Campus Free Speech

Trigger Warning Now Counts as Violent Language at Brandeis University

A way of warning someone they might feel offended is itself offensive?


Remember the battle over trigger warnings? These classroom devices—reminders that students were about to encounter material that might upset, offend, or traumatize them—were all the rage a few years ago, prompting significant public debate over whether professors were coddling their students.

They haven't exactly fallen out of fashion, but it seems that we hear less about them. Researchers have also produced numerous studies showing that they don't work—in fact, they may make people even more anxious.

Brandeis University has now turned on trigger warnings as well—because the word trigger is, well, triggering.

"The word 'trigger' has connections to guns for many people," notes Brandeis University's Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center (PARC). "We can give the same heads-up using language less connected to violence."

PARC maintains an "oppressive language list" that includes trigger warning. Also on the list is rule of thumb, (which does not have offensive origins, despite the list's assertion), killing it, (PARC wants students to say great job! instead), and take a stab at something.

The university does not require students and staff to cease using such language, it just recommends softer vocabulary. I've long made fun of universities for taking such a broad view of what counts as offensive language, but the fact that trigger warning—a concept designed to prevent offense—has itself landed on such a list is fairly amusing.