More trigger warnings in the UK

I’m not sure which way Regressive Leftism migrates between Anglophone countries. It may start in the UK and move here, or travel in the reverse direction, or arise spontaneously in both places at the same time as a form of convergent cultural evoltuion. My guess would be option #1 (U.S. origin), but it doesn’t matter. What matters is stopping this fulminating movement whose effect is to promote censorship and enshrine a uniform set of ideas that aren’t to be questioned.

One aspect of this movement is ‘trigger warnings’. While I don’t object to all of them—I, for instance, would call attention beforehand to any gory or gross imagery I’d show classes—they have reached unconscionable extremes.  Scenes of violence in classical literature, religion itself, eating and drinking, spiders, Nazis, needles, “dismissal of lived oppressions” (what oppressions are unlived?): all of these have counted as trigger warnings. (If you think I jest, see the list here.) There has even been some objection to law schools teaching sexual assault law as it makes students uncomfortable, but of course such instruction is necessary, and one would think that Leftists would favor it. Such is the dilemma of the Regressive Left, in which two liberal values conflict, with the lesser one often winning.

Trigger warning should always be optional, but professors should, I think, exercise some judgment about giving them. “Eating and drinking” is simply not something that you need to warn people about—it’s everywhere! So is violence, at least the type describe in Greek literature, which is often fictional. My own view is that you should announce at the beginning of a course that if students have problems with some issues, they should see you privately outside of class, but that they should never be allowed to avoid material that you’ve determined is essential to your course.

Now, according to an article in yesterday’s Independent, trigger warnings are spreading to the UK, and over subjects that need to be taught:

Academics at universities including Edinburgh, the London School of Economics (LSE), Goldsmiths, Stirling and Central Lancashire are warning students of material they think could be “disturbing”, giving them the option of leaving the lecture room if they decide to. The warnings have been issued ahead of lectures on topics including Christianity, popular culture, history, forensic science, photography, politics and law.

Seriously? Christianity? History? Photography? Politics and law? What kind of students are we bringing up here? Answer: ones who feel entitled to not only be offended at many things, but to be allowed the option of avoiding them.

Even prominent feminists have decried this trend, and suggested, as has Jon Haidt, that therapy rather than warnings is the way to deal with the issue:

Dr Naomi Wolf, feminist and recent university lecturer in Victorian sexualities, told The Sunday Times: “Trauma from sexual or other assault and abuse is very real, and ‘triggers’ are real for victims of abuse. But the place to process or deal with survivor triggers is with a trained therapist in a counsellor’s office, and not in a classroom or university context.”

. . . Earlier this year, television presenter and Cambridge scholar Mary Beard argued students must not be shielded from difficult subject matters. “It would be dishonest, fundamentally dishonest, to teach only Roman history and to miss out not just the rape of the Sabines but all their rapes. We have to encourage students to be able to face that, even when they find they’re awkward and difficult for all kinds of good reasons,” Ms Beard told TheSunday Times.

The real danger of trigger warnings is that they pressure faculty to either leave material out of the lecture, or to give students the option of not attending those lectures. Some proponents of trigger warnings say this doesn’t happen, but in fact it does, as shown by the permissive policy of LSE, Goldsmiths, Stirling, and Central Lancashire describe above. And here’s more:

Meanwhile archeology students at University College London were reportedly told last month they could leave the lecture without being penalised if they find it too “distressing”, with lecturer Gabriel Moshenka claiming it was a necessary measure as the material might induce psychological trauma. The trend echoes a wave of trigger warnings in universities acorss America, after some colleges highlighted material containing references to subjects such as rape, suicide, abortion and racism that might potentially upset undergraduates who had experienced traumas.

And there’s that pesky issue of teaching rape law:

In May it was revealed undergraduate law students at Oxford University were being issued with trigger warnings before lectures containing material deemed too “distressing”, a move that prompted a wave of criticism. At the time, law lecturer Laura Hoyano insisted those who wish to study law “have to deal with things that are difficult”, telling Mail Online: “We can’t remove sexual offences from the criminal law syllabus – obviously.”

I can only imagine what society, or at least those parts of society involving college students, will be like in 20 years.

h/t: Paul

67 Comments

  1. J.Baldwin
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Can the demand for trigger warnings, and the optional avoidance of material, by religious students regarding references to evolution be far off?

    • Posted October 11, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Good point. After all, they could make a plausible case that it offends and triggers them!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      I’d be gob-smacked if that card hadn’t already been played – in fact, I’m pretty sure that it already has been tried in primary and secondary education. For an example, when I was taught “Religious Education” (final course comment : “Exam mark 100% – As an atheist, Aidan should be ashamed of himself!”), the form’s Muslims and Jehovas had the option (which none took) to absent themselves from the classes.
      ISTR that the card has been tried w.r.t sex education and evolution in various cases in the US, but I don’t waste much time monitoring the details over there.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      I was asked by a student to be excused from my lectures on evolution, citing religious belief. Before I responded I did a little online research on this issue to see if there were official guidelines. What I found was a lot of advice, essentially entirely for pre-college teaching, but really no official-looking guidelines. It seemed to me that teachers were being left to make up their own minds on which way to go, and that was sad since any teacher who wanted to insist on teaching the science was not being backed up by official ruling. So any teacher wanting to stick to the science and require students to be exposed to it would bear the brunt of parental disapproval on their own without protection.

      I just crossed my fingers and said sorry, but no, and that was that.

  2. rickflick
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    When trigger warning are described, I always have the feeling they must mean middle school students, not college. Naomi Wolf’s observation that for the sensitive student the place to process is in a counselors office is right on.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Sorry – comprehension failure here. “Counsellor’s office”?

      • rickflick
        Posted October 11, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        Please begin with a trigger warning whenever you criticize my spelling. Yes, “counsellor’s office”.
        😎

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 11, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

          No. Not the trans-pondian spelling. What is one of those?

          • rickflick
            Posted October 11, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

            It’s the office of a trained therapist who would presumably be able to help the youth overcome his or her triggerability. I’ve only seen them in films where the therapist holds a note pad and the patient reclines on a *trigger warning* …couch.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted October 11, 2016 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

              [Shrug] We had a book of names, dates and counts of strokes of the cane. Not the same thing, I think.

  3. phoffman56
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    “…giving them the option of leaving the lecture room if they decide to”

    and

    “..they could leave the lecture without being penalised..”

    I’ve been, both at the back and at the front, in classrooms in decent universities of U.S. and U.K. and several other countries. To me, students coming and going in a polite and carefully non-interfering way, seems to always be perfectly normal,if rare, and should be beside the point to the lecturer. I’m not talking about a tutorial with very few students where a brief explanation would of course be polite. But it really begins to sound more like a kindergarten than a university when you see these university administrators’ comments about ‘forced’ attendance.

    • jeffery
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Even in kindergarten, they don’t let you leave the room if you see something you don’t like.

      • rickflick
        Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        “something you don’t like”

        I saw a clip yesterday of the Donald walking into a classroom full of 6 year olds. One child kept repeating “I’m nervous”, another said “see his hair isn’t orange”. But no one left the room.

    • eric
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      I had a thought that is a variation on your point. Which is to say: “I will give trigger warnings” and “you won’t be penalized for not knowing the material” are two separate policy decisions, and they don’t necessarily have to go together. Its perfectly possible for a school or a professor to decide (a) I will give trigger warnings in case someone really needs to leave, but (b) the material will still be covered by assignments. Then you leave it up to the student to decide whether to attend or not.

      University students are supposed to be learning to make independent, adult decisions; choosing to forego points on a test due to ideological or psychological conflicts is an adult decision they need to learn.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 11, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

        In my first year at university we were introduced to set theory – badly. Without any explanation of the purpose or wider context, we were just presented with a whole series of arbitrary definitions (“we define a binary operation multiplication blah blah blah”

        I decided the whole thing was childish and pointless (in the absence of any context) and there were other things I needed to learn more urgently. So I just ignored those lectures. I managed to pass maths, just, on the other three-quarters of the syllabus.

        cr

    • Posted October 11, 2016 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      At our university, practicals and seminars are mandatory but lecture attendance is voluntary. If a student can prepare for the exam by reading in the library or at home, OK. But my observation is that performance at the exam is positively correlated to lecture attendance.

      I have had 2 or 3 students who have said that evolution interferes with their religious views. I have told them that they are obliged to study theory of evolution and to explain it if asked, and after explaining it, they are free to say that they disagree with it for religious reasons.

  4. barn owl
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    “Corpses, skulls, and skeletons”

    Hmmm, I spend ~70% of my time at work teaching human gross anatomy and neuroanatomy. Those trigger warnings erase my lived experience … and my livelihood!

    • rickflick
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      I remember when I was in high school, we dissected worms, frogs, and cats (apple ogies). Since then I think all the schools have moved to computer simulations. The newer students probably have never experienced that wonderful smell of formaldehyde in the morning.

      • barn owl
        Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        I teach medical and dental students. Can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t want a surgeon or a dentist who was trained exclusively on computer simulations doing any procedures on me. There are fancy expensive 3D virtual anatomy programs available now, but so far I’m not impressed with the images or the scope. Of course I’m biased, and watching students manipulate the images on the screen is an actual migraine trigger for me. I’m fine with being in the cadaver lab and helping students dissect instead.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 11, 2016 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        … or the lecturer’s comments about the need for observing carefully, after sucking a digit?

        • jeremy pereira
          Posted October 12, 2016 at 7:20 am | Permalink

          Is that the diabetes test? Dip your finger in a “urine” sample. Suck your finger to see if it tastes sugary?

          The most important detail (which the hapless student would know, if he had observed the professor’s demonstration carefully) is that you dip one finger but taste a different finger.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 13, 2016 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

            No … not the diabtes test (where you taste, but need not swallow). The version I’m thinking of is sticking one (gloved) finger up the rectum of the body on the slab, then licking a different finger. An observation test for the students.

            • jeremy pereira
              Posted October 17, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

              It’s the same joke.

    • tubby
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      That’s a shame. I thought the US was a country where we didn’t use physical violence against people who say, type, or draw things we don’t like in order to punish them and make others afraid.

      • tubby
        Posted October 11, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        Out of curiosity I went to find gallery descriptions and artists statements for the pieces. They look like faux art garbage to me, but hey maybe there’s something here I just don’t see. After reading a set of statements on his work I’m pretty sure those were an attempt to make it seem like there was purpose, intent, meaning, some kind to message about society but was little more than a bafflegab. The meaning I sought in these incomprehensible defacements of the work of others had as little substance as a fleeting shadow seen from the corner of your eye. At first you think that maybe something in there, but it turns out it’s just toothpaste on a magazine cover and nothing more.

        My questions now are what the curator saw in his work, and what to do with this word salad I just made.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 11, 2016 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

          I think your account is a fair summation of the ‘art’ in question. I also have a sneaking suspicion that the artist was deliberately trying to be offensive in order to make his ‘art’ seem more significant than it was.

          I think the gallery, for showing it, deserves some public derision (which it sadly probably won’t get from art critics). Not on grounds of race, on grounds of rubbish. But obviously NOT assaults on its staff (who may also think it’s rubbish, who knows?). And the director absolutely shouldn’t get fired over it, unless he has a long history of choosing duds.

          cr

          • tubby
            Posted October 11, 2016 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

            It and the museum deserve a scathing review in the local papers and general derision for having been fooled into putting faux art on display. This is the sort of thing the public and critics should turn their noses up at, turn away from, and forget.

  5. Flemur
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    (If you think I jest, see the list here.)
    I don’t understand why you refer to that site: it’s just two neurotic girls blathering, and not representative of a university or any other non-trivial organization.

    Where else is fear of irregular bumps an issue?

    I can put up a website claiming that there should be trigger warnings about paper, headphones, flat surfaces, air, trigger warnings, lack of trigger warnings and fear of trigger warnings.

    they could leave the lecture without being penalised if they find it too “distressing”, with lecturer Gabriel Moshenka claiming it was a necessary measure as the material might induce psychological trauma.

    Trigger warnings are a form of bullying, an attempt to induce “psychological trauma” in normal people.

    The “list” website, “Kyriarchy and Privilege 101” accidentally gives itself away with its name:

    Wiki: “Kyriarchy is a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission.”

    That’s what they’re trying to accomplish.

  6. jeffery
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    “… this fulminating movement whose effect is to promote censorship and enshrine a uniform set of ideas that aren’t to be questioned.”

    I’d been trying to come up with a working definition of the “offense culture”, but I can quit, now: yours is the best I’ve seen and I’ll hang onto it. I DO think, however, that to ascribe to it the term, “movement” is to grant undeserved validity to what I see as a morbid psychopathology on par with the Victorian notion of “hysteria”.

    • ploubere
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      sub

  7. Merilee
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Sub

  8. GBJames
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    sub

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    What about serious literature focused on rape?

    Alice Walker’s much-loved “The Color Purple” opens with a rape scene and there is a dramatic one in Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”.

    The Jodi Foster move “The Accused” has a harrowing rape scene, and is focused on the difficulty of prosecution.

    Shakespeare’s little-read narrative poem “The Rape of Lucrece” is wholly focused on the horrors of rape as well.

    • Posted October 11, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Also The Raj Quartet, by Paul Scott, and another Ango-Indian novel, A Passage to India.

    • ploubere
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Leaving Las Vegas has a particularly vicious gang rape scene which I would have liked not to have seen. But to be fair, movies do come with ratings, which are a form of trigger warning.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      Down the Maslow hierarchy in genre-lit, John Grisham’s novel A Time to Kill opens with a gruesome gang rape.

  10. Rob
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    There are images, videos, locations that I’ve experienced, that I find very disturbing, such as events having to do with the holocaust. Certainly there is some benefit that comes from my discomfort. It creates in me attitudes of “never again” and standing up for human rights because I know what happens when certain segments of society of demonized. (That is just one example of dealing with something I find extremely unpleasant.)

  11. Gordon
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    But for a piece of good news there seems to be an increasing movement (according to the most recent Spectator) for students to be countering this sort of nonsense by organising free speech societies and attempting, and sometimes succeeding, in organising motions to disaffiliate from the NUS

  12. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    There has even been some objection to law schools teaching sexual assault law as it makes students uncomfortable

    Wasn’t there some kerfuffle over the weekend due to some orange-headed buffoon trying to make something out of a court-appointed lawyer being assigned to defend the accused in a rape case? Something about how this was allowed by something called a “Constitution,” and this “Constitution” should be repealed. Starting with amendment #22.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      It’s not the only amendment he doesn’t like. Freedom of the press is something he has a problem with too, and he wants to introduce new laws limiting it. Not too keen on the presumption of innocence and a fair trial either, which also got a mention over the weekend. Then there’s his commitment to the goals of the “Religious Freedom” crowd. So much for the first amendment. And I could go on.

      Yet his supporters tout him as the candidate who will protect the Constitution. What they mean is their ability to shoot anyone they want and get away with it.

      • rickflick
        Posted October 11, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for filling me in on Trumps deeper dangers. I think most people are so caught up with his bully tactics on stage we forget how much of a risk he is on fundamental aspects of government.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 11, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        What they mean is their ability to shoot anyone they want and get away with it.

        As long as the lead travels in the direction [lighter skin] to [darker skin].

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted October 11, 2016 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

          Exactly what I was thinking when I wrote that!

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 12, 2016 at 3:56 am | Permalink

            Cynics’Я’Us

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 11, 2016 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        They probably don’t even know what the Constipation says.

        Only the Sacred Second Amendment.

        cr

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Trump is a disaster on civil liberties! Sad!

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 12, 2016 at 3:59 am | Permalink

        And he’ll still be cheered into the Reichstag come Janua-vember (whenever he gets the keys to the nukes).

  13. Zado
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Those who can’t confront evil will be powerless to stop it.

  14. TJR
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    In tutorials for our Forensics students we use the example of OJ Simpson being a wife-beater. I always feel very awkward and embarrassed talking about wife-beating to a class that is 75% female.

    Maybe I need to give myself a trigger warning.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      I always think this Trigger Warning stuff is tougher on teachers etc than students. It seems to me they’re in a very risky situation, and doing their best to do the right thing doesn’t seem to help much.

      • ploubere
        Posted October 11, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Yes, it is worrisome. I teach in a journalism school where we make a bit of a deal about the first amendment. If we have to excuse students from any news item or topic that might offend someone, then we’ll have little to discuss, and it will make that amendment moot.

    • Posted October 11, 2016 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      Why would anyone triggered by accounts of violence be studying forensics?

      What jobs do they think a forensic qualification is going to get them?

      • Posted October 11, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        I am sick of students who have pushed themselves, or (too often) have been pushed by their parents, into a specialty that is not for them, and now want teachers to bend the rules of the university and declare their poor performance acceptable.

  15. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Perfectly adequate trigger warnings for classes can just include a passage in the syllabus to the effect: “Warning: This class includes depictions of [insert details here], that may be triggering to some students. Please see the instructor in advance if any concerns arise”.

    The regressive left generally emphasizes that that is pretty much what they are asking for, and it does seem reasonable. But what they seem to forget is the ever increasing scope of what is deemed triggering, and they also forget the many cases where a potentially triggering event causes efforts to shut down the event.

  16. Posted October 11, 2016 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure which way Regressive Leftism migrates between Anglophone countries

    Pretty sure most of it comes from the US to the UK – why else would British universities suddenly become obsessive over the ‘cultural appropriation’ of sombreros?

    It’s not like the UK has a serious anti-Mexican hate-crime problem.

  17. Gareth Price
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Meanwhile archeology students at University College London were reportedly told last month they could leave the lecture without being penalised if they find it too “distressing”

    I was slightly puzzled by this statement. When I was a student in England there was no requirement to turn up to lectures. Has that changed?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      That incident may be making too much of almost nothing, come to think of it.

      I’m assuming attendance at lectures is not compulsory, and I think the lecturer was just being a little bit cautious in reminding students they could always exercise their option to leave if they wished.

      (Of course I could be worng)

      cr

  18. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    “Earlier this year, television presenter and Cambridge scholar Mary Beard argued students must not be shielded from difficult subject matters. “It would be dishonest, fundamentally dishonest, to teach only Roman history and to miss out not just the rape of the Sabines but all their rapes.”

    I just Googled the Sabine women (no trigger warning on the Wikipedia page!) and found out it wasn’t simply ‘rape’ as such. ‘Abduction’ would be a more accurate translation, but again the whole story is very complicated. (I won’t attempt to describe it, read the Wikipedia page. It’s a ripping good yarn).

    But while agree with Mary Beard in principle, I have to ask – why rapes in particular? Shouldn’t the frequent massacres that the Romans were involved in be considered worse? Why would anyone, obsessed with PC or ‘triggering’, omit the rapes but leave the killings in?

    (IMO it should all be left in, but I would leave out the more explicit gory details unless absolutely relevant).

    cr

    • Posted October 12, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      And there was a political assassination (at least one! ;)) that we all should know something about. Surely that’s a bit of gory Roman history too!

  19. Macha
    Posted October 12, 2016 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    I think there should have been a trigger warning before the Clinton-Trump “debate”, I mean that guy is just obscene (with a capital O).

    • rickflick
      Posted October 12, 2016 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      Heather has a nice article today analyzing the debate (check it out – Heather’s Homilies). In it she includes a cartoon with a couple tuned in to TV:

      “Coming up, more from the presidential campaign. Viewer discretion is advised.”

      • Macha
        Posted October 12, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, good link.

  20. Posted October 12, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I actually read this report and it is very informative.


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