Analysis of “The Trigger Warning Myth”

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Analysis of “The Trigger Warning Myth”

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Analysis of “The Trigger Warning Myth”

“Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response” (Lukianoff/Haidti, Paragraph 3). Recently there has been a crisis within the U.S. where college students (on average) are showing an increase in stress, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. To help spread awareness of this crisis; author’s Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidti published an article, “The Coddling of the American Mind”, which claims the cause of this epidemic would be the filthy atmosphere of campus life (atmosphere meaning the use of certain ideas, words, and subjects).

This article then goes on to explain why they believe this is the cause of these “crisis” and how the idea of Trigger Warning should be implemented. However, within Aaron R. Hanlon’s article, “The Trigger Warning Myth”, he refutes the claim of Lukianoff and Haidti by generally claiming there isn’t as big of a relationship between trigger warnings and mental health of students as the article “The Coddling of the American Mind” has portrayed it to be and trying to communicate with the audience the ideology of trigger warnings at any university. In this essay, I will explore the ideas behind the article “The Trigger Warning Myth” and show how Hanlon’s argument is persuasive.

The article begins with Aaron Hanlon stating Lukianoff’s/Haidti’s claim, being trigger warnings are the main cause behind the mental crisis occurring within college students and how a movement is rising to cleanse universities of these “immature” ideas, words spoken to sensitive students. He then uses logical reasoning to rhetorically ask the audience, would trigger warnings cause all of these symptoms, being academic pressures, increased accessibility to college, familial and broader economic pressures, etc. Hanlon further speaks by stating his position at a university and how trigger warnings are being misinterpreted by the common folk. Then the author begins to a state that the students should correct the hate speech with corrective speech, what this means is to present ideas, evidence that overwhelm ignorance.

He explains that not only could this be censored by people suffering with PTSD or other mental issues, people who are more insensitive and which to not learn about this content solely for the reason they feel this content is “trash.” His solution to helping students who suffer with PTSD is to simply provide context to the student through the use of trigger warning, this decision was based on the author’s that wrote these pieces throughout the ages. Hanlon refers back to Lukianoff and Haidti’s article, “The Coddling of the American Mind”, with their logic of the idea of trigger warnings always being a negative outcome and then shows how Lukianoff and Haidti allow students to disengage from a course from the content explained in class and explains that professors who give warnings of any sort would reduce the number of students who do not come to class prepared.

The final paragraphs of Hanlon’s article explain trigger warnings are not the problem, the real problem would be the messy business of learning and the student’s mental health collide in this culture war and explains the power of authority with P.C. lies with another group or person.

At the beginning of the article, Hanlon tries to have the audience think about this issue in his perspective with this rhetorical question “How have trigger warnings, of all things, been elevated to explanatory value akin to academic and professional pressures, increased accessibility to college, familial and broader economic pressures, reduced sleep, sexual assault epidemics, social media image policing, and any number of other factors that experts have identified as serious contributors to mental health problems on college campuses?” (Hanlon, paragraph 2). He is using logos here by having the audience try to build a connection between trigger warnings and mental issues.

He feels trigger warnings are to prepare students for what is about to come and in turn he implicates if students were to remove trigger warnings from classes and the professor brings up a topic that may cause a flashback for the student, the student probably would have, at the very least, wanted a “warning” for what was about to come during the lecture, reading, exam, etc. “The thinking behind the idea that trigger warnings are a form of censorship is fundamentally illogical: those who offer warnings, at our professional discretion, about potentially triggering material are doing so precisely because we’re about to teach it! If we used trigger warnings to say, effectively, “don’t read this, it’s scary,” then there’d be no need to warn in the first place; we’d just leave the material off the syllabus.” (Hanlon, Paragraph 8) is another example of Hanlon persuading trigger warnings are more of a preparation technique for students towards certain class content.

Hanlon demonstrates how he shows sympathy with students, and this is his primary appeal to pathos within this statement, “One is to have a private conversation with the student about the material, away from the pressures of the classroom; another is to take the student’s response as an occasion to check in with the student and make sure they have access to campus mental health resources.” Pathos is critical due to its effectiveness, some of the audience may read an article and feel the article doesn’t doesn’t show some sort of caregiving information, this may cause the reader to psychologically disapprove the entire argument because the article would not show some mercy/sympathy about a certain article. This may not seem like an example of pathos. However, it is an example from the idea of places himself in the shoes of the student with a mental issue and wonders how can I help this student.

He is showing sympathy for the student by allowing him/her to enter his office to speak of an issue and even recommends referring the student to a campus mental issue “center” if the student is in dire need of it and if the student isn’t already in one. Another example of Hanlon showing sympathy is “Those of us who occasionally use trigger warnings are not as naïve as we’re made out to be; we understand that there is no magical warning that will assuage all anxieties and protect students from all traumas, nor is there a boilerplate trigger warning or trigger warning policy that professors can be reasonably expected to follow formulaically. Rather, trigger warnings are, in practice, just one of a set of tools that professors use with varying degrees of formality to negotiate the give-and-take of classroom interactions.” (Hanlon, Paragraph 16).Here Hanlon shows his understanding that trigger warnings may cause anxiety amongst some students and rebuts trigger warnings are used as more of a “give and take” between the professor and the student.

Hanlon explains his experiences as an assistant (bottom of article states this detail) professor who implies he has had experience with this type of issue and has been in the same seat as the student. This can be shown as his ethos and the statement for which this, “write this as a professor well outside of Haidt’s field, from a pedagogical standpoint; which is to say from one of several very different kinds of caregiving roles on a college campus, one concerned primarily with students’ intellectual development (as opposed to their general mental health in a clinical context).” (Hanlon, Paragraph 3).

The types of arguments used within the article were the rebuttal, casual, and an evaluation argument. The rebuttal argument is one in which a claim made by an author is refuted by another author with hard evidence such as articles from a database such as the library, statistics from research studies, and even personal human experience. On the other hand, the casual argument is where an author such as Aaron R. Hanlon would express an outcome/outcomes from a decision made or a cause that leads one or more effects. Lastly, the evaluation argument is explained as setting out criteria and then judging something to be good or bad or best or worst according to the criteria that was set out earlier.

If you were to go into more detail about the argument, you would see the three “arguments” Hanlon uses to setup his overall claim; these being a rebuttal, casual and evaluative argument. An example of the rebuttal argument being “Lukianoff and Haidt view trigger warnings as ways of assuming negative outcomes despite the facts of the situation, a form of what they describe as “fortune-telling”: “‘predicting the future negatively’ or seeing potential danger in an everyday situation.” Further, for Lukianoff and Haidt, trigger warnings are ways of enabling those who do suffer from PTSD to disengage, counterproductively, from the harsh realities of the world.

They view trigger warnings, in other words, as not only a form of censoring what professors can teach, but of censoring students’ experience of real life. But trigger warnings don’t need to be the end of a difficult conversation; more often they’re actually the beginning of one.” Hanlon rebutted that trigger warnings can actually start a new conversation.” (Hanlon, paragraph 11). This is a perfect example since he goes into the perspective of other author’s thoughts on trigger warnings and then refutes it by stating what he feels this will cause. Lastly, Hanlon rhetorically asks the how can you teach important ideas from great authors/philosophers even when the piece(s) being to graphic for some students? Hanlon goes about this problem from the opposite perspective and understands some students may feel discouraged from studying the material due to the graphic content. But, Hanlon rebuttals this by stating if the student has a problem with learning the material, he/she is more than welcome to come to office hours to speak about the problems with the content and he would follow up by referring the student to a campus mental health resource location/program if necessary.

Casual arguments were used multiple times throughout the article, one place would be “Similarly, students can demand trigger warnings or sensitivity trainings, but students remain more vulnerable to institutional power than the professors who assign their grades or the administrators who adjudicate their missteps.” He states here that students who choose trigger warnings and they will remain more vulnerable to to institutional power as a result. The last argument I found was an evaluation argument, “In both cases, censoring this material is a bad idea, and providing context is the best avenue for explaining why.”

Hanlon feels that censoring this material is a bad idea since it may prepare students for the content they will teach, if it causes a flashback.The main point of this essay is to refute the claims of the article, “The Coddling of the American mind”, and to give, what he believes, to be the real causality of these mental breakdowns. Now, the casual argument helps the author get his point across by showing the effect of the decision to remove trigger warnings from the university educational system. The evaluation argument helps to set the criteria for which the authors of “The Coddling of the American Mind” input to come up with a logical decision based on the criteria set. However, Hanlon refutes those claims in the beginning of the article and sets new criteria to which he makes his claim. The criteria help the reader to understand from where he made up this decision.

The author shows the evaluate argument here, “In both cases, censoring this material is a bad idea, and providing context is the best avenue for explaining why.” Hanlon feels that censoring this material is a bad idea since it may prepare students for the content they will teach, if it causes a flashback. The main reason this may considered an evaluation argument is the author is showing a decision that either was or would have been made and further states a possible outcome from that decision. Now, this helps hanlon’smain rebuttal argument towards Lukianoff’s and Haidt’s article by showing a possible outcome from censoring trigger warnings and implies to the audience trigger warnings should not be censored.

From the rhetorical strategies used in the article dealing with the crisis of college students with mental issues, Hanlon set up a good argument and I agree with Hanlon on the matter. Trigger warnings should not be blamed as the cause for mental issues and removing these warnings from universities would not solve the issue since the students still have these mental issues and trigger warnings are misunderstood since they are just warnings to students that a certain subject that may be graphic is about to come upon them. Ultimately, the author wrote down a logical, somewhat emotional argument and used his profession/experience to give him the credibility he needs to have this article stand with the audience.



Hanlon, Aaron. The New Republic, August 14, 2015. Web. September 28 2015. <>.

Lukianoff, Greg and Haidt, Jonathan. The Atlantic Monthly Group, September 2015 issue. Web. September 28, 2015. <>.

Weaver, Richard M. Ideas Have Consequences. , 2013. Print.

Kohn, Alfie. The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Coddled Kids, Helicopter Parents, and Other Phony Crises. , 2016. Print.


Lukianoff, Greg. Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. New York: Encounter Books, 2014. Internet resource.

Cairns, James I. The Myth of the Age of Entitlement: Millennials, Austerity, and Hope. , 2017. Internet resource.

Skenazy, Lenore. Free-range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children: Without Going Nuts with Worry. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass, 2013. Internet resource.

What Teachers Need to Know: Topics of Inclusion. EUGENE: WIPF & STOCK PUBLISHERS, 2017. Print.

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