A finger on the trigger warning

College campuses, often held up as the ideal locales for free-flowing discussions, are circling the wagons around students some say are too sensitive to hear discussions on issues that could trigger emotions related to a trauma or abuse some of them may have experienced.

Critics, though, say the movement toward “trigger warnings” stifles the very kind of free speech needed to allow meaningful discourse and walling off students for fear of their reactions is a misguided approach.

The growing debate has opened up administrators and professors to derision for coddling kids and keeping them from growing up and toughening up. The focus on the issue has resurfaced after the University of Chicago issued a statement saying it does not support the practice of a small number of colleges of providing “trigger warnings” to students. The decision has spawned a wide range of reaction — from conservatives who say it’s about time to students who have been victims who  fear they will be subjected to the trauma resurfacing by an unexpected discussion of events such as rape or abuse.

As in the outside world, there is a difference of opinion on campuses. Brown University President Christine Paxson says her school provides a safe atmosphere for all students but says there is no consideration to mandate stifling discussion on any subjects.

“Suppressing ideas at a university is akin to turning off the power at a factory,” Paxson wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post. “As scholars and students, our responsibility is to subject old truths to scrutiny and put forward new ideas to improve them.”

While much of the discussion for “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” focuses on traumatic events such as rape and abuse, in some areas they are being expanded to include racial profiling and harassment. At Brandeis University, Asian students created a display to highlight what they term as microaggresions, featuring such stereotypes as “Aren’t you supposed to be good at math?” But the Asian student group was forced to remove the display after other students said they felt “triggered” by the microaggression of the display. The school president apologized to those who were traumatized.

At Harvard, some law professors have foregone discussion of rape law for fear of offending or traumatizing victims.

A nonscientific survey by the National Coalition Against Censorship found that among more than 800 professors who responded, 75 percent said students demanded “trigger warnings” be required with another 15 percent requesting they be included in course material. About 12 percent said students complained about the lack of “trigger warnings.”

While critics point the finger at professors for creating the campus bubble, the survey found the vast majority of professors think “trigger warnings” stifle free speech. As one professor wrote in the survey, “trigger warnings cover my ass, but they do seem to have a couple of adverse effects. First, they create an expectation that exchanges will likely be contentious rather than cooperative. Second, they seem to suppress free inquiry and speculative (‘what if’) discussions, primarily for students but also for me.”

Some on-campus critics have taken to mocking “trigger warnings.” A New York University professor wrote in his syllabus for Introduction to United States History, “No need for Germans, Italians, or Japanese — or their descendants — to show up. We won, they lost. Any questions?”



Milton Town Administrator Annmarie Fagan rebuts a central allegation in a Boston Globe story suggesting Sen. Brian Joyce shortchanged the town on property taxes. (CommonWealth) The Globe reports that the debate about renovations on the Joyce home goes on. Media Nation’s Dan Kennedy suggests the debate over the accuracy of the Globe’s story is a media war.

State revenue growth has been slower than expected, which likely means budget cuts ahead. (Boston Globe)

A state audit recommends the Worcester social services agency Centro Las Americas repay $57,341 improperly spent on gifts, golf outings, and meals. (Telegram & Gazette)


Framingham has reached a settlement in the lawsuit by the family of a retired MBTA mechanic who was accidently shot and killed by the SWAT team during a botched raid in 2011. (MetroWest Daily News) The death of Eurie Stamps was one of the cases highlighted in a CommonWealth story about officer-involved shootings.

Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini looks to the Merrimack River for additional water. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Worcester City Council is developing regulations covering Airbnb and other apps offering short-term rentals in private homes. (Telegram & Gazette)

A federal Appeals Court panel has rejected a suit by a former Quincy police officer that he was wrongfully terminated when officials fired him for violating an order to stay away from the police station during a suspension. (Patriot Ledger)


Senate Democrats block a $1.1 billion Zika funding package because they say it contains “poison pill” language dealing with Planned Parenthood. (Associated Press)

Conservative provocateur Glenn Beck, acknowledging he is a “flawed messenger,” pens an op-ed expressing empathy for the Black Lives Matter movement and says it has a lot in common with the Tea Party. (New York Times)


Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump also held a fundraiser for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, in addition to the donation his foundation improperly gave her at a time when she was trying to decide whether to pursue charges against Trump University. (Huffington Post) A New York Times editorial accuses Trump of engaging in pay to play.

Polls are showing a tighter race in the national popular vote but Hillary Clinton still has the most favorable electoral vote path to victory. (U.S. News & World Report)

Secretary of State William Galvin predicts turnout of 8 to 10 percent in Thursday’s state primary. (Masslive) Seven races to watch. (WBUR) Galvin thinks turnout could go as high as 15 percent, however, in Hampshire County, where there are four contested Democratic primaries, including for sheriff and governor’s councilor. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

William Lantigua, the former mayor and state rep from Lawrence who now lives in the Dominican Republic, makes a robo call to voters on behalf of Juan Pascual, who is trying to unseat Lantigua’s old political rival Rep. Marcos Devers. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Republican opponent of state Sen. Marc Pacheco is questioning his commitment to the job after he is one of four finalists for a newly created vice president post at Bridgewater State University, a position that has been put on hold. Two of the other three finalists for the opening that pays $140,000 to $160,000 a year are also state lawmakers. (Taunton Gazette)\

State Rep. Brian Mannal of Barnstable, who dropped out of the Senate race but too late to remove his name from the ballot, now says he will accept the nomination if he is the top vote-getter. (Cape Cod Times)

Alexander Rhalimi, however, a Democratic primary challenger to Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, says he would stop the county’s practice of jailing illegal immigrants for deportation, under contract with federal authorities, if they don’t have serious criminal records. (Boston Globe)

The Globe endorses Katie Ford in the crowded Democratic primary for Suffolk County Register of Deeds. The paper encourages voters to coalesce around a single “non-Murphy” candidate, but allows that the election of former city councilor Steve Murphy, who many expect to win based solely on name recognition, “would not be a disaster” — which is about the highest praise Murphy could hope for from the paper.


Harvard economist Ken Rogoff says we aren’t ready for a cashless economy but would do better with a less-cash one. (Boston Globe)


Lowell charter schools discipline their students at the same rate as district schools. (Lowell Sun)

Framingham State University has fired a campus police officer charged with exposing himself to a female student. (MetroWest Daily News)

More questions are raised about the role of a campus chaplain in papering over sexual assault allegations at tony Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. (Boston Globe)

The for-profit ITT Technical Institute, which operated several campuses in the Boston area, has closed down after federal officials barred the company from receiving student aid following accusations of fraud and mismanagement. (New York Times)


Hospitals and health care advocates are resisting the Baker administration’s push for changes in MassHealth, saying the reforms will hurt the state’s most vulnerable citizens. (Gloucester Times)


State officials hold their first hearing — in Worcester — on the new electronic tolling system on the Massachusetts Turnpike. (Telegram & Gazette)

Bus route and maintenance privatization could be coming to the MBTA. (Boston Globe)


Pilgrim nuclear power plant shut down for the second time in less than a month after water levels used to cool the reactors fluctuated unexpectedly. (Cape Cod Times)

Three offshore wind companies vying for power contracts from the state’s utilities pledge to use the underutilized New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal as the staging area for their projects and pay $5.7 million a year in rent. (CommonWealth) The Standard-Times has the local angle.

The humpback whale population is making a comeback. (Cape Cod Times)


Boston’s police commissioner and the city’s main police union square off in court over the city’s body-camera initiative, with Commissioner William Evans maintaining he had authority to assign officers take part in a camera pilot program, while the union argues that such a move violates an agreement it reached with the city that says the program can only tap officers who volunteer to take part. (None did.) (Boston Globe)

Matt Wilding says Boston police unions overstated the case for equipping officers with “long guns” by wrongly claiming the FBI recommended such a move. (CommonWealth)

Massachusetts deported the lowest percentage of undocumented immigrants of any state last year. (Boston Herald)


Former Fox News Channel anchor Gretchen Carlson settles her sexual harassment lawsuit against the network’s former chief executive, Roger Ailes. She reportedly will be paid $20 million. (Associated Press)

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan explains why she treasures reader comments on stories.

A New Jersey Republican ends his campaign for a local office after saying he hoped a reporter for The Daily Beast would be raped. (Associated Press)