If you think that the left’s oversensitivity is restricted to our shores, rest assured that they’re dealing with the same nonsense on the other side of the Pond. Academic experts in England are irritated and alarmed by reports that Cambridge University students are being given “trigger warnings” before delving into the works of William Shakespeare. English lit undergrads are apparently being warned that plays like Titus Andronicus touches on “potentially distressing topics” such as “discussions of sexual violence” and “sexual assault” that could dredge up bad memories for victimized readers. The trigger warnings were included in the “Notes on Lectures” document that is distributed to students in advance of the semester.
The BBC spoke to one Cambridge professor who said their “duty as educators was to prepare students for the world, not protect them for three years.”
Another educator, Professor Dennis Hayes of Derby University, told the BBC that these warnings could eventually lead to a chilling effect in academia. “Once you get a few trigger warnings, lecturers will stop presenting anything that is controversial,” he said. “Gradually, there is no critical discussion.”
Exactly. What is the point of these warnings? In other words, what are they supposed to accomplish? If a student has suffered from a traumatic experience in the past, are these warnings supposed to “prepare” them to be ready for a triggering episode? How would that work? The only way we could see the warnings as helpful is if certain students were permitted to skip the texts and the lectures altogether, and how are you going to obtain an English lit degree if you can’t stand to read and discuss any works that contain violence? That’s…most of the Western canon!
“If a student of English Literature doesn’t know that ‘Titus Andronicus’ contains scenes of violence they shouldn’t be on the course,” David Crilly of The Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, told the UK Telegraph. “This degree of sensitivity will inevitably curtail academic freedom. If the academic staff are concerned they might say something students find uncomfortable they will avoid doing it.”
It may seem as though there’s nothing wrong with a warning like this – after all, it’s basically the same as those MPAA ratings before movies, right? – but we’re not talking about parents trying to decide what they should subject their kids to. These are young adults who will soon be out in the real world. If they are “triggered” by common discussions of common human problems, then now is a good time for them to face their fears and get it out of their system. There’s no psychologist on earth who would tell a patient that total avoidance is the best remedy, because that’s just not a practical way to go through life. A life, by the way, that is going to throw at you much more difficult challenges than the plays of Shakespeare.
Challenges that won’t come with a warning.