Campus Free Speech

Critics of U. Chicago Say Trigger Warnings Aren't Mandatory. Here's Proof They're Wrong.

Drexel University, among other schools, seems to require trigger warnings when it comes to sex and gender.


Richie D

The University of Chicago's statement to incoming students decrying trigger warnings, safe spaces, and speaker dis-invitations generated much praise from supporters of free expression on campus—but also significant criticism from those who say trigger warnings just aren't that big of a deal.

Central to the pro-trigger warning argument is an assertion—made by The New Republic's Jeet Heer and CUNY professor Angus Johnson—that their use isn't mandatory: administrators don't force academics to warn their students about potentially triggering course content. It's up to the educators themselves to decide what level of protection works for their classrooms and their students.

"There's no college in the country where profs are required to give trigger warnings," observed Johnson.

But is that true? The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's Samantha Harris has discovered a policy at several colleges—Drexel University, most notably—that appears to obligate teachers to use trigger warnings.

Drexel's sexual misconduct policy defines gender-based harassment in incredibly broad terms: it includes "unwanted or inappropriate" remarks, "humor and jokes about sex," "suggestive comments," and "pictures" that degrade a person or gender group. From a free expression standpoint, this is worrisome enough on its own. But the policy also includes this note: "It is expected that instructors will offer appropriate warning and accommodation regarding the introduction of explicit and triggering materials used."

It is expected. Not requested, or preferred. Expected. On its face, this policy certainly seems to require professors to warn students about forthcoming "triggering" content in class. The policy does not make clear what kind of potentially traumatic material it has in mind, although its expansive definition of sexual harassment suggests to me that just about anything having to do with sex might qualify.

It's not just Drexel.

"Identical language can be found in sexual misconduct policies at Bay Path University, Colby-Sawyer College, North Iowa Area Community College, and St. Vincent's College," wrote Harris. "And these are just the schools that phrase their requirement in the same terms; there may be others out there, as well."

On Twitter, Johnson told me that Harris's finding was interesting. "I'm not sure I'd call it a mandate, but interesting," he wrote.

In any case, does this revelation not strengthen the case for Chicago's letter? Chicago wants its incoming students to know that they should not expect professors to offer protection from touchy subjects. As it turns out, there are other educational institutions that obligate academics to tread very carefully when addressing a wide variety of sex-related subjects—that prioritize the emotional comfort of students.

Chicago's letter, then, was its way of saying we're not one of them.

NEXT: #VeteransForKaepernick, Compulsory Patriotism, Free Speech, and Dissent

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  1. Trigger warning: “My trigger finger is feeling twitchy today.”

    1. College Professor Reminds Students It Will Take A Few Classes To Memorize Everyone’s Triggers…..e-fe-53754

      1. so if you could all write your triggers down on the sheet I’m passing around, I can start putting faces to sensitivities

        I can’t even…

        1. This all depends on the meaning of the word “mandatory.” At New York University, for example, victims of offensive trigger-speech taking the form of inappropriately deadpan “gmail confessions” are not strictly required to contact the FBI and file criminal charges, but if they choose to do so they will have the full support of the community, including deans and other university officials. It’s one of those situations where we all work together to suppress the offensive speech, regardless of any “academic value” it might have, to the best of our capabilities. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

  2. Trigger warning is very offense to victims of gun violence.

      1. Or of cartoon tigers for people who can’t spell.

        1. Or beings whose tops are made out of rubber
          and their bottoms are made out of springs!

          1. Don’t talk no shit bout Tigger.

    1. We call them tregroes now.

      1. African-Americats!

  3. So then non-sexual traumatic triggers expect no warning at all? Way to bury the lede, Soave. This sounds like a loophole needing some closure.

    1. No such thing as non-sexual. Rule 34.

  4. I had non-fruit sushi (for sake of brevity, we’ll just refer to such food as, “sushi”) this weekend. I believe it probably pales in comparison to its fruited counterpart.

    Never forget we love you, Robby.

    1. ElizabethNolanBrown
      Inadvertently getting the @reason commenters to call @robbysoave “fruit sushi” is probably some of my finest work

      1. Sure it was inadvertent, ENB. Sure it was.

      2. I started the GayJo (now usually morphed to GayJay) moniker and got jumped on by the nervous-Pervis fellow commentators.

        1. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

        2. I take credit for PM Zoolander and Grandpa Gulag.

          1. People love when I call Bernie that.

          2. Who came up with “Krugabe”? Soooo good.

    2. Bumble Bee tuna wrapped in a tortilla IS NOT sushi. Not even in Texas.

      1. Canned tuna is disgusting. That’s bad.

        But tortillas are delicious. That’s good.

        1. Depends on the canned tuna. There is some very good stuff out there.

    3. Is fruit sushi just uncooked fruit?

      1. Why would you cook fruit?

        Other than tomatillo, obviously.

        1. Tomato sauce, bruh. Grilled pineapple. Chutneys. Pie. Also, salsa verde isn’t a thing anymore?

          1. Grilled pears with lemon and honey. Yum.

            1. Or, you could just eat a ripe pear, as I’m doing right now.

              1. Don’t come crying to me when you get trichinosis.

                1. /throws a piece of dark chocolate at Fist.

              2. It better be Forelle.

          2. Grilled pineapples with brown sugar and onion. Yum.

          3. Grilled mango chutney. Yum.

          1. Should we start naming every kind of fruit pie?

        2. Squat cobbler. (Or was this supposed to be non-sexual?)

  5. Are there trigger warnings in the real world? No?
    Then there should be in college either.

    1. If there were then we would live in a world devoid of rape and violence, so there should be trigger warnings and safe spaces.

    2. Looks like someone has never heard of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

    3. Do insane feminist websites and therapy sessions for PTSD count as the real world?

    4. There are. Look at a local news report. “We warn you, some of this footage is graphic” seems to be a pretty common refrain. And most stations wouldn’t play the full ISIS beheading videos at all. Not that I blame them. Anyway, is there anything that is truly NOT part of “the real world”?

  6. The New Republic’s

    I skipped the paragraph at that point as totally meaningless derp was assured.

  7. The national anthem should be city escape from Sonic Adventure 2 — national-anthem-to-sonic-adventure-2-s-city-escape

    Or maybe Live and Learn from SA2?

    1. oh dammit wrong thread. stupid… squirrelz?

  8. Heh, so Social Justice Warriors demand everyone comply with all of their demands? You don’t say…..

  9. Wasn’t the whole point to the part about Trigger warnings to emphasize the fact that they are not required and therefore should not be expected?

  10. I guess Drexel’s next alumni contribution request will be answered with a letter asking for an explanation and not a check. This crap will stop only when enough alumni demand it stop.

  11. Ok, if you write a letter out to everyone saying you won’t be doing any trigger warnings you have just issued a trigger warning.


    1. It’s only a trigger warning if to those triggered by not seeing a trigger warning.

  12. On Twitter, Johnson told me that Harris’s finding was interesting. “I’m not sure I’d call it a mandate, but interesting,” he wrote.

    Translation: “I’ve been caught dead to rights on my bullshit and am too proud to admit I was wrong.”

  13. So, he’s taking the position that a policy that states certain conduct is “expected” doesn’t make that conduct mandatory.

    Not a completely laughable argument. I’d be interested to know what other conduct is “expected” under other policies of theirs, and whether this guy would similarly say none of that conduct is mandatory, either.

    1. It’s like the pieces of flair…there’s the minimum…but it’s *expected* that you’ll have more.

  14. “OK, class, I told you I was going to do dramatic readings from Emily Dickinson, but I decided at the last moment I’m going to recite Yeats’ *Leda and the Swan*”…

    “A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
    Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
    By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
    He holds her helpless breast upon his breast….”

    “Professor, I was raped by a swan as a child!”

    “OK, then, *you* read the poem!”

  15. They should really just walk around the campus with their triggers fully exposed, that way people will know not to flick them. I really do hope that sounds obscene.

  16. “You, there, the vegetarian rape victim cripple, explain Shakespeare’s *Titus Andronicus.*”

    1. “Professor, that really makes me uncomfortable.”

      “It’s either that or analyze T. S. Eliot’s *The Wasteland.*”

      “OK, OK:

      “Thou hast no hands, to wipe away thy tears:
      Nor tongue, to tell me who hath martyr’d thee…”

  17. RE:
    Critics of U. Chicago Say Trigger Warnings Aren’t Mandatory. Here’s Proof They’re Wrong.

    Trigger warnings, whether they are mandatory or not, are necessary for the most frail of our societies beings, the college student. These poor urchins are not emotionally or physically strong enough to listen to or observe criticism of The State or its ruling elites. Studies have shown time and again that anti-socialist thought has caused severe tooth decay, cancer and blindness to these hyper-sensitive sissies. Indeed, one must realize that while they are at college, their nannies, butlers, maids, drivers, mommies and daddies will not be there to protect them against the violence they may here, nor will they be able to count on the people who feed them, burp them or change their diapers should such ugly incidents occur without a fair trigger warning. So those studying in our re-education camps must take special care not to say or do anything that will offend anyone.
    Human life is precious, and so is censorship.

  18. The University of Chicago letter could have been more specific in saying that they don’t support requiring trigger warnings. Still, it was very welcome to see such a letter.

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