By Collin Binkley
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio.
From the first day of class, Ohio State University students knew which readings in their women’s studies course would involve violence, rape or other troubling topics.
It was on the syllabus, typed in bold next to each of those essays — trigger warning — a shorthand alerting those who had been through certain traumatic events that the texts could be especially jarring.
Students who didn’t want to continue still had time to drop the class last spring without penalty. The idea is akin to warnings that air before television shows that depict violence or nudity.
“This is something that we have been dealing with ever since women’s studies departments have come into being,” said Jill Bystydzienski, chairwoman of the OSU Department of Women’s, Gender And Sexuality Studies.
“We do deal with issues in our courses that are sensitive and can re-traumatize people.”
Such warnings have become popular online, spreading from early use on feminist blogs. Now, professors and college students are calling for similar warnings across disciplines and for a broad array of traumatic events, including suicide, religious persecution, racism and colonialism.
A student at Rutgers University in New Jersey wrote in the campus newspaper that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby needs a warning for “gory, abusive and misogynistic violence.” Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway could use one for themes of suicide and postwar trauma, the student wrote.
At the University of California-Santa Barbara, the student senate pushed for rules requiring professors to warn students in syllabuses about anything that could trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The group also asked professors not to dock points for students who opt out of lectures that cover that material.
Guidelines drafted at Oberlin College in northeaster Ohio last school year urged professors to issue warnings and “remove triggering material” if it isn’t key to the course.