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Trigger warning discussion continues following NSW

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Many on campus already know the controversy surrounding “Strange Like Me.” The performance, put on by Minneapolis-based theater company GTC Dramatic Dialogues, was to be shown during New Student Week to address prejudice and race. However, upon seeing an advance screening of the show, many Peer Leaders were appalled by the copious use of racial slurs without trigger warnings in the production, and decided to craft their own presentation instead.

The new presentation was lauded as a success by many students, but the Peer Leaders’ rejection of “Strange Like Me” brought to light a new phenomenon that has been circulating around college campuses: trigger warnings.

“Trigger warnings come so that you make sure that survivors do not re-harm themselves,” said Martin Olague, Assistant Director of the Office of Intercultural and International Life (OIIL). “In a case like this, in terms of hearing racial slurs, some people who may have racial slurs thrown against them, we do not want to harm them again, so that’s why you have a trigger warning.”

Kathryn Melendez, junior and TRIO peer leader, said that trigger warnings are not a major part of Carleton, but that after the “Strange Like Me” incident, this is starting to change.

“I definitely think [trigger warnings] are not really a part of campus-wide conversation … when it comes to the classroom [they’re] not integrated,” Melendez said. “There’s beginning to be a push for it, especially after the ‘Strange Like Me’ presentation.”

Freshman Kate Hoeting said that trigger warnings before the “Doing It Right” presentation on sexual responsibility during New Student Week were “welcoming.”

“It was acknowledging that there are some people in the room that might experience a different reaction to hearing something that’s traumatic than others would,” Hoeting said. Despite the benefits of trigger warnings, Olague said that sometimes they can be harmful by deterring people who have not been victimized away from content that will merely make them uncomfortable instead of re-victimizing them by dredging up past memories.

“The trick is that sometimes people who may not have lived these experiences will then see one of these warnings and then … won’t put themselves in discomfort,” Olague said. “You only truly grow when you put yourself in discomfort.”

Meledez said she had personal experience dealing with this issue when she has approached professors about potentially triggering content that they have shown in class.

“They’ve pointed out to me that just because something’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about it,” Meledez said. “I recognize that but I think that’s showing the professor’s concern more with the material and flow of the class than the mental health needs of students.” Melendez said that although some students may miss out on profound content, trigger warnings are still necessary. “Ultimately we can’t know what people in the classroom have experienced before and whether content is triggering or if it’s just making people uncomfortable,” Meledez said. “[Trigger warnings are] just a better way to prepare people approach material that can be really traumatic.”

Hoeting said she sees the most need for trigger warnings in casual conversation, which is more unstructured than the classroom. “Sometimes people say things and it’s not as planned out as a presentation or even a classroom setting,” Hoeting said. “I think that those casual incidents where people could have said trigger warnings, but didn’t – those make the biggest impact on people.”

According to Olague, there is a balance that must be found with trigger warnings between protecting survivors and deterring people who could learn from the material. “You’re left with a catch 22,” Olague said. “You either leave survivors exposed to possibly being re-harmed, or you give a warning, and maybe some people don’t participate in the event for fear of what may happen.”




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