The Chronicle of Higher Education
May 11th, 2015
Are we living through a plague of hypersensitivity?
Most readers will be aware of campaigns to dampen hateful speech, to
stop "microaggressions," and to get professors to supply students with
"trigger warnings" — verbal trailers or coming attractions — when
anticipating visual and verbal disturbances. It’s as if we need the
equivalent of G, PG, PG-13, R, and X ratings for both texts and talk.
Those who want mandatory warnings believe they are straightforward
remedies for a straightforward problem: Vulnerable people need to be
protected from upset. If the demand for comfort collides with the need
for truth, or with the needs of an atmosphere of intellectual give and
take, the truth must be more prettily wrapped. At my own university,
advocates of trigger warnings counted "roughly 80 instances of assault" in Ovid’s Metamorphoses alone. Though Metamorphoses
is neither a Sadean revelry nor a snuff movie, some students find it
deplorable that they’re required to read the book without a prior alert.