By Kyra Louie, Staff Writer

Are trigger warnings an empathetic way of warning students about potentially traumatic material, or do they "limit academic freedom?"/ PHOTO VIA Flickr user Andrew Munro

Are trigger warnings an empathetic way of warning students about potentially traumatic material, or do they “limit academic freedom?”/ PHOTO VIA Flickr user Andrew Munro

As I scrolled through social media sites over the past few years, the word “trigger warning” had stood out to me from the normal cacophony of the Internet.  It was like a buffer. It was someone telling me that what was to come in the following article, post, video, audio or visual, might be disturbing and bring back traumatic memories.

Since then, to my surprise, trigger warnings have made their way out into the ‘real world,’ so to speak, in the world of academia. At University of California, Santa Barbara, the Associated Students Senators had it mandated to put trigger warnings in all syllabi for the appropriate class.

Trigger warnings first started to appear online in July of 2003, and over the next four years, the phrase started to pepper all sorts of blogs and other forum sites. The warning was used mostly to warn people of sexual assault, eating disorders, self-harm, graphic violence and any other traumatic experiences.

These warnings are a precaution. They are there to warn students that the material of the class might affect someone, which doesn’t mean that everyone will be affected, or anyone for that matter. But the fact that UCSB and other liberal colleges and universities give trigger warnings seems like a polite and empathetic gesture, at least in my book.

On the first day of one of my journalism classes, my professor stood at the head of the table and announced that we would be working with graphic material in this course. The words “trigger warning” didn’t need to be stated. My professor made a choice to be empathetic and warn us about the material prior to the start of class, and for that I am grateful.

Others may be less sensitive to trigger warnings. This isn’t because they are cold-hearted, but rather that we all come from different backgrounds and upbringings. It is definitely not wrong to not support the warnings; however, my own opinion is that they are necessary out of respect for those who have been through traumatizing experiences.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released a statement last Wednesday about trigger warnings, which they deemed, “A current threat to academic freedom.” Earlier this week, the AAUP was quoted in an article saying that “trigger warnings were a way of displacing the problem [of cases of sexual assault and campus violence]”.

Classes have required content, and those students do not have a choice in what the material is. Like all classes, the material is mandatory if you want to pass the class. I am not saying universities should sift through and edit down class material on a collegiate level to make students more comfortable. Keep the material as it is, but state either in the syllabi or out loud that there will be graphic content in the course.

Trigger warnings are not a way of displacing the problem, but rather a nice gesture. They are a precaution to make sure students who suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety or anything else aren’t triggered into a panic attack or something worse. So be kind and courteous to everyone around you, because you don’t know what they’ve experienced.