Point: Should trigger warnings be implemented in U.S. high schools?

Amber Kakkar, Contributing Writer

“If you must leave the classroom due to emotional triggers, please feel free to do so at any time.  School should be a place of comfort and safety.”

The sentence above is one that every teacher should keep in mind before teaching content that may be emotionally troubling to any student.  A trigger warning is most commonly defined as a statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, or other medium that alerts the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material.

Within the classroom environment, trigger warnings usually entail the teacher letting their students know in advance that they will be exposed to and learn about content that may cause intense physiological and psychological symptoms. These warnings were originally advocated for as a courtesy to individuals who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders.

The question of whether or not schools should require trigger warnings has been heavily debated in educational circles as of late, especially these past few years.  Critics of this practice argue that by using trigger warnings, teachers may be “coddling” their students, and are therefore not effectively preparing them for the real world.  On the other side of the argument, though, many argue that trigger warnings provide a safe and secure place for the students.  This is especially true for those students who experienced similar trauma in the past as the ones they are being warned about.

“I am for [trigger warnings] because it would warn people who are sensitive to blood, gore, sexual content, or anything else. It doesn’t really seem to have any cons other than you have to listen to a three-second speech from your teacher,” said freshman Silas Hokanson.

In high schools, sensitive topics like rape and physical abuse may be  discussed in classrooms. For instance, a teacher may show a film that includes a scene exhibiting physical abuse because the film itself is relevant for that day’s lesson. Though it may seem like giving students a warning of what is coming up ahead of time may seem like they are being “coddled,” this is definitely not the case. 

Among these students may be trauma survivors, or even individuals who are currently facing some sort of trauma at that moment in their personal lives. They should never be “thrown into the fire” directly without being offered a warning in advance; instead, they should have the right to be alerted ahead of time of an incoming discussion or showing that may cause them to feel severely uncomfortable and unsafe or even cause a panic attack because they, along with the rest of their peers, deserve to be treated with respect. 

There is absolutely no harm in teachers taking one minute out of their time to make their classroom a safer environment.  They should never make assumptions that students will be “fine” seeing disturbing material, as teachers are generally not aware of all of the experiences and backgrounds their students bring with them, whether they are pleasant or traumatizing.  

 Trigger warnings are not a pass for lack of engagement, they are simply an escape route for those feeling panicked or emotionally unstable. Using trigger warnings would actually be beneficial to the education of Schreiber’s students, as they would settle potential issues from the outset, ensuring that all students are focused and ready to learn.

 “I am for trigger warnings because some people have really extreme sensitivity or phobia to certain things, and by the title you’re not always able to tell if that kind of content will be in there, and the people should feel as comfortable as possible and not be freaking out or having a panic attack in the middle of the video if they are really sensitive to that particular thing,”  said freshman Lexi Vesselinov.  “Trigger warnings would make the people aware of the content.”  

Additionally, as mentioned briefly before, trigger warnings are not an excuse to opt out of learning material or avoid doing the work. Rather, they are simply a way to brace students for what is to come. No one is advocating for widespread censorship and silencing of any kind, or for teachers to omit distressing material from their curriculum entirely, as there are all still important lessons to be learned.

“I’m against trigger warnings. I feel that by the title of a video, most people are able to come to a conclusion and determine if it is something they want to watch. By reading the title of the video watchers and content creators understand that the topic could be something sensitive. Trigger warnings take time away from the video,” said freshman Emily Djohan.  “As long as teachers are able to tell students the title of the video prior to watching it, I feel trigger warnings are pointless.”

On the other side of the argument, many students still find trigger warnings to be unnecessary, and are worried that students would simply use them as an excuse to not engage in the material and opt out of the lesson.  However, that is not the intent of the said warnings, and if a student choses to forego a given lesson, they would do that regardless, even if trigger warnings were not implemented.

Thus, it is safe to err on the side of caution and provide trigger warnings at Schreiber.  Although it is true that life will not give you a trigger warning before difficult situations, the classroom is a controlled environment and its goal is to provide optimal learning opportunities for everyone. On balance, a trigger warning is significantly more helpful than it is harmful, and considering the minimal effort it takes, it is better to give these warnings than not.