Is Academia Going Mad?

The leading indicators of insanity involve arbitrary claims and magical thinking. For examples of both, consider this recent story:

A proposal by University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) junior Bailey Loverin would force professors to issue “trigger warnings” before teaching content that may offend. In the video, Loverin says, “So, a ‘trigger warning’ warns you about content that you may be facing that could provoke a response based on symptoms of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].”

Loverin recounts watching a film in class of “a very drawn out rape scene.” She admits that it did not affect her, but she “recognized the potential for it to be very triggering.” Provoked into activism, Loverin authored the resolution and now it is before the faculty legislative body to become a mandate for all professors to issue warnings. She believes adopting this as an official policy is just what UCSB needs.

Loverin defends her stance against those who think “trigger warnings” are unnecessary. She says, “It’s really not anyone else’s business to tell someone when they are mentally and emotionally ready to deal with things.” [Source: and]

This proposal, first of all, requires nothing less than omniscience (i.e., impossible knowledge) on the part of any college professor. It would be like telling a psychologist or psychotherapist, “Now whatever you do, don’t trigger this new patient. You have no idea what her history and experience has been.” Well, how are you to even find out without asking?

No remotely rational person would expect a psychotherapist to have this impossible knowledge before meeting with a new patient or client. Yet that’s precisely what’s demanded of college professors by this proposed regulation — and they’re not even psychotherapists! We’re now demanding that college professors, in all disciplines, place borderline-ESP-level sensitivity as a higher priority than efficiently and competently teaching the classes they’re hired and trained to teach.

What other false assumptions are contained in this proposal?

False assumption # 1: People are unable to contain or control their emotions. Actually, people do it all the time. I hear things from people that I simply cannot believe they have encountered or are dealing with. They may or may not be coping well, internally; but you’d never know it from the outside. While emotional repression and denial are never healthy things, it’s admirable to find a way to get oneself through the day despite the particular challenges — terminal illness, loved one’s problems — one may be facing.

This proposal assumes that people are much more fragile than they really are. It’s demeaning and insulting. More than that, it holds teachers and external agents responsible for the emotional states and reactions of others. Can you imagine the lawsuits lurking behind this idea? This proposal basically says, “You’re not responsible for any of your emotions. Someone else is. You have a right not to be offended — and a right to make sure another anticipates your feelings of being offended, even before they happen.” It’s truly madness.

False assumption # 2: Traumatized people want this. How do we know that? How do we know that a traumatized person — from rape, sexual abuse, or whatever it might have been — might not prefer to keep his or her privacy intact? Once the warning is issued, then it will be obvious who fails to show up for the offending video. What then?

Why is it automatically and always assumed that people wish to be taken care of, fussed over or given special attention because of their victimization? In my experience, people actually want just the opposite. They’ve been put upon enough and they don’t wish to draw even more attention to their problem. It’s not that they’re ashamed. They’re desperately looking for a way to move on, and being given an Official Victim Permission Slip in order to make some vapid college undergraduate feel superior does not help them.

False assumption # 3: Traumatized people have no other options. Who says? Isn’t a traumatized person capable of telling him- or herself, “I think I’ll stay away from that course, or at least that particular lecture with the rape video. I don’t think I’ll like the way I’ll feel after watching that.”

People respond differently to trauma, just as they respond differently to grief and loss. Why the one size fits all? The supposed emphasis on college campuses today is diversity; but what we’re really moving towards is uniformity, and this is just one more example of it. Whenever someone thinks they have a good idea, they instantly seek to mandate it for everybody — and if you disagree, watch out!

Human beings are marvelous creatures, when left alone and responsible to fulfill their potentials. They are capable of reasoning, perspective and rational self-awareness. They don’t always exercise it consistently, and some never do at all; but the choice is always there.

These “warning label” mandates are never about protecting anyone. They’re about the psychological exhibitionism of those promoting them: “Look at me. And you agree … don’t you?”

If you ask me, it’s like a dare: “Hey, professors, I dare you not to vote for this one. If you don’t, then you’ll be hung out to dry as the professor who doesn’t care about women who have been raped.”

It’s a perfectly awful precedent, for a college campus most of all. Making a rule or a law against saying something that will “make” me feel or “trigger” me to feel a certain way? How long before we have rules or laws against “making” me feel angry or hurt because you disagree with me on an ethical or political point-of-view?

And precisely whose political points-of-view will be protected, and punished, in the event such a trend gains traction?



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