Feminist Website Deems The Term ‘Trigger Warning’ Not Sensitive Enough


As the dialogue surrounding the usage of trigger warnings and safe spaces continues on college campuses nationwide, one website has for years been enforcing an editorial policy that may further the conversation:EverydayFeminism.com, a self-proclaimed “educational platform for personal and social liberation,” does not use the term “trigger warning” in front of its articles, not because it dismisses concerns for distressing readers susceptible to sensitive material, but because “the word ‘trigger’ relies on and evokes violent weaponry imagery.”


More from the editor’s note attached to the July 15 essay “When You Oppose Trigger Warnings, You’re Really Saying These 8 Things“:

Like this phenomenal article, Everyday Feminism definitely believes in giving people a heads up about material that might provoke our readers’ trauma. However, we use the phrase “content warning” instead of “trigger warning,” as the word “trigger” relies on and evokes violent weaponry imagery. This could be re-traumatizing for folks who have suffered military, police, and other forms of violence. So, while warnings are so necessary and the points in this article are right on, we strongly encourage the term “content warning” instead of “trigger warning.”

Everyday Feminism was founded in June of 2012 and appears to have practiced this editorial policy as far back as January of 2013, but the debate among the usage of the term has escalated in the last week after the University of Chicago’s dean of students John Ellison wrote a letter to incoming freshmen about the school’s commitment to an open dialogue about even sensitive topics. With regard to such material, Ellison wrote, the student body is “encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn without fear of censorship.”

Close-up of a young woman with adhesive tape over her mouth

Theories in defense of trigger warnings, such as Grand View University professor Kevin Gannon’s highly shared piece at Vox, critiques Ellison’s letter for adopting a mindset that “relies on caricature and bogeymen,” i.e. coddled millennials, versus taking a more progressive and self-aware approach that avoids alienating marginalized groups from higher learning.

On CNN’s “Smerconish” last weekend, University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone attempted to clarify that Ellison’s letter was not designed to single out students who’ve experienced trauma. “All [the letter] means is that the university doesn’t require individual faculty members to do that,” Stone explained, “but faculty members in their own academic freedom are perfectly free, when they think it’s appropriate, to warn students in advance if there is material that they think individual students would find particularly sensitive.”

You can watch the segment at CNN here.


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