Trigger Warnings Curtail Debate, Literally

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

For some time now, sages and scholars have been alleging that so-called “trigger warnings” curtail vigorous debate on campus. It turns out that the allegation is more than mere hyperbole.

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“In college debate, which, unlike high school debate, is mostly student-run, it is a common practice to give trigger warnings before discussing ‘sensitive’ topics, and if a debater requests it, the topic must be changed,” Daniel Charnis wrote in a special supplement to The Chronicle of Higher Education. “In addition, each tournament designates an ‘equity officer,’ who is also a student debater, to ensure that all debaters are given equal opportunity to compete.” Charnis, a freshman computer science-math major at Columbia, is on the university’s debating team.

“Within the American Parliamentary Association, trigger warnings have become a popular way to preface a debate that could involve emotionally disturbing content,” Leah Block wrote in that same supplement. Block is a sophomore English major at NYU, who is on that university’s debate team.

The two faced off against each other in a debate over physician-assisted suicide. Block’s side objected to the topic, in part, because of her experience with suicide, which she wrote about in The Chronicle.

Yet and still, such policies usually stem from worse case scenarios but quickly become a standard practice in which censorship is imposed for many varieties of offense.