Trigger Warnings – What They Are and What They Aren’t
(TW: hospitalization, suicidal ideation, self-harm, abuse, police, sexual assault, military, sexism, homophobia)
(Exterior shot of the University of Chicago admissions building)
Text: A lot of people are terrified of trigger warnings.
Building: No trigger warnings allowed!
(Newspaper headlines like “Trigger Warnings, Colleges, and the Swaddled Generation – The Washington Post,” “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas – The New York Times,” “How Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health On Campus – The Atlantic”)
Text: A quick Google search would make you think they’re some kind of Fahrenheit 451 conspiracy.
(A red X through the image of the previous panel)
Text: But that’s not really what trigger warnings are.
(A hospital exterior)
Text: Let me give you a scenario.
(I sit in a psych ward hallway)
Text: In junior year of college, I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation.
(Panicked, I curl into myself, with thoughts in the background: Will they let me leave? What happens if I tell them I’m suicidal? When can I call my parents?)
Text: It was a very scary place.
(Interior shot of a classroom)
Text: One week later, one of my classes decided to show a video.
(A video on old TV of people being forced into the hospital)
Text: It was on the history of forced sterilization in mental hospitals.
(Close-up of my stressed-out face)
Text: I was not prepared.
(I sit in my chair with thought bubbles: a woman staring at me, an identification bracelet, a knife, an open window)
Text: All of my memories suddenly pooled into my brain.
(I cry at my desk)
Text: I wanted to leave, but I didn’t want to be a bad student.
(The class stares at me, confused and uncomfortable, while I cry profusely)
Text: So I just sat there.
(A clock rewinds)
Text: Now, this situation could have been avoided.
(The professor is talking to students. I raise my hand.)
Text: All that needed to happen is…
Professor: Class, we are about to watch a video about forced sterilization in psych wards.
Me: I’m not sure I’m emotionally able to deal with this video at the moment, but I’m going to try. If it does overwhelm me, is it okay if I step out?
(The professor is now talking to me)
Professor: Yes, absolutely. I wouldn’t want to force you to relive a traumatic situation.
Me: Thanks, dude.
Text: (in red) CRISIS AVERTED.
(A sexual assault survivor and a war veteran march at the front of a political protest.)
Text: I’m not the only person who has ever experienced trauma.
Text: But we live in a culture that thinks emotions are feminine and weak…
Group of Boys: (surrounding one crying boy) Aw, he’s crying like a little girl!
(Police officers patrol a street with high-tech military equipment)
Text: That thrives on aggression and abuse…
(A mass of people standing for the pledge of allegiance)
Text: And that refuses to admit that the way it operates hurts people.
(Again, I sit crying in class, trying not to look at anyone)
Text: So when something bad happens, you suck it up.
Me: I’m fine.
(Close-up of a trigger warning on my syllabus)
Text: And that’s what trigger warnings challenge.
Me: Wait. No. I’m not fine.
(I head out of the room while doing breathing exercises)
Text: They give us the right to our trauma and control over our healing.
Me: 1, 2, 3, 4… 1, 2, 3, 4…
(I sit on the staircase outside of the classroom)
Text: They let us know that what happened was real.
(I start writing on a piece of paper)
Text: And that we have every right to be pissed about it.
(Close-up of the impromptu protest sign I made on the steps and am now holding, which says “Are psych wards to help us or keep us hidden? Let’s restructure!”)
Text: And that’s what scares people.