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Aviva Okeson-Haberman, 23News Staff Writer

For some victims of traumatic experiences like sexual assault or abuse, triggers can be everywhere –  a documentary about rape, a graphic depiction of violence or even a certain sound or smell. Increasingly, people are calling on professors to warn students in advance if they teach using material that might trigger a traumatic memory.

At first glance, trigger warnings may appear to be an uncontroversial recommendation. However, a recent number of articles contend that trigger warnings are actually hurting college students. An in-depth piece in The Atlantic argues that “attempts to shield students from words, ideas, and people that might cause them emotional discomfort are bad for the students.”

A group of seven humanities professors wrote an op-ed in Inside Higher Education that backs up this notion.

“We are currently watching our colleagues receive phone calls from deans and other administrators investigating student complaints that they have included “triggering” material in their courses, with or without warnings. We feel that this movement is already having a chilling effect on our teaching and pedagogy.”

On the other hand, supporters of trigger warnings claim that giving students a heads-up before discussing or showing graphic content can help students avoid being triggered in class. Jerrica Leonard, an MU student, thinks there needs to be more awareness of how past traumatic events can impact students.

“Students are completely unaware of how horribly someone’s life may have been affected by some past event and they just think of it as being too sensitive.” She supports the use of trigger warnings, saying that professors should put trigger warnings on their syllabi and send out an email to students the day before they discuss the sensitive topic in class.

While using trigger warnings in class is a contentious issue, MU has no campus-wide policy detailing when or how professors should use trigger warnings, according to Christian Basi, the Associate Director of MU’s News Bureau.

Rachel Cheever, an MU student, disagrees with how MU is handling this subject. “MU should have some sort of guidelines for when trigger warnings should be used, because if you leave it up to the professor or one certain person, they might be more sensitive about some topics and less sensitive about other topics.” Cheever thinks that her professor for her Black Studies class should have used a trigger warning before discussing some of the material.

“The book that we are reading now… explains some of the struggles that black women had and some of the oppression that they were receiving from white America at this time… I think a trigger warning would have been appropriate because you are sitting so close to students in a classroom discussing sensitive topics that for some people is very emotional and for other people it’s their history, it’s their ancestors.”

Dr. Cristina Mislán, a professor at MU, believes that the university should have more training for its faculty. Based on her conversations with students, she believes that “not all faculty have been able to provide a safe, comfortable space.”

Others, however, agree with MU’s decision to leave the issuing of trigger warnings up to the discretion of professors. “I don’t think the campus wide policy makes sense…professors are experienced enough to be able to inform the students,” says Siddharth Benmetcha, an MU student.

Whether you are for or against the use of trigger warnings, this issue is one that is unlikely to be resolved soon.