How far has political correctness gone in this country? The answer to that is varied, as the left would contend there is still much “work” to be done to remove every phobia, every -ism, and coddle everyone’s delicate sensitivities while conservatives counter that the PC obsession of the left stifles free speech, academia and practicality. The debate has raged for some time with no end in sight as the left urges more and more restrictions.
In a New York Times article by Jennifer Medina last week, colleges across the country are struggling with this issue because of student requests for “trigger warnings.” Trigger warnings are “explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom, might upset them.” Some students are even claiming some classroom material and assigned literary works could cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in those students who have been victims of violent crimes, such as rape, or students who are war veterans.
Leading the charge for “trigger warnings” is the University of California at Santa Barbara where the student body government officially called for these types of warnings. It is reported that similar requests have come from students attending Oberlin College, Rutgers University, George Washington University, the University of Michigan and other schools.
Can you imagine being in an institution of higher learning, if you can call today’s colleges that, assigned to read the works of Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald or even the Greek mythologies and find a “warning label” attached to the syllabus regarding explicit content such as sexual images, violence or the topic of racism? Can you imagine being a professor trying to instruct students, expand their knowledge and creativity or broaden their critical thinking skills and having to provide some type of caution or warning regarding the content of every lecture, film and/or syllabus? As a nursing school graduate, there were many lectures, films, photos and textbook content that dealt with violence, sexual abuse, crime and psychological disorders that would have required numerous “trigger” warnings if the PC police had their way. Those topics were not present only in the nursing curriculum but the core curriculum consisting of literature, psychology, sociology and history. How can one train to handle difficult situations when one does not confront those situations?
The debate rages on through every circle as many academics claim professors can be trusted to use common sense and being provocative is part of the mandate. While that claim could be challenged to show that many professors cross the line being provocative and certainly lack some modem of common sense, it is the blanket application of “warning labels” to literary works and classroom content that frankly, at a college level, students should be able to digest. If students are concerned about content or literary works that contain situations that might upset them because of past trauma, it is best handled one on one with the professor on a case by case basis.
According to Lisa Hajjar, a professor of sociology at UCSB, “Any kind of blanket trigger policy is inimical to academic freedom. Any student can request some sort of individual accommodation, but to say we need some kind of one-size-fits-all approach is totally wrong. The presumption here is that students should not be forced to deal with something that makes them uncomfortable is absurd or even dangerous.”
The idea for “trigger warnings” at the University of California Santa Barbara came from student Bailey Loverin back in February when a graphic film about rape was shown by a professor in a classroom setting. As a victim of sexual abuse, Loverin thought some students might experience a level of discomfort, feel threatened or suffer extreme distress because of flashbacks and memories of the trauma, even though she did not feel threatened from the situation she experienced. While Loverin claims there is a distinction between warnings for content that would “trigger” memories of trauma and warning labels for classic literary works, other advocates of these “trigger warnings” do not make this distinction.
Herein lies the problem when political correctness leads the charge inhibiting free speech and expression; political correctness then begins to determine what is acceptable or not acceptable through regulation, such as warning labels or consequences for deviating from political correctness. And who is to determine what is or is not politically correct as that can change with the prevailing wind of ideology. It becomes a game of “keeping up with the Joneses.”
During World War II, the citizens of Germany experienced the bonfires of book burning because of content the Nazi regime determined “unacceptable.” This “cleansing” was initiated by Nazi German students. The world later reacted in shock when it was discovered that works of great literary authors and scientists were destroyed during the madness of Nazism.
Of course, the term “trigger warnings” have been used for over a decade by feminist blogs and forums to inform readers of content that could produce a reaction from those who have suffered some form of sexual abuse.
While the debate rages over “trigger warnings,” the question of free speech, free expression and content of literary works becomes intermingled with the concern for the psychological health of those who have traumatic responses to content.
According to Sarah Roff, a psychiatrist specializing in the psychiatric consequences of trauma, in her opinion piece for “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” the implementation of “trigger warnings” are questionable when it comes to student interests. She cites one of the main cardinal symptoms of post- traumatic stress as avoidance, which she maintains can be “the most impairing symptom of all.” Roff suggests that a person who becomes so traumatized over a life event that “reading a description of a rape in Ovid’s Metamorphoses can trigger nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks,” is likely an individual who is functionally impaired in areas of life beyond the classroom. She contends that triggers are a “contagious phenomenon” and there could never be enough warnings to keep pace with them. Roff believes the job of college educators should not foster the process.
Roff, in her professional opinion, states that “one of the most important treatments for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is exposure therapy;” a process where individuals unlearn the association between triggers and traumatic events. Another treatment along with exposure therapy involves narrative therapy – telling the story repeatedly to remove the trauma from the centralized place in life in order to rebuild. She does not believe that fostering an individual’s further descent into a life of fear and avoidance is a solution to the problem. According to her, faculty members should be trained in the appropriate response to students who have experienced trauma and the tools needed to best guide students in getting the needed help. She even goes on to say that students with particularly intense reactions should be referred to student health services in order to receive “evidence based treatments.”
Her biggest concern involves the blanket application of these warnings that would apply to all students and not just those who have suffered trauma. In her evaluation, she believes this could create an atmosphere where students would be encouraged to believe there is something “dangerous or damaging about discussing difficult aspects of our history.”
As it has been witnessed throughout history and in current events, the implementation of political correctness to one aspect does not make it self-limiting but becomes contagious resulting in an overuse that eventually restricts freedoms. While there is great empathy for those who have been victims of trauma, regardless of the source, the answer does not lie in “trigger warnings” applicable to everything, anything and everyone. This noble idea to shield those from situations that may produce extreme reactions by applying an approach that would be applicable to everyone could lead to shielding everyone from ideas and situations that are held in distaste by the PC police – think Nazi Germany.
How far is the journey from warning labels to book banning and/or burning? How far has America already traveled down the road of political correctness where limitations of freedoms have been felt?
Don’t forget to Like Freedom Outpost on Facebook, Google Plus, & Twitter. You can also get Freedom Outpost delivered to your Amazon Kindle device here.