Should college professors refrain from discussing abortion because the topic might upset someone in their classroom? After all, what if a student has had an abortion? Understandably, a discussion like this might trigger strong emotions and make the student feel trapped. Perhaps, if potentially offensive topics like abortion are going to be broached, professors should warn students in advance.
This kind of reasoning is fueling a growing movement on U.S. college campuses to require professors to issue so-called “trigger warnings” – explicit warnings alerting students to potentially upsetting material. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, the student government this spring formally called for trigger warnings. And now, students at colleges around the country are doing the same.
Now, trigger warnings seem reasonable when a professor is about to show a graphic film depicting rape. But, what about slapping warnings on classics like “The Merchant of Venice” for containing anti-Semitism? Or, telling students to beware of Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” because it addresses suicide? Society once considered it a professor’s job to challenge students’ often parochial and narrow worldviews. But now, that’s being sacrificed to create a kinder, gentler American university. Our students may remain naïve and mistaken, but let’s face it: ignorance is bliss and reality bites.
This new movement reveals a lot about the state of American society. A society that seeks psychological bliss at the expense of truth likely is a society that knows it’s wrong, but refuses to face it. The girl who’s had an abortion doesn’t want to know that pre-born babies are actual persons. Similarly, the hedonistic co-ed who suspects his life has no meaning doesn’t want to wrestle with downers like depression and suicide.
Yet, as comforting as delusion may be, only truth can set a person free. Truth reveals faulty worldviews. As Nancy Pearcey writes: “When a person’s worldview is too ‘small,’ there will always be some element in human nature that fails to fit the paradigm.” And, it’s this incongruity that often leads people to consider altering their worldview. At least, it used to – before students chose to bury their heads in the sand.