The false dichotomy of trigger warnings

Massimo Pigliucci in Scientia Salon:

Pigliucci-webThere has been lots of talk about so-called “trigger warnings” lately. Although they originated outside the university (largely on feminist message boards in the ‘90s, and then in the blogosphere [1]), within the academy this is the idea that professors should issue warnings to their students about potentially disturbing material that they are about to read or otherwise be exposed to. The warnings are necessary, advocates say, because such material may “trigger” episodes of discomfort, emotional pain, or outright post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This is clearly a crucial issue for a teacher such as myself, who is responsible for contributing to the education of scores of students every semester, and who is of course also concerned about their welfare and their thriving as human beings. So I read a lot, and widely (meaning both pro and con), about the issue, and have talked to colleagues and a number of students, in order to make up my mind not just in a theoretical sense, but also as guidance to my own actual practice in the classroom.

One of the most recent episodes concerning the controversy over trigger warnings (henceforth, TW) featured four Columbia University students belonging to the local Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, who wrote a letter to the Columbia Spectator [2] arguing that exposure to the writings of the classic Roman poet Ovid should have come with TW because they contain references to rape.

More here.