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Letter to the Editor: A response to ‘Why classrooms should make students learn rather than merely feel safe’

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I commend the honest discussion about the need to be both intellectually and emotionally challenged in college. Indeed, adversity affords the opportunity for growth and learning, both in and out of the classroom. But from my own experience of adversity, I have learned the importance of being candid about trauma and its lasting impact.

My family was murdered by a serial killer. I have post-traumatic stress disorder, a highly-stigmatized and misunderstood condition. Thus, I am bemused at the suggestion that we exclude PTSD from the conversation of trigger warnings. Such a proposition dismisses the only rationale for these warnings to begin with.

The purpose of trigger warnings is to alert those who, like myself, have personally experienced severe trauma. And, although complete avoidance of triggering subject matter is neither possible nor advised, students deserve the right to know if they are going to be put into a vulnerable situation.

Furthermore, trigger warnings were never intended to coddle or insulate the university environment. In fact, I am a proponent for the discussion of topics such as murder, rape culture, sexism and racism. And I am encouraged by the thought that so many great minds at Northwestern are looking at these issues with the hope that the rates of such occurrences can be reduced.

Faculty shouldn’t soften or re-frame classroom material in a less challenging way. They shouldn’t censor discussions about topics that make students feel uncomfortable. But faculty should allow students the opportunity to engage in their education in the healthiest way possible.
The conversation about trigger warnings should not be about whether or not they are needed. At the risk of making people “uncomfortable,” PTSD is real. Rather, the conversation needs to be about when these alerts should be made. And the solution seems rather self-evident.

Put trigger warnings in the course description.

Students who have PTSD or an emotional sensitivity to a particular subject matter will not purposefully choose courses that focus explicitly on the subject. The issue for students arises when a course includes a lecture on sensitive material (e.g. murder or rape) but the content is not divulged in the course description due to the course’s wide scope. This lack of disclosure leaves students feeling blindsided in the middle of the quarter when the focus unexpectedly shifts to a subject that is triggering due to their own prior experiences of the most adverse and challenging kind.

I will conclude by expressing my gratitude to university faculty that encourage students to talk about the most disturbing and difficult subject matter that our society faces. But I must ask a simple question: If these subjects are important because of their negative impact on people, why can’t we support the people they have impacted the most?

Evelyn Hudson
Communication junior

If you would like to respond publicly to this letter, send a Letter to the Editor to The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.