Trigger warning: discussions of suicide.
"Trigger warnings," "safe spaces," "microaggressions" — these are terms that have moved into mainstream consciousness only in the past few years. And as with any unfamiliar concept, the backlash has been resounding, from the presidential election — seen in Donald Trump's alleged rejection of "political correctness" — to college campuses.
Most recently, the University of Chicago issued a statement to incoming freshmen that said the school did not support trigger warnings or safe spaces.
"Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called 'trigger warnings,' we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own," the statement read.
The university's move reignited the debate on the merits of trigger warnings on college campuses. On the one hand, some argue that they coddle students in the very environment where they're supposed to confront uncomfortable ideas, as well as stifle freedom of speech. But advocates for these practices say that trigger warnings prepare students for reading further "and better manage their reactions," as Kate Mann, an assistant professor at Cornell University, wrote in the New York Times.
In some cases, trigger warnings could potentially save someone's life, too. After watching a video from The Young Turks reporting on the University of Chicago's letter, one student decided to respond to hosts Ana Kasparian and Cenk Uygur's general opposition to trigger warnings.
Patricia Rodriguez, who tweets under the username Cicia, countered the argument with a personal story about how a trigger warning in one of her classes could have prevented her from being sent to the mental hospital.
Rodriguez told A Plus over direct message on Twitter that she tweeted that to Uygur and Kasparian because they, as progressives, "missunderstood what a trigger warning and a safe space is."
Even among my friends and peers, there's a common misconception of what those things are. And it's easy to keep confusing their actual meaning if there is no one to correct them. If these erroneous ideas keep spreading, and folks in power remove safe spaces and trigger warnings, it can have a real effect on mental health. It's also tiring to feel attacked all the time.
Such discussion is ultimately helpful in defining how far trigger warnings and safe spaces can and should go. There is a fine line between alerting students about topics that could trigger trauma and censoring differing ideas and opinions altogether — and the debate in colleges will in part determine where that balance rests.