder are permitted to skip lectures or assignments that might trigger negative or uncomfortable feelings associated with their trauma. Discussion about trigger warnings in the classroom ensued after a lecture at UC Santa Barbara aroused uncomfortable feelings within the student spearheading the project, who is a victim of sexual assault.

There is no imagining what she might have been feeling at the time her professor showed a video that included a violent depiction of rape, but to assume that trigger warnings can prevent such feelings from being felt is naêÑԏve.

If trigger warnings are meant to prevent those who have experienced a significantly traumatic experience from encountering something that might cause a sensory reaction associated with their trauma, I can tell you now that there is only one possible precaution to take: TRIGGER WARNING: If you have experienced something traumatic in your lifetime, walking outside of your house is risky.

If the goal is to shield victims from anything that might trigger a memory from a trauma, trigger warnings such as this would have to be placed everywhere. Victims of trauma are entitled to healing in whatever way they feel necessary, but shying away from topics such as sexism, racism or classism in the classroom would disregard a plethora of essential discussions used to understand the past, the present and the future.

“I am not for giving out trigger warnings,” Tom Krainz, a DePaul history professor, said. “I think that excusing a student from a topic avoids an opportunity for education.”

Krainz teaches Women’s History this quarter, a class that deals with topics of racism, sexism, rape, sexual assault and violence, often in one lecture alone. Along with excusing students from a potentially large number of lectures and assignments, universities also face the problem of determining the types of trauma victims that should be excused.

How can anyone determine the level of severity a trauma holds?

It then becomes the difference between someone who can produce a doctor’s note stating that he or she has PTSD and someone who may have experienced a lifetime of traumas and has never once been to a psychologist.

“Although it is not a professor’s job to deal with a student’s trauma, I think topics can be discussed at a more general level, to the point where most individuals can look at a controversial topic more objectively and learn from it,” Krainz said.

In the past, Krainz has excused students who have addressed him individually about their discomfort with a specific topic or book. He said he has no problem replacing this material for students that feel triggered, but to provide routine triggers warnings would be “presumptuous on the teacher’s part,” as there is no way for professors to determine what topics should or should not be warned against.

But even if research could provide a list of all potential triggers for any given topic, the idea of warning against them ultimately counteracts the main purpose of higher-level learning: to explore diversity in ideas, and challenge the ones that you already hold.

The strongest opinions I profess are ones that have been challenged by exterior influences – thought-provoking professors, trying circumstances, or the “devil’s advocate” that we’ve all shared a class with. Every time my convictions are tried, I find new ways to defend them; I discover another reason as to why I formed them in the first place. In many ways, that’s what education is about – having your beliefs threatened, strengthening your connection with them, or realizing that you weren’t so right to begin with.

You are in the wrong place if you’re enrolled in a class for constant praise. It is no coincidence that our hardest times tend to be our biggest learning experiences. Shutting out the opportunity to learn from diverse opinions and controversial topics would be to lessen our chances of evolving.

If any of these ideas trigger an uncomfortable feeling within you in any way, I’m sorry that I’m not sorry. That’s why I didn’t include a trigger warning in the first place.

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