Sarah Tuttle-Singer
Sarah Tuttle-Singer

I’m calling bull$hit on “Trigger Warnings”

TRIGGER WARNING: I’m about to call bullshit on trigger warnings.

I walked by Royce hall at UCLA (go Bruins!) last week when I was visiting my dad. There were a group of grownup students sitting on the steps – Like, real grownups — the kind of grownups old enough to get married without parental permission, have babies without the whole entire world batting an eye, and even belly up to the bar without a fake id.

Grown. Ups.

And they were sitting there with their notepads and laptops, earnest in the sweet LA sun, like a group of grownup college students should be, and as I walked by, I heard the instructor say in the exact-same voice I used back in the day when I taught preschool:

“Ok, everyone, I’m so glad you’re heeerrreeeeee 🙂 Before we begin, here are the trigger warnings for today’s class…. ”

Um, WTF is a trigger warning?

Well, apparently, this it’s a thing, and it’s where instructors need to tell their grown ass students if there is a potential “trigger” (i.e. Something disturbing) in their class.

Yes, I understand that trigger warnings are meant to protect students who have suffered one of the triggers from experiencing PTSD.

And yes, there are serious triggers:

Like war, addiction, rape, abuse…

And yes these are serious, awful, and upsetting things. And YES, I can tell you that having survived an abusive relationship where I was pushed and choked and throttled almost every day for two years, I bite the inside of my lip when I see a movie scene where I woman is beaten, or when I read about it in a book, or when I hear about it on the news… but while PTSD IS serious, these trigger warnings don’t mitigate the stress I feel.

Nor should it.

Because the stress I feel is important. It forces me to face my fear, and talk about it openly and honestly. And even though it isn’t comfortable all the time, that’s part of living.

Let me tell you something – I lived a safe and sheltered life. I never grew up hungry, or hurt, or afraid. I had a strict curfew, and parents who would smooth the rough edges for me. I’m not saying that is a bad thing. But when I found myself out there in the world, I wasn’t prepared to deal with it by myself. And when I landed hard on my ass, it took me a long time to get up again. And these trigger warnings trigger me: I see them as an extension of that over-protectiveness — padded helmets, and kneepads, and boundaries up to three feet, curfews and phone calls, and earnest meetings with teachers about a B- on a history paper. Trigger warnings is helicopter parenting by extension – in loco parentis, the instructor coddles, but doesn’t teach.

And here’s why it’s so bad – and even dangerous:

Life ain’t got no trigger warnings. There IS violence. There IS rape. There IS addiction. And avoiding these things is 1. Impossible. 2. Counterproductive. Trigger warnings actually hurt our ability to deal with the triggers themselves — and yes, there are terrible, horrible things. And when we don’t face them head on, we enable them. Yes, even survivors, even when it’s hard to hear these things, we must hear them. And sometimes, unfiltered.

We really need to stop treating our college students like children. They’re old enough to pick a major and a career path. They’re old enough to get married. They’re old enough to be parents. They’re old enough to fight and die in a war. And college is a time when you’re SUPPOSED to stretch your limits and have those tested by others — it’s preparation for the real world. And the real world is a vast and wondrous place.

So why are we coddling them?

And more over, why are we telling them WHAT to think instead of HOW to think?

We need to treat adults like adults and instead of protecting them from the ugly, we need to help them deal with it by facing taking away the trigger and facing them with no fear. That way, they are prepared to take on the world and help change the systems that enable these triggers to exist in the first place.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, author of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered and the New Media Editor at Times of Israel, She was raised in Venice Beach, California on Yiddish lullabies and Civil Rights anthems. She now lives in Israel with her two kids where she climbs roofs, explores cisterns, opens secret doors and talks to strangers, and writes stories about people. Sarah also speaks before audiences left, right, and center through the Jewish Speakers Bureau, asking them to wrestle with important questions while celebrating their willingness to do so. She also loves whisky and tacos and chocolate chip cookies and old maps and foreign coins and discovering new ideas from different perspectives. Sarah is a work in progress.