Last week we saw the brouhaha over the University of Chicago’s anti-trigger warning letter, the Tattooed Professor’s response, and generally a great deal of posting that miss the point about trigger warnings.
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Today's #sundaystudy is Privilege, Power, and Difference by Alan Johnson. If this book doesn't fill you full of rage and a little self loathing you aren't doing "the work." It is an excellent review after these past few weeks also should be required reading for every person doing ANY sort of work with people, no matter their race, class, gender, or background. #secularsundaystudy
The big problem that I had with UC’s letter was that it was based on a fallacious understanding of what trigger warnings are, and follows that bad understanding to a rather silly conclusion that amounts to the dean stomping his big toddler foot and shouting, “We don’t support trigger warnings, you big babies!’
The Tattooed Professor explains what trigger warnings are in perhaps the most understandable analogy possible- they are the academic version of movie ratings. To which no one seems to argue anymore, though I must admit that I remember a time when ratings were argued against.
Here’s the thing, what is so wrong or even bad about putting content information into a syllabus? The professors should know the content of the readings (and other materials) they are assigning students to read, so adding a blurb at the start of the assignment for the day that states, “This reading contains the following: graphic descriptions of domestic violence/suicide/homicide/rape/assault/etc. PLease see the professor, privately, if this is a problem.” Or some such explanation. In some cases simply having the warning is enough for someone to prepare themselves to be reading about their particular trauma and be able to complete the assignment.
This links really well into the SSS reading I chose last week. Johnson writes specifically about dominant groups (in this case professors) being able to dictate what is considered normal in their sphere of influence and power (Ivory Tower BS/College Campus) and that when this power dynamic is shaken, the dominating group will fight back (UC Dean). Watching this play out on facebook has been interesting. I have friends who are professors and friends who could care less about college, and some of both groups have been calling the recent groups of college students “cry babies” and “wimps” due to the desire for trigger warnings and safe places. Interestingly, most of those who respond in such a way seem to think that the desire for trigger warnings is a way for students to get out of work, but in the cases where I’ve seen trigger warnings offered there was always an alternative text or option for reading. Kids aren’t getting out of work by requesting trigger warnings, in some cases they are making more work for themselves. All that is beside the point. The point is that trigger warnings are a cultural shake up in an area that has seen a lot of destabilization in recent years (adjunct unionization, fewer faculty positions, and lower pay all around weeee) so those who are in power want to keep their precious power.
I see this as a good thing for students and universities. Anyone else miss the 90s, when politically correctness meant being kind to your fellow humans, and not the BS that has been assigned to it today?