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Trigger Warnings Do Not Suppress Speech



Speaking of trigger warnings, a commenter on the previous thread makes what I think is a common mistake:

4. The fear (slippery-slope or not) is that trigger warnings will lead to suggestions from admin about possibly removing certain works or materials from the syllabus.

There remains an obvious problem: there’s no logical connection between trigger warnings and censorship. Trigger warnings are only relevant to material that’s being presented. (How would you put a trigger warning on material that’s been suppressed?) Conflating trigger warnings with censorship is another example of the game played by the anti-p.c. crowd, in which critical speech is mysteriously transformed into speech suppression.

In addition, this is also an excellent illustration of why the slippery slope in generally a logical fallacy. On the one hand, there’s nothing inherent in trigger warnings that leads to material being suppressed. Conversely, if the administration wants to dictate to faculty what material is being taught in class, they don’t need trigger warnings to do so. (Indeed, assessment is a much more powerful lever to do so.) Undue interference by the administration into academic affairs is bad because it’s bad; trigger warnings per se are neither here nor there.

I also strongly recommend Angus Johnston’s recent thoughts on the subject. Here he responds to deBoer’s “What are we supposed to do with students who frivolously claim to have suffered trauma?” question:

My syllabus trigger warning doesn’t provide students who invoke it with any special privileges, so this isn’t really an issue for me — and as I said above, my text has been pretty widely adopted, so it’s not an issue for those professors either.

Speaking more generally, there are three paths a professor can take when asked for an accommodation from a student — offer the same accommodation to everyone, require that the requesting student provide proof of need, or apply their own judgment. I can see any of those approaches working in a trigger warning context.

Preciesely. The potential for cheating and abuse is ubiquitous whether one uses trigger warnings or not. My syllabus contains the university’s disability policy, which allows students to ask for special accommodations. Almost every semester, I have students who get extra time to write exams and write them in a separate room. Almost every semester, a student will ask for an assignment extension or a makeup exam date, and when the reason can’t be easily documented I have to assess their credibility and decide how to respond. If you’re a college teacher dealing with this kind of thing is, you know, your job. Again, I don’t see what particular problem trigger warnings are supposed to be creating here.

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