Trigger Warnings: Appropriate Protection Or Millennial Bubble Wrap?

Trigger Warnings: Appropriate Protection Or Millennial Bubble Wrap?

Trigger warnings, what they are and how they're affecting us.
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These days it seems like everyone has something going on, whether it's a slight case of butterflies before giving a speech, social anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses that affect our day to day lives. Anyone who utilizes social media and is affected by a mental ailment of some sort has seen the phrase, "Trigger Warning." It's time to get down to business about these warnings; what they are, how they work and if they're sheltering people too much.

Trig·ger warn·ing (n): a statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material (often used to introduce a description of such content). Basically, trigger warnings are messages warning readers to take caution, because topics in the following piece may contain sensitive content. They are most often placed at the beginning or near the beginning of a piece to ensure the reader, if they are triggered by sensitive content, has the opportunity to avoid that content, and of course, their trigger.

Trigger, or emotional triggers, are responses to people, places, events and content that will provoke an extreme emotional reaction. A trigger could be caused by many things, including but limited to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), stress, a traumatic event, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. When an individual is exposed to something that triggers them, they are transported back to a memory of a time when either something traumatic affected them, or they were a part of something that was very emotional. For instance, fireworks could trigger a war veteran because the loud noises in the distance remind him/her of gunshots, and all the violence they experienced while serving their country. Or, alternatively, if a sexual abuse victim hears students at his/her school making rape jokes, they may become upset after remembering the abuse they suffered, thus making anything involving sexual abuse, a trigger for them.

So now that we're all aware of what triggers and trigger warnings are, let's get down to debating a hot topic in today's news: Are trigger warnings over-coddling millennial minds?

Before I start on the statistics and ideas I'm about to present to you, the reader, I'd like to make something very clear. There is a huge difference between being triggered by something, and not wanting to experience content because it's not your preference to engage in such material. I don't like mushrooms or Woody Allen, but I'm not triggered by those atrocities. Being triggered by something, means that it causes an individual to have an extreme emotional reaction, often including a mental breakdown, depending on the severity of the trigger and what memory it links back to.

That being said, let's begin. Trigger warnings are most primarily utilized on the Internet. They are often included in news articles, Facebook posts, blog posts, and of course, all over Twitter and other social media platforms. Personally, I've seen all trigger warnings on Tumblr, a free-form blogging site. Recently, however, professors and college students have discussed including them in post-secondary curriculum.

Just a few years ago, University of California Santa Barbara's Student Senate passed a rule that calls for mandatory trigger warnings to be included in professors' syllabi and coursework in general. The resolution was passed in order to ensure that the university's students would be informed of the aforementioned so that they could avoid and or prepare themselves for the emotional or physical distress that often follow sensitive content. Mostly, these trigger warnings were to be labeled on topics such as rape, sexual assault, suicide, graphic violence, and pornography, according to the LA Times.

Similarly, Oberlin College in Ohio considered mandatory trigger warning guidelines as well, basing their warnings on anything that "might cause trauma." These warnings were supposed to be placed on coursework that mention sexism, racism, ableism and the like. Unfortunately, their faculty heavily opposed this idea and the university backed down. This opposition is being shared by not only other faculties at other universities but also several writers and journalists across the Internet.

According to The Atlantic, providing trigger warnings is providing a sense of vindictive protectiveness, or creating a culture where everyone has to walk on eggshells while speaking, out of fear of offending or upsetting someone. They believe that this culture is hurting students' futures, as the entire idea of trigger warnings serves only to allow students to become ill-prepared for their future work environments.

A psychologist, Sarah Roff worries, "One of my biggest concerns about trigger warnings is that they will apply not just to those who have experienced trauma, but to all students, creating an atmosphere in which they are encouraged to believe that there is something dangerous or damaging about discussing difficult aspects of our history.” So obviously everyone is a little worried about the future of our youth.

So why are trigger warnings all of a sudden relevant? The Atlantic believes that it is simply a shift in generations. In the 1960s, parents were more than comfortable with allowing their children to walk and ride their bikes out alone with little to no supervision. As time went on, abductions increased, and baby boomers' parents became more protective than usual. This pattern has been repeating itself, due to the increased amount of violence the past few years, which is causing parents to over-protect their children, and in fact, spoiling their children with this type of protection.

The important thing to note here, though, is that you can't protect your children forever. You cannot save them from everything, and shelter them from the entire universe. Can you try? Absolutely. Should you try? Absolutely not. A huge part of growing up and making sure that your child won't be swaddled while heading into the real world is allowing them to experience the world independently. Allowing your child to make mistakes, fail, form their own judgment opinions is a pretty nifty way to make sure they won't leave the house in a thick coat of bubble wrap prepared by their over-protective parent.

Still, even with the protected youth and the free youth, mental illness is on the rise. Let's look at some statistics. In 2013, the American College Counseling Association found that the number of students with "severe psychological problems" increased in their schools. In a study completed by the American College Health Association in 2014, 54 percent of college students who were surveyed said that they experienced extreme anxiety in the past year; a five percent increase since the same survey was conducted five years prior.

College campuses definitely aren't lacking mental health, so why are they lacking trigger warnings, something that could help decrease that anxiety and promote better care of mental health? Probably because faculty members are not too excited about having to put some extra work in. According to a study completed by The National Coalition Against Censorship in 2015, fewer than one percent of anonymous professors reported that their university even had a policy on trigger warnings. However, in the same study, almost eight percent of those institutions' students reported having attempted to persuade their universities to adopt such policies and this number is twice as many that reported having requested trigger warnings personally from their professors. Only twelve percent of students reportedly complained about the lack of trigger warnings.

In a report done by The William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale, it was reported that 63 percent of students were in favor of making trigger warnings mandatory in their coursework. The same survey found that students in different parts of the country think that there should be some restrictions on freedom of speech. Twenty-six percent of students said free speech is "somewhat important," while seventy percent opposed, saying that free speech is very important. Many of the twenty-six percent said that they believed restrictions should be placed on speech if the speech would be considered "hateful or otherwise unpalatable."

Most notably, however, it was reported that a whopping 58 percent of professors said that they often provided "voluntary warnings about course content." Meaning that they were already providing a type of trigger warning before all this discussion sparked. That's good! More than good, that's awesome. I'm not so sure why other professors claim that doing the same thing would work to swaddle a generation, when Jesse Singal, who writes for New York Mag, mentions that before all this "trigger warning" talk, asking your professor for a heads up about graphic or sensitive curriculum was a normal occurrence. He writes that before this controversy, asking a professor for a trigger-warning was more of a "common courtesy."

Fortunately enough, there are some professors who consider it more than a common courtesy and are in favor of trigger warnings and all that they set out to offer. Kate Manne of the New York Times wrote an article about why she chooses to utilize trigger warnings in her syllabi, and her response is nowhere near, ‘because I wanted to coddle the millennials.’ Kate says that she includes trigger warnings not to encourage students to skip their required reading, but to “allow those who are sensitive to these subjects to prepare themselves for reading about them, and better manage their reactions.” She mentions that not all triggers are predictable and obviously teachers aren’t supposed to tag everything that could possibly trigger someone, but a warning could help their students in allowing them this head start.

One of her biggest critics claims that students should be given their triggers in the same way that patients are given exposure therapy, by exposing them to a little bit at a time to gradually have them accept the problem. Kate, however, argues that treating triggers as though they can be cured by exposure therapy is like “throwing a spider at an arachnophobe.” Though Kate doesn’t think that these warnings should be mandatory, she is still fighting on the side to assist students who may need that leg up when studying material that may trigger them.

Several other professors and other types of university faculty have agreed with Kate in a "letter to the editor" style article on the New York Times website. One professor, Alice Rutowski, mentions that she utilizes trigger warnings in common-sense ways and only twice has ever encountered students who asked for alternative assignments because of a certain trigger. Joseph Burke, a dean of students at Cornell University also argues that Kate is correct on the "distinction between something that is 'merely offensive' and that which causes 'panic attacks'."

This has become one of the biggest arguments regarding the entire trigger warning debate. As I mentioned before, there is a huge line between a trigger and something that you would not like to read about. The Atlantic provides that it doesn't matter where the line falls between them, because any time that speech can be seen as a form of violence, that vindictive protectiveness appears to justify a violent response.

Jesse Singal's response to this argument can almost directly relate back to my own. On the topic of racism being a trigger, he says, "The idea that students who have 'experienced racism' — that is, just about all students of color — could be 'triggered' just by reading about it is a severe misunderstanding of the nature of trauma, and it’s also insulting to the small subset of students whose mental-health conditions really do cause them to relive traumas as a result of triggers, a group which includes some veterans and survivors of domestic or sexual assault." The line between what is considered a trigger and what is just not preferred, is, in fact, pretty important.

One counterargument down, one to go.

In an article that refers to people who prefer “trigger warnings” as an alternative to the “managing of unpleasant speech” as “The Swaddled-Generation”, writer Kathleen Parker talks of how colleges and students who ask for trigger warnings are simply silencing ideas and speech. Ultimately, Kathleen writes about how over-coddling this generation is worthless because people who prefer trigger warnings will have to face their triggers eventually.

While that may be true, wouldn't you rather save someone from relapsing into their trigger and mental breakdown if they don't absolutely have to face it? Many have referred to college and university as a safe space for millennials, a place that will shelter them until they are graduated and released into the real world. If universities are a safe place, and if college is already swaddling us, why not take all the blankets we can get?

I don’t understand why a rape victim and survivor asking their professors and classmates to include trigger warnings so that the victim does not to have to relive or remember the disgusting and vile crime they were an innocent victim of is a sign of being ‘swaddled’.

Another counterargument would spark and a critic would reply and say that the victim should face the facts and face the truth. I’ve got news for you though, pal, that victim knows what happened to them. They have faced the facts and the truth, more than once already. Is it too much to ask for a simple warning so that they don’t have to relive it over and over again? Where is the logic in condemning someone to a lifetime of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) all because you could not ‘afford’ to lend them some human decency in respecting their right to a trigger warning?

The problem with these counterarguments is that these authors are taking the idea of trigger warnings too far. We are not asking to step outside of our houses and only see rainbows and clouds. We are not asking for everything to be censored. We are not asking for a boatload of commitment here, just a warning, literally any type of warning that may help us in preparing ourselves to deal with our trigger. At the very least, we are asking that people keep an open mind, that people do not denounce trigger warnings as a way to 'silence speech' or 'deny the first amendment.' If you are my professor and I approach you with a request for a trigger warning, I am asking that you consider my trauma and what I've been through before you reply that you 'teach young adults, not children' or that you are not my parent.

If you weren't able to tell already, I feel very attached to this argument and very passionate about it. It affects me. I suffer from several triggers. They can be absolutely debilitating when I have to face them firsthand. It is demoralizing and often I struggle with depression and anxiety from the anxiety sparked by my trigger because I am self-conscious about it. I am not alone. There are millions of people in the world who face the same triggers, different triggers, and different responses evoked from triggers. Mental illness is an epidemic that infects many, and we will not be pushed aside. At the end of the day, we have to fight for ourselves and for each other. We have to speak up about these trigger warnings and why they're important to our well-being and mental health. If you don't speak up, no one can help you.

So where do we go from here? I've mentioned several times in this article that you can never hope to please everyone. You also can't censor everything. I think it's very important that everyone learns exactly what a trigger is, exactly what a trigger warning is and then we can look at ways to move forward. The next most important thing to understand is, of course, that line between offensive and traumatic. From there, individuals can decide what they want to put warnings on.

I'm not asking professors and teachers to change their curriculum. There is sensitive content in every piece of material we read in our lives. Should we embrace that sensitive and possibly derogatory content? Maybe not. Should we still learn about it? Yes. The confederate flag can be a trigger for some because they feel attacked or targeted, but we must learn about it and where it came from, so we do not repeat history. Is the Holocaust a traumatic event? Absolutely, but if we do not learn about it in school, how can we be sure that such a thing won't happen again?

In a world where we label everything from organic foods to sexuality, one more label cannot hurt us. Trigger warnings, or just plain old warnings if the 'trigger' is something you're not comfortable using because of the debate, can only help, not hinder. Also, I'm not saying that the professors, the authors, the teachers and anyone else who would have to label triggers are the only responsible party here. Obviously, both the triggered and the other party must play their part. Like I said, if you don't speak up, and you don't reach out, no one can help you. Be aware of your triggers, try to avoid any and all triggers if possible and communicate as much as possible.

So what, if trigger warnings are 'millennial bubble wrap'? If the older generations dealt with the same mental illnesses and anxieties we face daily, they'd have the same issues, the same wants and the same needs. These illnesses haven't just 'popped up' out of nowhere, and we definitely haven't brought them on ourselves. We're just more aware of all the possibilities out there now. Is implementing trigger warnings going to be a little more work? Yeah, probably. The key to making this work is going to be communication and accommodation. In the end, isn't it worth it to reach your hand out to a fellow human being who is struggling, and save them and several others some heartache?

Cover Image Credit: Alexander Shustov/Tumblr

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Yes, I Had A Stroke And I'm Only 20

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
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Recently, I read an article on Cosmo that was written by a woman that had a stroke at the ripe old age of 23. For those of you who don't know, that really doesn't happen. Young people don't have strokes. Some do, but it's so incredibly uncommon that it rarely crosses most people's minds. Her piece was really moving, and I related a lot -- because I had a stroke at 20.

It started as a simple headache. I didn't think much of it because I get headaches pretty often. At the time, I worked for my parents, and I texted my mom to tell her that I'd be late to work because of the pain. I had never experienced a headache like that, but I figured it still wasn't something to worry about. I went about my normal routine, and it steadily got worse. It got to the point that I literally threw up from the pain. My mom told me to take some Tylenol, but I couldn't get to our kitchen. I figured that since I was already in the bathroom, I would just take a shower and hope that the hot steam would relax my muscles, and get rid of my headache. So I turned the water on in the shower, and I waited for it to get hot.

At this point, I was sweating. I've never been that warm in my life. My head was still killing me. I was sitting on the floor of the bathroom, trying to at least cope with the pain. Finally, I decided that I needed to go to the hospital. I picked up my phone to call 911, but I couldn't see the screen. I couldn't read anything. I laid down on the floor and tried to swipe from the lock screen to the emergency call screen, but I couldn't even manage that. My fine motor skills were completely gone. My fingers wouldn't cooperate, even though I knew what buttons needed to be pressed. Instead of swiping to the emergency call screen, I threw my phone across the room. "Okay," I thought, "Large muscle groups are working. Small ones are not".

I tried getting up. That also wasn't happening. I was so unstable that I couldn't stay standing. I tried turning off the running water of the shower, but couldn't move the faucet. Eventually, I gave up on trying to move anywhere. "At what point do I just give up and lie on the floor until someone finds me?" That was the point. I ended up lying on the floor for two hours until my dad came home and found me.

During that two hours, I couldn't hear. My ears were roaring, not even ringing. I tried to yell, but I couldn't form a sentence. I was simply stuck, and couldn't do anything about it. I still had no idea what was going on.

When the ambulance finally got there, they put me on a stretcher and loaded me into the back. "Are you afraid of needles or anything?" asked one EMT. "Terrified," I responded, and she started an IV without hesitation. To this day, I don't know if that word actually came out of my mouth, but I'm so glad she started the IV. She started pumping pain medicine, but it didn't seem to be doing anything.

We got to the hospital, and the doctors there were going to treat me for a migraine and send me on my merry way. This was obviously not a migraine. When I could finally speak again, they kept asking if I was prone to migraines. "I've never had a migraine in my whole life," I would say. "Do you do any drugs?" they would ask. "No," I repeated over and over. At this point, I was fading in and out of consciousness, probably from the pain or the pain medicine.

At one point, I heard the doctors say that they couldn't handle whatever was wrong with me at our local hospital and that I would need to be flown somewhere. They decided on University of Maryland in Baltimore. My parents asked if I wanted them to wait with me or start driving, so I had them leave.

The helicopter arrived soon after, and I was loaded into it. 45 minutes later, I was in Baltimore. That was the last thing I remember. The next thing I remember was being in the hospital two weeks later. I had a drain in my head, a central port, and an IV. I honestly didn't know what had happened to me.

As it turns out, I was born with a blood vessel malformation called an AVM. Blood vessels and arteries are supposed to pass blood to one another smoothly, and mine simply weren't. I basically had a knot of blood vessels in my brain that had swelled and almost burst. There was fluid in my brain that wouldn't drain, which was why my head still hurt so bad. The doctors couldn't see through the blood and fluid to operate, so they were simply monitoring me at that point.

When they could finally see, they went in to embolize my aneurysm and try to kill the AVM. After a successful procedure, my headache was finally starting to subside. It had gone from a 10 on the pain scale (which I don't remember), to a 6 (which was when I had started to be conscious), and then down to a 2.

I went to rehab after I was discharged from the hospital, I went to rehab. There, I learned simple things like how to walk and balance, and we tested my fine motor skills to make sure that I could still play the flute. Rehab was both physically and emotionally difficult. I was constantly exhausted.

I still have a few lingering issues from the whole ordeal. I have a tremor in one hand, and I'm mostly deaf in one ear. I still get headaches sometimes, but that's just my brain getting used to regular blood flow. I sleep a lot and slur my words as I get tired. While I still have a few deficits, I'm lucky to even be alive.

Cover Image Credit: Neve McClymont

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In The Cross Roads

SEC Football is back!! Cheering for one certain team may not be as easy as it seems to some. I know I am not the only college student stuck in the cross roads!

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If you grew up anywhere in the Bible belt, you know College Football is held on a pedestal. Being affiliated with a certain team can tell you a lot about a person. Whether it be cheering for the number 16 team, or the number one team, these fans would do almost anything to preserve the reputation of their beloved team. Life can get a little strained when you have to choose between two very respected programs.

I will explain:

Growing up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama is almost a privilege. I did not know how much effect the University of Alabama had on the country until recently. The University does not only have a massive amount of alumni within the state, but around the world as well. When I tell someone I'm from T-Town, the first question I usually am asked is if I'm an Alabama football fan.

And the answer is YES.

From my experience, there is a very small population of the crazy people to cheer for another team that lives within Tuscaloosa County. I have been a fan since I could breathe, and I have grown up watching Bama rise from the ashes to the dominate team they are today. My dad instilled a love of football in me that will not be shied away when September rolls around.

Its almost life changing when you get to the age to start looking at colleges. You KNOW that going to that rival college will amount to more conflicts, than good memories. Sometimes you just have to get over that pride, and focus on what is more important.

Once I decided to go to Mississippi State University, the first thing I thought of was football season. In the beginning, I said I would never pick up a cowbell. I didn't care about this team or anything to do with it.

That is not my mindset now!

Having two teams that you care about is hard. Not going to lie. You try to keep to your roots as much as possible, but your school will take up more room in your heart than you expect. I mean come on, we all pay a ton of money to attend this school, so I can guarantee you will always see a cowbell in my hand from now on! My advice is to try and keep a healthy balance!

Make time to watch both teams and keep up with the schedule! In my case, I wear my Crimson during the week and wear my Maroon on Fridays and Saturdays! It's not easy rooting for the underdog, and the alpha. But find your balance and cheer those boys on come Saturday!

Roll Tide and Hail State!!


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