Ashlee Korlach is an independent, freelance journalist based in Richmond.

If you’ve been on a college campus or around a college student lately, you might have heard about trigger warnings — an alert to a reader or viewer that some forthcoming material might be upsetting.

Such warnings are not uncommon in classes at Ferrum College, AnnGardner Eubank, a junior there, said.

There’s debate about the usefulness of trigger warnings. But there shouldn’t be. Trigger warnings are good. Full stop.

“My outlook on it is like, it won’t hurt anything to put a trigger warning,” Eubank said.

Triggers are different for each person that has experienced trauma and range from a certain smell to a written word. In the classroom, triggers might manifest themselves as descriptions of violence or sexual assault in readings.

The purpose of the warning is not to let a student who has experienced trauma off the hook from engaging. Rather, it’s a courtesy extended by a professor that lets students know that the topics covered or material examined includes something that may be triggering.

In essence, trigger warnings prevent students from being blindsided.

Indeed, trigger warnings can help ensure students achieve the “empowering education” championed by University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer.

In recent years, UChicago and Zimmer have emerged as leaders in the free expression movement across colleges nationwide. A letter to the Class of 2020 at Chicago sent by the dean of students in 2016 declared the school’s commitment to free speech.

In the letter, Dean John Ellison wrote that “Chicago’s commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

Zimmer spoke about free expression at the University of Richmond. The talk didn’t touch on trigger warnings, so I grabbed him after the event to ask about that letter and whether trigger warnings can aid in the “maximum intellectual challenge” Chicago strives for.

Essentially, he clarified that UChicago would not mandate that faculty include trigger warnings for their classes – if they want to use them, though, so be it.

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