There are several ways in which you can begin the essay:
- You may begin by presenting the First Amendment and your interpretation of free speech and censorship;
- or you can summarize what trigger warnings are, by referring to the articles, or .
- Or you can, as in the second essay, summarize an event that you can comment on, such as , or , or .
Again, when summarizing, give only the pertinent details. The summary doesn’t need to be long, but it should tell enough so that the reader understands.
Then you can go into your thesis, which, again, is a statement that answers a prompt question: Should trigger warnings be mandatory in college syllabi?
Again, donâ€™t write â€œI agree/disagreeâ€ or â€œI believeâ€. It’s redundant. Just state that mandatory trigger warnings are right or wrong because… Some sample theses would be:
- â€œThe policy is right because it respects the safety of students who suffer from trauma.â€ Or
- â€œIt is wrong because it infringes on academic freedomâ€
If you agree that trigger warnings should be up to the instructorâ€™s purview, then you would be against a mandate. A thesis of this nature would be:
- â€œWhile trigger warnings would show concerns over a studentâ€™s well-being, it should not be mandated but left up to the instructorâ€
The real issue here is whether such â€œcensoringâ€ (in a sense it is like a rating system) threatens freedom of speech and the right to a quality education. You should consider both sides of the issue first before writing your essay:
The Body Parts of Your Essay
The body parts of your essay should contain your support, criticism and counterarguments to your thesis. Again, the reason to present some criticism to your thesis is to show the reader that you understand both sides of the issue, but that you favor one side over the other (hence, the counterargument). As a result, it is important to review both sides before deciding on a position. Let us look at the advantages and disadvantages of a trigger warning policy:
The benefits of a mandatory policy:
- Such a mandate takes into account the student-centered approach to education. For so long, classes were built on an instructor teaching and a student listening. The students have very little input on what is being taught to them. They have no say in school policies, in the books being used in the classroom; sometimes, an instructor simply dominates the class time and insists that a student regurgitates what she says without challenges.
- It aligns with school policy in terms of accommodations with students of disability and students of color. This policy would be a way to address equity gaps among groups, who need services and accommodations based on recognized challenges of learning. As with workplace harassment, a student should not feel threatened or face conditions that would impede their progress. Materials that do provoke trauma can therefore cause debilitation and incapacity from a student.
- It doesnâ€™t prevent the student from learning. If anything, it encourages them to continue with their education, by taking their concerns into account and providing them with more services to succeed. The policy would either excuse a student from the material or give them the option of doing another, equivalent lesson.
- It is just a sentence or two on the syllabus. A trigger warning wouldnâ€™t extend the syllabus any longer than it is anyway. It would be enough to prepare a student for what is to come in the semester. This would also address any complaints or even lawsuits for the campus.
The detriments to a mandatory policy:
- It infringes on academic freedoms. This applies to teachers more than students. While the college should be aware of the obstacles a student faces, in the classroom the teacher is in charge. Only she would know what is the best way to learn, and what is the best materials to teach those skills. She is the professional in the field. A policy like that implies that a teacherâ€™s work is being monitored. [Then again, shouldnâ€™t it be?]
- Students would abuse the warnings. They will use it as an excuse for not doing the work. While such a policy would require a student to prove a disability (as we have in the Office of Special Services), students can feign â€œtraumaâ€ in order not to read or write about a particular topic.
- Too often we cater to studentsâ€™ needs as if they were still under parental supervision. In college, students shouldnâ€™t be hand-held. They should feel discomfort (some, not full-on assault) in order to work through their challenges. Of course, there are some students with verified trauma; but there are also psychological services on campus that would be a better place to address their disability. A classroom should be for teaching, not consoling. Furthermore, an alternative lesson for accommodated students would never be truly equal or fair in terms of learning the same thing.
- It is unnecessary and is just another rule that teachers must follow rather than letting them do their job. Even though a trigger warning isnâ€™t that long, the syllabus already explains to a student what to expect in the class. The books are listed and thus it should be up to the student to review the course well before the first week ends.
These are pretty thorough arguments that don’t all have to be in your essay. Pick and choose the strongest arguments for and against trigger warnings to prove enough of your point. And make sure to find support of any of these positions from the articles provided in the assignment.
Including a classroom example
Remember: The assignment further asks you to exemplify how classroom materials can challenge as well as offend students. For this, you have to take into consideration one of the topics raised in class: either The Mohammad cartoons, the Abu Ghraib photographs, or banned books that depict obscenity or offensive language. Can such materials and topics be presented in an educational way that is not offensive or even insensitive to some? Again, remember that even though you might not be offended by the â€œn-wordâ€ in a novel or the Mohammad cartoons, others of a different race or culture might be. [In other words, be empathetic to what other students are going through.] Do you need to show the photographs or cartoons or use the language to discuss the controversy, or might there be a better alternative that would still teach students skills? Would a trigger warning on a syllabus help or harm the lessons?
As with other essays, it is best not to repeat your thesis. Even if it is reworded, itâ€™s redundant. Instead, consider if such a policy were mandated at your college? Would this be a good or bad thing? Some beginning sentences of the conclusion would be:
- If such a policy were implemented at my college, students will feel safer about the class, knowing that their traumatic concerns are taken seriously. Or
- If the college were to enforce such a policy, it would be an infringement upon instructor’s academic freedoms. Part of college is challenging one’s view, and a trigger warning mandate would only blunt the learning process.
Again, align the conclusion with your thesis. Your thesis should never change.