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Thursday, June 05, 2014


by Chris O’Carroll

Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans. -- New York Times, 5/17/14

It should be noted that none of the schools cited in the Times article have actually implemented a policy that would mandate trigger warnings, and that college classrooms have often served as testing grounds for vital policies that might at first have seemed apocalyptic or Pollyannaish. Trigger warnings could eventually become part of academic environments, as unobtrusive and beneficial as wheelchair ramps and kosher toaster ovens. --Jay Caspian Kang, “Trigger Warnings and the Novelist’s Mind,” The New Yorker, May 22, 2014

Our syllabi have warning labels now.
We fear that certain stuff in history
And literature classrooms could somehow
Become a “trigger” for PTSD.

Slaveowners, Nazis, and the KKK --
These are a few rogues from the gallery
Of sadists calculated to dismay
Students with special sensitivity.

The cross, the rack, the bullwhip, and the stake;
Rape, warfare, genocidal tyranny --
There’s only so much college kids can take
Of painful truth about humanity.

We warn them and invite them to avert
Their eyes from education that might hurt.

Chris O’Carroll is a writer and an actor.  In addition to his previous appearances in The New Verse News, he has published poems in First Things, Folly, Measure, The Oldie, and Snakeskin, among other print and online journals, and in the anthologies The Best of the Barefoot Muse and 20 Years at the Cantab Lounge.