Anxious, shaken and a cold sweat wash over you

Anxious, shaken and a cold sweat wash over you. It’s hard to breathe, all you can remember is the sour taste in your mouth and the deafening sound of blood coursing through your body. You’re re-living the past over and over again, stuck in a loop, stuck in overwhelming anxiety. There is no focus, no change of getting work done or even listening to a lecture. Minutes tick into hours and now a whole class period has been wasted; the shame, the cherry on top of this emotional roller coaster, is all that you’re left with. To think that this could have been avoided by a few keywords, by a single note of respect, by a simple “heads up guys!”. Trauma, loss, PTSD, abuse and assault are unfortunately common experiences among our youth. To combat this, many people have begun warning others of or censoring triggering, graphic in content in videos, literature and in classroom curriculum.

Despite the clear statistics some people believe that supporting trigger warnings will correlate and support behavior that will hurt education and is giving way to the “snowflake millennials”. Trigger warnings are respectful and should never be considered a debilitation in the classroom. The term “trigger” originates in psychology, where it pertains to people with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety disorders. For survivors of combat violence, sexual abuse, assault or other trauma, certain sights, sounds, smells or other reminders can bring strong emotional and even physical reactions including panic attacks. Unfortunately, social media and other media outlets have taken language like trigger warnings and use them to talk about a broader set of subjects, such as labeling material as a concern for sexual abuse or sexual assault that doesn’t necessarily meet the medical qualifications. This behavior is the reason for the social slang and degradation of mental health issues into being a casual joke.

These people have coined the term “snowflake”, “generation Snowflake”, or “Snowflake Generation”, is a “eulogistic term used to characterize” the generation Z and the millennial generation as being more prone to taking offense and having less psychological resilience than previous generations, or as “[being] too emotionally vulnerable to cope with views that challenge their own” (Will). Because on these views, on April 3rd, fall of 2015, Stanford University issued a letter to incoming freshman declaring that their campus will not support or tolerate behaviors such as "trigger warnings, safe spaces or be providing additional guidance or psychiatric counseling" and that incoming freshman should, “not expect exceptions or [warnings] of any kind” (William). According to Campus Statistics daily this action took a detrimental blow to the campus entrance and graduation rate, nearly a 3% drop attended on top of the average 5% in the 2015 graduating class and a massive 8% drop in the number if incoming freshman of the year 2015 to the year 2016 (Anderson).

The year of 2015 was also a drop in the Stanford standardized exams for entry level classes such as freshman English, mathematics and sciences. (insert graph) Jessica Richard Halls, an officer in the Mental Health Awareness club at Stanford university, said on an open school newsletter “without the added support [from the counselors] the safety net had been ripped from underneath us. Students experiencing trauma or suffering from anxiety had nowhere to just relax. [This change] made it difficult for students with disabilities to obtain their resources and made it nearly impossible for MHA [the mental health awareness club] to meet” (William). Stanford's university has since rebutted their claims and reopened student resources, yet some still feel “unjustified” or that it’s “unfair” to other students to offer “special features to students who cant't control themselves in a classroom” (Will).

To consider a trigger warning as a special feature is an abstract and unorthodox claim. It is not “unfair” to others that Jessica Sanchez, age 19, was raped by two men on the campus of New Mexico university and could no longer participate in her ethics class due to the graphic depiction of the genocide and rape of the native American people. It is not “unfair” to individuals that Commander Marcus Hall could not watch a video and create a same day essay on the bombing of pearl harbor military base because of the sounds and sights of gunfire and explosions that brought him back to an all too familiar minefield where he lost his right arm (Garfield). The only tangible rebuttal offered by opposing sides is laced with personal opinions, prejudice and resistance to the validity of mental health. Panic attacks cannot be willed away. Pain, rape and trauma will never heal overnight and to have the audacity to invalidate people in their most helpless moments is not only cruel but completely unacceptable.

Young people now, more than ever, being discredited for having feelings and speaking out about the things that make them uncomfortable then are immediately labeled as delicate or entitled. It is no longer a social normality to abuse your kids, stay silent and let rapists walk free. To sit ignorantly while individuals of mental disability or disorders suffer. The only way we ,as a society, can help others is by developing a mature outlook on mental health issues. Also, being open to letting individuals have the tools that make them feel stable and safer. With this information we are left with the questions of what should a campus do to accommodate students with these disadvantages and “how should professors conduct themselves in these cases when dealing with sensitive students?” (Will).

First, individuals need to understand that these actions are not choices and that “just behaving” or “controlling themselves” is impossible (Will). When students gather the courage to fight their anxiety and ask for help, they shouldn’t be met with criticism or mockery. Secondly, the lead sociology professor at Kansas state university, Dr. Katherine Leer proposes several options for the beginning of the school year syllabus and several during the classroom curriculum: “taking the extra step to highlight within the syllabus the topics within the curriculum and possible discussion within the classroom that involve explicit or aggressive content that will be discussed specifically”.

Another step to take away from a professional classroom is Dr. Leer’s use of private discussion, Dr. Leer continuously urges students to email or approach her with their experiences and the issues they have difficulty with. Then, with this information Dr. Lee can then provide students with materials and recommend they take specific assignments at their pace; only in the worst case scenarios are students offered alternative assignments. Lastly, a wonderful step to take inspired by Beth Howard in her article “tackling free speech” was letting students with pre-disclosed issues have “their study time” or give them the opportunities to leave the classroom in a discreet way to go to student services, such as safe spaces or guidance offices. Only with these appropriate tools implemented in standard classroom procedures can students begin to feel that their experiences are valid and that they aren’t just “simple kids seeking out attention” or “creating bigger issues than is necessary” (will). These experiences are tragic, and students shouldn’t have to justify why they are uncomfortable or fighting to regain services that help further themselves in academics. It will take respect and dignity of all individuals on top of a college level maturity to successfully handle these situations and cases.

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