By Jessica Heim-Brouwer

“Trigger warning:” the phrase lives among popular culture as a hashtag, a frame before the beginning of a video or a verbal warning. Yet, it has also served as a punchline for media that adopt it satirically; take, for instance, the television show South Park, which dedicated an entire episode to mocking the concepts of trigger warnings and “safe spaces.”

The criticism lies in the idea that environments that are cautious in regard to others’ personal struggles—past or present—shelter people from new concepts, opinions, or discussions that may be offensive to some.

But MU students and staff point out that many people truly need to be warned of triggering content and be provided spaces to which they can comfortably retreat.

“The students coming to this center have experienced trauma,” said Taylor Yeagle, advocacy coordinator of the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, “and that is a very real and clinical thing.”

When exposed to certain content, people can be susceptible to panic or anxiety attacks if the topic prompts an intense emotional response or resurfaces past incidents, according to LGBTQ Center Coordinator Sean Olmstead. He said that joining conversations outside of one’s comfort zone does offer opportunity to grow, but that there are some situations in which an individual cannot physically or mentally participate.

“There’s this slightly political perspective that it’s sort of our way of ‘coddling’ young people,” Olmstead said, “but I see [trigger warnings] as a really valuable tool to help create that safe space where people can actively participate to the best of their ability.”

Both Olmstead and Yeagle engage closely with members of the MU community who need resources and welcoming atmospheres that help them cope with and discuss personal matters.

Katie Williams, a student member of Stronger Together Against Relationship and Sexual Violence (STARS), said that no one can speak for someone else’s experiences and thus do not have a place to ridicule trigger warnings.

“People who say that are invalidating people’s experiences, and that’s a big part of safe spaces—validating those experiences,” she said.

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About Jessica Heim-Brouwer

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