Posting this separately rather than replying to the original post because, honestly, I'm not attempting to start a fight. I might end up starting one anyway, but that's not the intent.
And I quote:
concept: instead of the words ‘trigger warnings’, academic institutions and academics who are against them must use the words ‘accessibility for students who have overcome trauma to work for their education’
The post goes on from here, but I want to focus on this part, because I think it's what we should be talking about, but aren't.
Not to be pedantic, but when I parse this out what it says to me is that "trigger warnings" should be considered a necessary, but not necessarily sufficient, component of "accessibility to those who have overcome trauma to work for their goals." (Were trigger warnings sufficient but not necessary, the equating of the two would be nonsensical, and if trigger warnings were both sufficient and necessary, then both supporters and detractors alike should be expected to make the substitution.)
And to me, the idea that trigger warnings should be considered a necessary, but not necessarily sufficient component of accessibility to those who have overcome trauma to work for their goals (and note that I'm referring to more than just higher education here) begs a question. Are trigger warnings a necessary, but not necessarily sufficient, component of accessibility to those who have overcome trauma to work for their goals?
In other words, if I take an institution, be that a university, employer or entertainment venue, and aggressively strip it of each and every thing that falls under the heading of trigger warning, does it become necessarily inaccessible to people who have overcome trauma?
And here comes the next question - can we even answer that question?
I, for my part, think I can. But I understand that it's only by making certain assumptions about what certain words mean, and I am not at all convinced that those assumptions are shared. In other words, while I think I understand what "trigger warnings", "accessibility" and "trauma" mean, I don't know if I share those understandings with others. After all, I'm pretty sure I know that "racism" means, and I've had some pretty intense arguments with people over whether or not a particular incident counts as racism, bigotry, prejudice or simple dickery.
Part of it is that I learned what racism meant when Jimmy Carter was still early in his tenure at the White House. And that was a long time ago. For some people, the definition has changed since then, and for others, 8-year old me was simply part of a society that didn't really understand was racism was, and was miseducated. And some people simply use a different dictionary.
And I think that this becomes part of the issue. As I've grown old, I've come to understand, and to expect, that language, especially English, is not objective. The words trigger warning, accessible and trauma don't mean the same thing to everyone. They've become loaded terms, and to a certain degree, overloaded.
I read an article today by an academic who took issue with the University of Chicago letter, but never actually cited it - all of the links that referenced it pointed to other articles that spoke of it, but themselves never directly quoted the letter. That, to me, was a bad sign. But I think that it's indicative of how this entire debate is playing out.
People appear to be standing on their own definitions of words and presuming that those definitions are universal. And once they've decided that they know what other people mean, there is also a tendency to believe they know how other people think. In other words, once you presume that "trigger warnings" are, by definition, necessary for "accessibility for students who have overcome trauma to work for their education," and any sufficiently educated speaker of English must treat them as such, then it becomes fairly easy to make attributions of intent. (Because if you don't make that presumption, then that attribution simply becomes an intentional straw man.)
One of our great failings in public debate is a failure to realize that English is about as precise in everyday speech as a drunken marksman with a blunderbuss. That often leads us, and I'll admit to being guilty here, too, to not ask other people what they understand certain words - especially the words that are important to us - to mean. Assuming, that is, that we even understand when certain words are important to us.
I'm willing to give the University of Chicago the benefit of the doubt. Not because all of us native South Siders need to stick together, but because I went to school in the days before trigger warnings, and I think I knew some people who survived trauma who found school accessible to them. But, like I said, I'm making some assumptions with that, and other people may not hold to them.
In any event, I do think that we often have the wrong discussions about topics like this. Which may be why they become so contentious.