Campus Free Speech

Indiana University Professor Apologizes for Triggering Medical Students With 'I Can't Breathe' Exam Question

"We understand that the context in which this phrase was used resulted in a very painful trigger for many of you."


An assistant professor at Indiana University School of Medicine apologized after an exam question that used the phrasing "I can't breathe" drew complaints from some students who found it upsetting and insensitive in the wake of George Floyd's death under the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

"We understand that the context in which this phrase was used resulted in a very painful trigger for many of you," wrote Daniel Corson-Knowles, an assistant professor of clinical medicine, in a message to his students.

Screenshots of the message, and of students discussing it in an online chat forum, were obtained by Reason. The College Fix also reported the incident.

The exam question was as follows: "A patient who missed dialysis suddenly becomes pale, diaphoretic, and screams, 'I can't breathe!' You glance at the monitor and notice the following rhythm. You are unable to palpate a pulse and initiate immediate CPR. The most appropriate next step in therapy is…"

According to Corson-Knowles, the question was written long before the phrase "I can't breathe" became associated with police violence or #BlackLivesMatter activism, and reflects "phrasing we might hear in a clinical setting from patients."

The professor apologized for not removing the question from the exam and vowed to review course materials for intrinsic bias, microaggressions, and other problematic or traumatizing content.

It's not clear how many students complained about the phrasing. In the forum messages I reviewed, most students did not seem personally offended by it, but rather were worried that others were offended.

The student who shared the professor's apology with The College Fix and Reason thought shielding would-be doctors from the phrase "I can't breathe" was more than a little ridiculous. It's hard to disagree. Having difficulty breathing is a relatively common medical ailment: If hearing this declaration is going to cause you to have a panic attack, you probably need to overcome that before you earn your medical license.

It's doubtful, of course, that any of the students are actually so bothered by "I can't breathe" that hearing the phrase would debilitate them. But in that case, professors shouldn't need to bend over backward to satisfy unreasonable demands for emotional comfort. Unfortunately, my 2019 book, Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump, is full of examples of academics forced to do exactly that.

Hypersensitivity to traumas and triggers has become quite common on elite campuses, but research has repeatedly shown that trying to avoid psychological harm by accommodating or forewarning students is ineffective. Indeed, yet another recent study on trigger warnings reach this same conclusion.

Update: The initial photo accompanying this article depicted a different branch of Indiana University, and has been updated.

NEXT: Police Violence, COVID-19 Lies, and the End of Legitimate Authority

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  1. I’m glad all of this happened years after I had a pulmonary embolism. I wouldn’t have wanted to trigger my pulmonologist.

    1. Give it two weeks until 4Chan makes the international sign for “I’m choking” a covert white supremacist sign.

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  2. Fucking people are going to be apologizing all the way to the gallows. Stop it. Show some fucking stones for a change. Your rainbow flag on your porch won’t keep the mob from burning your house down.

    1. There’s blood in the water now, and leftist activists are like sharks.

      1. And how do you deal with a shark?
        Punch it in the nose

        1. Bang stick to its fucking head, after you gaff it in the side.

          Medical students are whining that a question concerning lack of breathing is insensitive. Medical students.

          Fuck it, give em all As, and let the medical boards deal with them.

          1. If the school had any morals it would have expelled every single student who complained or fretted about microaggressions and offense.
            These people are going to be medical practitioners and need to be able to deal with a lot worse than hurt feelings.

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          2. Well, they are all going to work for Bernie Care, and get the same UBI as everyone else, so who gives a fuck.

          3. I would rather flunk them out, and let them figure out how to pay off their student loans. Then they can learn what being ‘triggered’ really means.

            1. Eh. With they way things are going, we will end up paying for their school whether they graduate or not.

          4. The biggest complaint was that they couldn’t figure out how police brutality was part of the exam question.
            Everyone knows that is the universal signal for being brutalized by the cops.

      2. And it’s shark month.

    2. Everyone knows the rainbow is a Judaeo-christian symbol of God promising never again to destroy the world with a flood.

      1. Something about a Coat of Many Colors should probably be mentioned.

      2. Genesis 12:9-17
        “12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 I do set my rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. 14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud: 15 And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 And the rainbow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.”

        Good thing most lefties (and Episcopalians) wouldn’t be caught within a mile of a bible, or they’d have pretty conflicted feelings at the next pride parade.

        1. Sort of defines “cultural appropriation”, doesn’t it?

      3. You know the whole fold thing, and what Noah did was incredibly sexist, right? How cis-hetero to only take two of each animal, and ignore all the other genders.

        1. 2 Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by one hundred and twenty-nine, the Cishet male and his Cishet female and her Agender and xer Androgyne and xis Androgynous and xe Bigender
          Cis and zer Gender Fluid and vi Nonconforming and mu Questioning and po Gender Variant and le Genderqueer, Intersex, Neutrois, Pangender, Transfeminine, Two-Spirit…

        2. He also left the unicorns to die in the flood.

          1. They were idiots for playing in the rain rather than getting on the boat.

          2. Don’t forget the dragons and the hippogriffs.

    3. Push back against this nonsense! I’m a nurse educator and these types of examples have been used for decades as A valuable teaching tool. Do these idiots think black lives matter inventing this phrase. In clinical settings we hear this from patients every day. Clinicians must be taught how to assess and respond.

      1. What no:
        Excuse me nurse. I have agonal respiration.

    4. “Your rainbow flag on your porch won’t keep the mob from burning your house down.”
      Neither will your Black Lives Matter sign.
      So many will die, with their last utterance being : “But, I’m on your side”.

  3. I hope they refuse to treat all the White Supremacists with compromised airways who use this hate speech

  4. This may be the perfect offset to those annoying malpractice suits: I may have allowed you to become brain damaged by not treating your embolism quickly enough but you triggered me by saying “I can’t breath” and I’m suing you for hate speech.

    1. “Sure you were panicking sir, but when you said you couldn’t breathe you triggered Dr. Dakota and he had to go calm down in his hugbox for the rest of his shift.”

    2. You can’t sue a corpse but of course you can sue the estate, hospital, city, state and Bernie for damages.

  5. What will happen to these fragile almost-humans when they find out the entire democratic party leadership associates with slavers?

  6. Holy shit! It’s a totally legit medical question to put before medical students!

    I don’t want any fucking doctor with a degree from Indiana University to EVER get within one hundred feet of me.

    1. ‘I Can’t Breathe’ is no longer a medical symptom, it is a sign of your political affiliation! Get with the times!

      Reminds me of a few years ago when young wussie-pussies (presumably of both sexes) in law schools were “triggered” by stories of rape. HOW in the HELL are you going to be a lawyer and deal with rape, when it “triggers” you?!?!

      ANY law-breaking “triggers” me as a lawyer!!! ALL good citizens OBEY the LAWS, right? Else, why would we bother to pass all of our oh-so-enlightened laws?

      Here I am, easily-triggered lawyer… And affirmative action REQUIRES you to hire me!!! So hire me, bitch!

      1. They will deal with rape like everything else: marching and protesting. Cuz that changes everything.

    2. Time to start a blacklist. Unless IU wants to either name and shame or fail the students that complained, I have to assume every one of their medical students this year (and in any future years if the curriculum is redesigned) will be unable to treat me out of PTSD if I have respiratory distress. Better not accept any medical care from those on the blacklist.

      1. Not to mention, if I was a student in one of those classes, I’d be beating down the door of my dean demanding a different outcome, for fear of being blacklisted by association.

        1. The different outcome would be a A+ for the course for all and the express lane to board certification, at the minimum.

    3. IU is in Bloomington, in southern Indiana, which gave us that annoying wanna-be, John “Cougar” Mellencamp. Got so tired of hearing his crappy music growing up in Indiana. By comparison, northern Indiana gave us Axl Rose of Guns ‘n Roses and Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon.

  7. gonna go out on a limb and predict *at least one* of the School of Medicine students’ future patients will utter those words in an active situation.

  8. Good question.

    I am not a cardiologist. The patient is likely in V fibrillation based on the the tracing. What is the next step in therapy?

    My best guess. No pulse. Respiratory failure. The patient is gonna die unless you do something. Next step would be defibrillation. The question is really about the ECG tracing.

    Yup if you are triggered this easily find another profession. It does not get any easier when you get out there.

    1. WRONG. Hold compressions and once the patient expires check off COVID-19 and collect some extra federal funding.

      1. Have you placed the patient on a ventilator yet, Fist? If not, you only receive partial credit.

        If the patient is in V.Fib—not that I could tell that from an EKG, but then, I’m not a doc—you have to address that pretty quickly. Stop the worthless CPR, and defibrillate the patient already. Figuring out WHY the patient is in V.Fib, and stopping that underlying abnormality, would be a good idea too. Make sure the patient is adequately oxygenated and their blood is moving around, and go from there.

        1. If not, you only receive partial credit.

          That’s how they get you. They deny us ventilators and then deny us that sweet, sweet cash when we don’t have the means to put patients on vent before they croak.

      2. Light the nearest dumpster on fire, smash in the nearest designer clothing store window and make off with a couple hundred dollars of merchandise.

  9. “We understand that the context in which this phrase was used resulted in a very painful trigger for many of you,” wrote Daniel Corson-Knowles, an assistant professor of clinical medicine, “if you are such a child that this question derailed your entire though process you are not fit to be a doctor and therefore are now dropped from the program”


  10. I suggest a requirement that college students wear diapers at all times. At graduation they’ll be issued a second diaper to wear on their shit filled heads.

  11. I believe the correct answer to the question is “Take my knee off the patient’s neck”

    1. A+++ that last one is Drambuie

    2. Yup, spit out my drink reading that one! Cheers!

    3. +1 Nomination-worthy, on par with “First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”

    4. Amen to that one.

  12. Jesus fuck–what the hell are these easily triggered nitwits going to do if someone comes into the emergency room squeaking that out? Or just a patient on an annual checkup?

    Forget police departments–defund all higher education, burn it to the ground, and start over by blacklisting every single professor in every department other than hard sciences that’s been hired over the last 20 years. The boomers are all retiring anyway and this might be a chance to vaccinate academia of McIntosh Disease.

    1. Let student loans be dischargeable in bankruptcy, and the colleges will do most of the work for you, RR.

      1. Better yet, make universities financially responsible for student loans in default.

    2. Or if someone comes into an ER screaming actual racist shit? You have to deal with that as it comes too. Pathetic.

  13. We have got to stop being such a pathetic society. We need more people to simply start demanding that snowflakes start sucking things up and getting over things. And more commonly, stop pretending to get offended by anything and everything that life has in it.

    1. The problem is corporate America ponders to this crap because it makes their employees more docile and weak people buy their products easier

      1. That is the sort of crap that could have been written by Howard Zinn.

      2. This whole year seems like a big celebration of weakness. I am so disappointed by what a bunch of fucking pussies everyone is.

        1. Rather than being disappointed, be happy that the programming has worked. There is some good in everything and we all like pussies.

          1. I like pussy, not pussies.

  14. Note to self — if having difficulty breathing while in the hospital in Indiana, make sure to say:

    “I am experiencing an increase in difficulty of performing respiratory functions”

    instead of

    “I can’t breath”

    as I would not want to trigger the doctor – who knows what they might do once triggered.

    1. Go to the medical residents’ Safe Space and play with puppies until they feel better.

    2. (And you die in the meantime)

      1. Least they could do is bring the puppies over so I can die with them around

    3. Only southern Indiana. Northern Indiana has more sense.

  15. FFS, he wasn’t mocking Floyd’s death. Reagan joked, after he’d been shot, that he hoped the surgeon wasn’t a Democrat. Now it might not be a joke anymore so it behooves us to keep our political persuasion to ourselves lest our doctor be triggered by something we say or do.

  16. …research has repeatedly shown that trying to avoid psychological harm by accommodating or forewarning students is ineffective.

    Denying students the power of first- or secondhand victimhood is a macroaggression.

    1. Denying students any easy A is a microaggression.

  17. This is outrageous. Will anyone with any power say enough is enough? My parents fear that we will move to single-payer and they will die because the doctors will decide they are too old to bother saving. I will die because I fail to explain my symptoms in a racially sensitive matter.

    It’s easy to joke about this – the situation is basically a restaurant host walking over and saying, “Right this way, Ms. Dada, your joke is ready.” But in reality, there is nothing funny about this.

    If you are going to be a doctor, you will hear much worse. You may have to put a central line in for someone with a swastika tattoo. Until now, doctors were not allowed to discriminate when treating a patient. This all but invites it. A policeman and a drug dealer end up in a shootout. Both are shot. Will the doctors abandon the police officer?

    If you do not have the emotional fortitude to push through an exam question (a completely reasonable and racially-neutral exam question), please, for the love of all that is holy, drop out of medical school. Major in Social Work. PLEASE. The fact that the professor apologized is really unsettling.

    I’m just going to stay drunk until I am allowed to leave the US.

    1. Just an anecdotal observation. When I was in financial services back in the mid 90s t the mid 2000s, engineers were seen as ‘problem’ clients to the point we had special classes on how to deal with them.

      Now I’m in a different industry (daycare owner) altogether, while engineers can be a prickly bunch (I can handle them because of my experience and the fact four of my buddies are engineers) I’ve noticed doctors have fast closed the gap if not surpassed them.

      Some of the most hysterical and irrational clients I have (particularly when it comes to outbreaks like gastro) railing against everything from Lysol to food. I had one who would send us quack science about the danger of sun tan lotion. And during Covid a couple have downright lost their minds.

      My buddies are still in banking and the subject came up and we exchanged notes and interestingly, one of them noticed the same thing. Out of all the people who called panicking to sell, doctors led the group. A guy I know is one arrogant doctor has a virulent version of the TDS virus. He rants so much, you would think he’s not a doctor.

      Weird shit. And now with the STEMS invaded by progressive woke bull shit, expect more of this.

      Just because you’re a doctor doesn’t mean you have common sense.

      Anyway. Just an observation.

      1. Well, the nice thing about being a daycare worker (assuming you are licensed) is that as a ‘mandatory reporter’ you can send the social workers after those idiots just by saying they are messing up the kids.
        In FL you can get them committed for 72 hours and stripped of their constitutional rights just by saying they might possibly become a danger to some kid somewhere.

    2. I’m overseas and “woke” culture is everywhere. Leaving the US will not save you. Corporate pandering and shaming are everywhere: the metro, busses, ads, TV, even menus. The only saving grace to where I am is that the minority population is so small, a riot even with media fanning would extinguish itself in a few hours, rather than a few months as in the US.

      1. Do you self identify as an American minority?

  18. I can’t believe they subjected both black IU Med students to such a question! Good thing neither one of them is poor.

    1. Irony: Black medical students. Haven’t they overcome yet? Our threshold for what we can appreciate is beyond the troposphere.

  19. In other news, Bolton exercises his First Amendment right in an interview with ABC News. He confirms that Trump is in fact the dump kid in class!

  20. Reason still has comments ?

    What’s the over/under on when they shut it down ?

    1. It was a good run. I think the internet would be better off without us.

    2. Has NBC News yet turned its baleful gaze on

    3. Yeah, if you don’t like them then move along.

  21. These pussies and sissies are naturals to be public health officials.

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  23. An assistant professor at Indiana University School of Medicine apologized

    Fire him. Not for the exam, fire his ass for apologizing. If you don’t, your entire program is tainted with the stench of shitty education.

    1. This is as stupid as the person who said “I’m triggered”. Goddamn the pussification of this country needs to end. It’s even happening to libertarians who claim people should have the ability to have an opinion and be individuals and say what they want.

    2. at the very least somebody needs to explain to this assistant professor what the word ‘context’ means…good grief

  24. Welp, it’s a relief that all this campus craziness is just staying on campus and would never spill into the real world.

  25. I’ve been watching lots of Seinfeld episodes the last few weeks, perhaps as a subconscious need for anti-PC humor, as I’mnot even living in the US currently. The show is loaded with jokes about this kind of overreaction to non-issues. What we laughed at then is now considered normal behavior. The truth is, it is not normal, it can never be normal in the US or any society on earth. The lockdowns were/are an overreaction, the riots and subsequent corporate pandering are overreactions. A society cannot function if literally everything is followed by a fringe mob controlling our lives with intimidation and violence. Forced apologies and media shaming are bad enough, but now we have government regulations and self-imposed imprisonment and we’re questioning our own Constitution, the glue that holds our poly culture together. There is still NO racism issue in the US, which makes the motive specious. We all know what this is about, so why aren’t we fighting back? Will we protest when shows like Seinfeld are yanked out of syndication due to “insensitivity”? Will we burn down cities when they strip the first amendment? We aren’t living in a country; it’s a cult.

    1. Tyranny of the minority.

    2. There is a scene in “The Shield” where gang leader secures ultimate power over a cop. Gbanger kills an innocent little kid with bad cops gun, holds that against him. His next words are: you get down on your knee and when I say suck, you say how hard. This is what U.S. corporations, media and democrats are doing to leftist bangers. This is how power works.

      Fucking Uncle Bens rice is changing their name- what the fuck is going on in this country?

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  28. I was given the drug Rituximab during chemotherapy and had a severe allergic reaction. Sure am glad my nurses weren’t offended by me choking out “I can’t breath” and actually addressed the situation. These kids would probably say, “I just can’t right now” and stormed out while I suffocated.

  29. He should have said “I’m sorry that many of you are telling me that you do not have the emotional stability to be rational under stress that is required to practice medicine.”

  30. I expect the people who are complaining are not actually “triggered”, they are just looking to scam a passing grade in this class. However, the subject matter is on practicing medicine, not some race or gender studies nonsense course where gritting through it does not make much difference because nobody’s life is on the line based on what that course teaches. This one is apparently about practicing medicine in a crisis situation it needs to weed out the grifters.

  31. Yeah, maybe if you are “triggered” by someone shouting “I can’t breathe”, medicine isn’t the profession for you. That should have been the prof’s response.

    1. I guess we have to post all of our comments on that article here?

    2. You just wanted to use the word schadenfreude today. The Federalist is a garbage news/opinion source, you really should skip it and follow better sources like Reason, Cato, and Axios

  32. I can only imagine that our enemies gleefully read these kinds of stories knowing that it bodes well for their chances to dominate a soon-to-be weak nation when the overly-sensitive among us are in charge.

  33. What the hell is wrong with this country?

  34. gonna go out on a limb and predict *at least one* of the School of Medicine students’ future patients will utter those words in an active situation.

  35. If someone is triggered by a very basic and common phrase like “i can’t breath” from someone having trouble breathing I don’t think they have the stamina and psychological strength to actually be a doctor. Pathetic.

  36. “We understand that the context in which this phrase was used resulted in a very painful trigger for many of you,” wrote Daniel Corson-Knowles, an assistant professor of clinical medicine, in a message to his students.

    Methinks the assistant professor needs to relearn the meaning of the word ‘context.’

  37. If they’re that sensitive, I certainly don’t want any of them treating me or any of my family. Perhaps they could try another line of work. Florist, perhaps? Life trainer, whatever that may be?

  38. Oops, my bad. I thought I was reading only to discover that I must have logged into the Onion or the Babylon Bee because I could have sworn the piece claims medical students were “triggered” by a question about someone unable to breath…which would be, well, ludicrous. If it were true. So, it can’t be true, right? Right?

  39. Any student who is “triggered” by this hypothetical case is too unstable to be a physician and should be dismissed from medical school and never foisted on an unsuspecting public. HH MD

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