Students have been getting a fair bit of criticism of late. The calls to introduce trigger warnings – messages cautioning students about provocative material – have been widely documented and often met with derision. And rightly so.
The belief that students need shielding from emotion-inducing material assumes that vulnerability is the norm. Rather than maintaining that universities are places of education, where a young adult’s mind is constantly ‘triggered’ by new ideas and material, the use of trigger warnings insists that students be confined to their comfort zone. Where students once rebelled against the university establishment, today they seek emotional protection within it.
Of course, the rise of trigger warnings can’t be viewed in isolation. It is just one offshoot of a new form of victim politics that is plaguing higher education, and has developed in conjunction with the rise of Safe Spaces.
Trigger-warning proponents are motivated by a belief that their emotional safety is more important than studying a subject properly, and by a desire to show how ‘aware’ and right-on they are about ‘sensitive’ issues more broadly. Trigger warnings have become the means through which students both shelter themselves from ideas that upset them and display their awareness of the alleged emotional pain of others.
The campus Safe Space nonsense has become the comic relief of academia – each dust-up giving more seasoned academics an opportunity to waltz down the pub and decry how students ‘aren’t what they used to be’ and ‘need to start living in the real world’.