Marquel, TPVs Times Trigger correspondent almost choked on his morning coffee because it did not come with a trigger warning: hot stuff. Or maybe because he was reading the New York Times article: Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm. It might upset them because of past trauma. Marquel read this story and realized it was beyond parody. Obviously some meta fascists had taken over the Times building and occupied it, issuing absurd fiction as fact. Actually he felt much better now. How much of what he read today wasn’t true? Maybe Pakistan was at rest , the lost girls have been found, Middle East peace finally arrived, Obama actually did something! This was going to be a good day after all. But first a trip to one of the local universities. NYU was closer and less snotty so I choose the village. I roamed the campus and the park and I spied a couple reading the Times. I was going to warn them.
“Don’t believe that!” I said. “The Times building has been occupied. You don’t know which stories are true and which are not!?” They looked up at me, still in a semi-embrace.
“How do you know that?” one asked.
“Just look at the contents. Did you see the one on trigger warnings?” I asked.
“We just read it to each other,” the man said.
“What’d you think? Truth…or not?” I asked.
“I assume it’s true.” his partner said.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“We just had a meeting about it here. At NYU.” one of them said.
I was so depressed. The war goes on in Pakistan. The lost girls are lost. The Middle East is…the Middle East. I had to shake myself out of this funk to pursue the story. “So it’s true,” I said. “Students want to be warned in case there’s something upsetting in the reading?”
“I think its reasonable,” they said in unison.
“Do you think tests should have a warning ‘Hard questions inside?’ ” I asked. Perhaps that was unfair, I thought. But they were unperturbed.
“It’s not for hard things. It’s for upsetting things.”
“What if somebody had a trauma in childhood about hard things?” I asked.
“Well, then maybe she deserves a trigger warning.” he said.
“But isn’t the fact that its a test a warning enough?” I asked.
“That’s a tough question.” she said.
“Maybe I should have given you a trigger warning.” I said. They both squirmed. But they were embracing pretty vigorously. It might not have been my approach. I continued. “Let me ask you. You’re here at school to prepare for a career, is that right?” They both nodded. I didn’t want to pry so I just asked, “Do you think when you’re working in…” I paused.
He said, “finance.”
“Good,” I said. “So in finance are they going to give you a trigger warning, “Danger, family with handicapped children about to be evicted?’ ”
“No, I don’t think they’ll treat me that gingerly.” He admitted.
“And you, I said, trying to point to her in the mess of tangled limbs, “Do you think you’re going to get warnings in…?” I urged.
“I’m in medical school.” she said.
I almost leapt. “Trigger warnings about death? Embolisms? Tumors?”
“Nah,” she said, “that’s part of the job.
“So why isn’t a bit of shock, a bit of rethinking, a little destabilizatioin, all part of college learning? Isn’t that how learning proceeds?” I asked, fairly sincerely.
“But we have people who have been raped, attacked, assaulted.” She said, “and they have PTSD.”
“That’s a problem,” I admitted, “but maybe they’re not ready for college. The choice is really to let them in with stress warnings and make the rest of the school suffer from these spoilers, or tell them to toughen up…maybe that’s too harsh…tell them to straighten up, see a professional. Maybe college just isn’t for them.”
“But that’s so unfair. It should be for everybody,” they both said.
“Why?” I asked. Silence. “What if somebody once was traumatized in her pajamas. Would we need a stress warning for any book that mentioned pjs?” I asked.
They looked first at each other, which wasn’t hard to do. I think their noses collided, then at me “That might be going too far.” they agreed.
“What if someone was once traumatized by oatmeal in the morning?” I asked. “Stress warnings for oatmeal?” They shook their heads. It could have been up or down. It was impossible to tell. “Don’t you think we need to be toughened up in college, not infantilized?” I asked.
“I guess so,” said the future doctor, “but then not everyone could go to college.”
Yes, I thought, I guess that’s the problem. Wouldn’t it be awful. I tried to say good bye and thank you, my habit, but they were too involved. It looked as if there were one too many arms. I deserved a trigger warning for that, I thought. My thoughts returned to the unoccupied Times. The war goes on, no peace, girls still lost. For that I certainly deserved a trigger warning. Life was hard without trigger warnings.