The Minnesota Student Association approved a resolution last week that will ask instructors to add trigger warnings to their syllabi to prevent students from being exposed to material that could trigger adverse psychological reactions.
While the resolution has no real power, it advocates a policy that has some troubling implications. Topics that warrant trigger warnings, according to MSA, include graphic descriptions of abuse, torture, sexual violence and self-harming behavior. They also include depictions or discussion of people going through severe mental health or body image issues.
We recognize that there are victims of serious trauma on campus and that they would benefit from the inclusion of trigger warnings. However, if trigger warnings were to become a requirement at the University, there must be a way to make sure that students trying to shirk work don’t take advantage of them.
One solution to this could be to require students to seek an exemption from classwork on certain topics from their instructor or from the University’s Mental Health Clinic in private if they feel they cannot speak with the instructor.
Higher education, especially the liberal arts, is only successful when the classroom takes time to address difficult topics head-on. Given the broad and often vague nature of these trigger warnings, they may offer too easy a route out of class. We feel that being required to gain an exemption would be a fair compromise if trigger warnings become commonplace.