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COMMENT: Respect for the triggered

Why trigger warnings are important.

Holly Ferguson, ECU Reporter and Dircksey Editor

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As the editor of a student magazine, I always strive to ensure that I, my section editors and our contributors consider the thoughts and feelings of readers and provide trigger warnings where necessary.

But, I have learnt that the topic of trigger warnings is very divisive and controversial. This year Monash University became the first uni in Australia to introduce trigger warnings to 15 of their courses in a pilot program.

This move by Monash was prompted by a campaign by the University’s Student Association.

Union President, Matilda Grey, emphasised that warnings are being implemented to allow students who have responses, like anxiety and panic attacks, to certain subjects to prepare themselves for potentially triggering material.

The types of emotionally confronting material that Monash academics are being asked to flag includes course content that touches on sexual assault, violence, domestic abuse, child abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, suicide, pornography, abortion, kidnapping, hate speech, animal cruelty and animal deaths including abattoirs.

As you can see, the subjects that will have warnings aren’t exactly lightweight …

It’s the fear of many critics of trigger warnings that this will evolve into censorship and not prepare students for “the real world” as associate professor, from Newcastle University, Marguerite Johnson told the ABC in an article published earlier this year.

If we look at what the history of trigger warnings, they evolved out of feminist blogs around 15 years ago to allow for readers to anticipate for or remove themselves from reading a text when details of sexual assault were coming up.

I believe that this is a provision that every text, that has subjects like those mentioned previously, should provide.

Adding trigger warnings is foremost a matter of having respect and empathy for survivors of trauma.

It allows for them to avoid situations where they may have a reaction that is out of their control such as anxiety and/or panic attacks.

Professor Johnson said warnings can interrupt the way students approach and interpret work. But surely a panic attack is more of an interruption to not only the student having it, but to their class as well.

Every person’s experience with trauma and way of dealing with it is different. Every individual will also be at different stages and states of dealing with the trauma.

In some cases, survivors welcome content and will comfortably join in conversation. In other cases, being exposed unexpectedly to material that may trigger a survivor can, potentially, cause months, years and thousands of dollars’ worth of therapy to go down the drain.

Monash hasn’t changed any course content in relation to these trigger warnings, they also haven’t made exceptions for those effected by the content to avoid examination regarding it.

Although, I think there should be options for other examinations at least by being warned of the content the person can prepare themselves, either through their own methods or by working with councillors, therapists, psychologists, etc.

Arguments against trigger warnings that label those who have been subjected to traumatic experiences as “emotionally sensitive” or, a popular term, “snowflakes” completely invalidates a victim’s experience.

It tells them that whatever they’ve experienced, that may cause them to have a reaction when faced with related content, be that rape, abuse or any kind of trauma and suffering, is invalid.

To hear this attitude from those who are supposed to make learning environments safe is concerning and utterly careless. It fails to acknowledge conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, which has a variety of symptoms that can be dangerous to the sufferer and is easily triggered by such conversations (especially without warning).

These groups and individuals against trigger warnings claim to be fearful of censorship.

However, ignoring the voices and feelings of advocates and survivors and what reforms they are calling for, is censorship within itself. It’s blatantly avoiding the real life consequences and affects that the issues in conversation have.

Discussing these issues is incredibly important and if there is fair representation in debate then the absence of one or some, following the warning, will not negatively affect it.

I want to express that I do not believe the content of material should change. I just believe there should be warnings regarding content to allow for people to make the decision, for themselves, whether to engage with it or not.

What people, who argue against trigger warnings, seem to be forgetting is we already have forms of trigger warnings well integrated in our media.

In the news, we have warnings to alert when images and content may be distressing. We also have respect for cultural protocols of Indigenous people by warning them where voices and images of the deceased may be present.

Although these warnings are of a different nature in context, the process of the warning is the same. It’s simply a line or two to advise viewers, readers, etc. of material that may affect them.

Personally, I never find these examples an imposition and I doubt many others feel differently.

It is never anyone’s place to discredit someone else’s experience. This is what the argument against trigger warnings is doing. It invalidates real trauma.

It tells those affected that they are weak for not wanting to be reminded of the most traumatic experience of their life.

This attitude lacks any empathy.

I ask those who believe trigger warnings aren’t necessary to imagine their daughter, son, sister, brother or significant other, experiencing something to the extent of sexual assault, violence, domestic abuse, child abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, suicide, abortion, kidnapping, hate speech, etc.

Would you want them to relive this? Would you bring up the subject unexpectedly without warning?

We should be supporting and respecting our peers. Not forcing them into uncomfortable situations, especially in a, supposedly, safe learning environment that they pay and work hard to be a part in.

Continuing to have these important conversations on sexual assault, violence, domestic abuse, child abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, suicide, pornography, abortion, kidnapping, hate speech, animal cruelty and animal deaths including abattoirs, is extremely important in bringing reform and increasing awareness.

We just need to allow for a straightforward warning for when these conversations will be had.

Allowing trigger warnings acknowledges that the issues in conversation have real life implications and further allows for survivors to feel supported and respected in their learning environments and in society.

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Quality journalism by ECU students
COMMENT: Respect for the triggered