Can everyone calm down about trigger warnings?

They’re not coddling

Yesterday, the Mail on Sunday reported that Oxford University Law students were given trigger warnings before being taught about the sensitive topic of sexual offences, with the suggestion that this was outrageous and coddling of the University.

Everyone has been jumping on the bandwagon, criticising Oxford for being unique in sheltering its students. But I have some news for those people; Bristol has them too, presumably along with many other universities.

Whilst the article did have some good points – notably Professor Laura Hoyano pointed out that if you wish to pursue Criminal Law you will “have to deal with things which are difficult” – I am writing in defense of trigger warnings, especially in a Law course.

For those of you who do not know, trigger warnings are “a very simple statement at the beginning of an article, film, or comic that lets the audience know that something potentially distressing will appear in the content they’re about to consume.”

I am a Law student and one of our compulsory modules in first year is Criminal Law, with around two lectures dedicated to Sexual Assault. As you can imagine the content is pretty horrific. The facts of some cases will turn your stomach and leave you questioning your faith in humanity, but we have to face it in our compulsory lectures and tutorials.

Critics of trigger warnings often make the valid point that life does not come with trigger warnings. However life is also unlikely to shut you in a room full of judgmental peers and force you to hear gruesome details of sexual assault for 50 minutes with the end comment of ‘the rapist got away because they prosecuted him under the wrong section’, therefore that argument is as invalid as it is close-minded.

It would be ludicrous to suggest skipping out a large portion of a compulsory course – but that’s not what the trigger warnings are for. They simply facilitate an educated decision for the adults taking the course whether they wish to learn through the lectures or would rather teach these facts out of a textbook at home, in a less intense environment. No one is suggesting they skip the content altogether since it could still come up in the exam.

Trigger warnings, at their most basic function, exist to help people who have suffered trauma from being bombarded with triggering experiences which could lead to panic attacks, flashbacks or relapses in mental health. Those are not trivial problems. They can ruin days, weeks or even degrees for trauma survivors, all of which can be avoided with a simple sentence before a lecture.

We were warned before our sexual assault lectures that there would be distressing content. That’s it. A quick email and a sentence at the start. That’s what everyone is getting upset about.

When people claim that trigger warnings are for “cosseted millennials” who need to “toughen up”, they are really saying ‘Your status as a victim and trauma survivor inconveniences me and the two seconds it takes to make sure you don’t have a panic attack are more important to me than your mental health’

Trigger warnings are literally no skin off your back but are the difference between a normal day and severe mental health issues for any potential survivors, so consider that next time you go on a rant about “special snowflakes”