Stories

MRU talks trigger warnings and micro-aggressions

Content Big Ideas Lounge
Faculty, students and other MRU community members gathered to delve into the subject matter, Let's Talk About Microagressions and Trigger Warnings in the Classroom and Beyond.

More than just a place to get books, the Mount Royal Library is a place where ideas are born, conversations are started and the campus community connects.

With this in mind, in 2012, the Library launched the Big Ideas Lounge to bring faculty, students and staff together in a casual atmosphere to discuss topics that have been gaining attention in both the academic and professional worlds. This year's Jan. 21 chat was facilitated by Pat Kostouros, professor of the Department of Child Studies and Social Work and Rosalee Averin, inclusive education and programming coordinator with Diversity and Human Rights at Mount Royal.

Faculty, students and other MRU community members gathered to delve into the subject matter, Let's Talk About Microagressions and Trigger Warnings in the Classroom and Beyond.

"I think it's important to interweave real world issues with issues that might take place in the classroom," says Madelaine Vanderwerff, librarian, assistant professor and acting Collections Coordinator.

"The discussion is really about understanding the implications of what you're delivering to your audience … It's not that this sort of content didn't exist in the classroom before, but I think that we've become more mindful its delivery and are more sensitive about people's ethnicities, gender and beliefs."

Big Ideas Bethan McBreen
Bethan McBreen, a third-year student with a double major in psychology and English, says she is not worried about being offended by course content, material or discussions.

What is a trigger warning?Trigger warnings have been used for many years, and help prepare audiences for the emotional reaction that occurs when they are introduced to evocative material. Dialogue centered around whether or not professors should caution students when course materials could bring up painful memories or experiences, and how to handle when course content has the potential to offend minority or marginalized groups.

"Whenever you have material in your course that talks about someone else's suffering, then it comes with a trigger warning - often in the syllabus - which says, just so you know, there will some content in this class that will depict the suffering of others," says Kostouros.

"I call it 'depictions of suffering' rather than "traumatic', because trauma is different for each person."

Kostouros says there are two sides to the debate around trigger warnings. The first is that if a person has enrolled in university, then they should already be aware that there will be challenging content and difficult material to handle. Hence, trigger warnings are not necessary. The other side is that yes, students should be aware that there will be tough discussions, but to be ethically responsible there's no harm in giving a trigger warning.

Do microaggressions make you macro-angry?

Microaggressions are daily derogatory terms, slight insults that slowly degrade, says Averin, and they often happen unconsciously.

"A micro-aggression may not even be verbal. It's 'micro' in that it's not overt," says Kostouros.

Examples of micro-aggressions are someone in a class making a derogatory comment about homeless people, when there could be someone who comes from an impoverished background. Or it could be a faculty member using a disparaging or non-politically correct term to describe race.

"I think the discussion is about really understanding the implications of what you're delivering to your audience," says Vanderwerff.

A student perspectiveBethan McBreen, a third-year student with a double major in psychology and English, attended the Big Ideas Lounge, and said afterwards that she is not worried about being offended by course content, material or discussions.

"I choose to put myself in an academic environment and I choose the classes based on the professors and the content. I choose to learn from them," she says.

"These people do it because they want to give back. So, I'm like, I want to learn from you, whatever it is you might have to say."

Kostouros says the increased interest in these topics comes from heightened awareness overall, both externally and internally.

"We are asking each other to take our awareness and use it. It's not enough just to be informed. You actually have to act on it now," she says, adding there is an expectation that post-secondaries be held to higher account.

The Big Ideas Lounge gives everyone at Mount Royal a voice.

"We're all bound to the same societal issues," says Vanderwerff.

"The reason we include everybody is that we're all part of the same community."

Feb. 2, 2016 - Michelle Bodnar