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Trigger warnings are not an excuse to censor free speech

These warnings are stifling students’ understanding the harsh realities of life

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Inormally write for The Peak’s humour section, so something really has to bug me to put me in the den of seriousness. Lately that thing has been the overly-politically correct (PC) culture developing on college campuses.

Now, before I start raving on the topic, I’ll say that I consider myself a very progressive, left-leaning individual. I am an ardent supporter of Black Lives Matter, pro-Syrian refugees to a fault, and I’m a feminist. But unfortunately, a lot of the overly PC attitudes I see developing lately don’t feel all too progressive in my eyes.

What specifically bothers me is the notion of trigger warnings — that is, online warnings provided before content that could possibly trigger a traumatic feeling or memory — which I believe to be completely flawed and unnecessary in the university environment.

A trigger warning that irked me in particular was one provided before an English class that looked at the horrors the First Nations peoples had to face. Wow, if fragile students can’t face content that informs them of the evils committed against First Nations peoples by the Canadian government, then how can they possibly properly understand the issue properly? How can they fully understand Canadian history? How can we de-stigmatize ourselves from any potential real-life uncomfortable experiences we may encounter?

Safety is an illusion created in the mind. It’s reassuring, but not reflective of reality.

These ideas, combined with reading excellent coverage of free speech erosion on American college campuses by writer Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic, gave me a reason to speak out on the issue of trigger warnings. By potentially deterring people from viewing, listening, or reading important content, trigger warnings ultimately hinder the creator’s free speech.

As a part of the ‘bubble-wrap generation,’ coined due to how closely we’re mollycoddled by our parents and the rest of society, I can’t think of a generation that has been exposed to more warnings for content that divulges the cruel realities of the world. Instead of preparing us to deal with reality, they encourage us to create personal, safe, sheltered spaces for ourselves so we can avoid all around us.

The fact of the matter is the world is not a safe place; traumatic experiences happen every day. You could become seriously injured or die at any moment in an accident, contract a deadly disease or be mugged by a stranger on the street. Moreover, people both on our continent and overseas are being treated terribly under the conditions they live in today, not just conditions described in history books. Safety is an illusion created in the mind. It’s reassuring, but it’s not reflective of reality.

If your only means of dealing with your fears is to avoid them, how will you ever overcome any obstacle thrown your way? Any psychiatrist will tell you the only way to face your fears is to confront them directly. So instead of demanding to be coddled and sheltered by trigger warnings, we should work towards strengthening our emotional fortitude by facing harsh realities without throwing up a warning beforehand.

If words break bones, then how do you expect to survive reality’s sticks and stones?

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