79°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Trigger warnings on university syllabi may do more harm than good

A new wave of activities, which border perilously close to censorship, has begun rearing its head in the American school system — trigger warnings. Universities around the country, including UC Santa Barbara, have begun to slowly adopt the practice of encouraging professors to attach “notices” or “cautions” to their syllabi if they could potentially be deemed to contain information that could cause emotional distress to students present.

In the schools that employ this system, the students could choose to take the class and instead be excused from attending lectures concerning the subjects or topics that cause them discomfort.

Usually, these sort of warnings are employed on the ever unpredictable internet. Websites containing sensitive materials sometimes contain banners or warnings, usually referred to as trigger warnings,  to inform potential viewers and visitors that the site may have material that some may consider harmful, distressing or offensive.

Trigger warnings could sometimes be a good idea; for example, when surfing the web around youngsters, one might want to be wary about the sort of site they’re about to delve into, lest the children be exposed to explicit material. They also help protect against the triggering traumatic experiences by viewers who may have suffered through some kind of traumatic ordeal in the past.

In an academic setup it could also be useful, as no one can be too sure which materials may upset a student who has had a grievous experience. Students have the right to be informed of the potentially harmful material, and they should be granted the privilege of excused absences from sections of the class that fall into that category. They should be allowed to consult the respective professors so as to work out beneficial situations regarding excused absences and make up work.

Still, such a system is ripe for exploitation and misapplication of benefits. Theoretically, a student could feign offence at particular topics being discussed in the course of a semester and therefore be excused from those classes with no repercussion. They can simply miss class when they don’t feel like attending.

Putting aside students’ penchant for finding ways to skip classes, this trigger could pose even more significant issues. Students who believe that certain aspects of a course’s syllabus conflict with their religious, moral, and/or sociopolitical views can choose to remain ignorant to opposing viewpoints.

With what is the equivalent to an ironclad excuse granted to them by the university no less, students can remain sheltered, thus defeating the very purpose of attending university in the first place.

A student should not choose, without being exposed to the information of material they are willing to learn. That hinders experience, exposure to different ideologies, and prevents a student to both think critically and truly comprehend where they stand on complex, polarizing issues.