Trigger Warnings

Semester is just about to start at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell (UML), where I’ll be teaching Engineering Ethics.* I won’t be teaching military ethics this semester. If I was, there would be trigger warnings all over that class.**


Because—among any other reason to add trigger warnings to a class—Lowell is home to the second largest Cambodian diaspora in the United States. One of the largest in the world. And I know that UML takes a lot of local students.

So when I talk about genocide, about war crimes, about intrastate violence, you can bet I need to be aware that there are most likely students in my class who fled, or whose parents fled the Khmer Rouge.

That won’t stop me talking about those issues. Not at all. But people need to be prepared for some things—hell, people’s families might need preparation. That doesn’t infringe on my academic freedom one iota.

I’m not a clinical psychologist, so it’s not my job to judge just how much exposure people can or should receive around their trauma. Moreover, not one person in my class consented to treatment—education isn’t therapy.

So if you can’t wrap your imagination around why trigger warnings might be necessary, why don’t you start thinking about people who are victims of genocide.

*I’ll be including trigger warnings in Engineering Ethics as well, because I’ll be talking about rape and sexual assault in the profession of engineering.

**And you should get trigger warnings anyway in military ethics, because just about everything we discuss in that class is the worst things you can do to people, individually or in groups.


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