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Novels Need Trigger Warnings, Too
Gigi Deinard '20 Senior Writer
January 30, 2020

There are Deerfield students who have a parent suffering with alcohol abuse. There are students who have a family member who has been raped. There are students who suffer from self-harm, depression, and have struggled with thoughts of suicide. These heavy topics are the reality of Deerfield and should be taken into deeper consideration. 

While Deerfield students are sheltered by our beautiful campus, supportive faculty, and endless opportunities, an individual’s experiences and internal struggles are still prevalent. As students sit in their desk chair or at a library table, or reading the English homework for the night, topics of possible personal struggle jump out of the pages. 

For the students not struggling with something, this content leaves no emotional scars. But, if a student is struggling, these words can be mentally taxing and cause unnecessary pain. For example, if a person is struggling with self harm, reading descriptions of bleeding razor cuts can upset their mental stability.

I am not arguing for our English books to be completely censored because shying away from heavy topics hinders both the students and the teachers. Instead, teachers should give warnings to the class about possibly sensitive topics before starting a book. Depending on the book, teachers might make the choice to be more specific with the whereabouts of the information. 

For example, during a chapter, the teacher could point out certain pages to read with discretion and care. If students believe that reading the content at all will cause too much harm, students should feel comfortable having a conversation with the teacher.

While reading This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann this year in English, topics of rape, drug use, physical abuse and alcoholism were scattered throughout the book. I went to talk to Mr. Scandling to ask about this idea of trigger warnings before a book or reading, and he responded positively, respecting my offer by notifying the class of the pages in which these difficult topics are discussed. 

Although students will still end up reading about the topics, the knowledge that a sensitive topic will appear at some point during the book can help students to emotionally prepare instead of being taken off guard. 

Compare trigger warnings to a teacher giving a test. A teacher notifies students a week in advance for a test so that students can prepare, manage their time and get in the proper mindset to complete the task. The mental process involved with preparation is very different from the one at play when a teacher gives a pop-test, surprising students whether or not they were ready. Because of the lack of knowledge, students have no control over their preparation. 

The same concept can be applied to sensitive readings, and it explains why trigger warnings should be a more common occurrence. 

Knowledge that a topic will appear in the reading gives students flexibility and control to judge their own mental state at that time. Mental well-being is a fragile scale that can be drastically tipped. Each student knows themselves and what mental, physical, and emotional state they should be in before thinking about a delicate topic that could cause possible instability. 

Every student has different experiences and carries different struggles with them throughout their time at Deerfield. All of us as students put our struggles aside to study, focus, and learn at Deerfield. In return, Deerfield academics as a whole, but especially the English department, can do better to be more sensitive and accommodating to their classes. 

Even if giving a trigger warning for the book helps just one student, that will create a much more positive experience for that person, while not harming or taking away from the experience of anyone else. 

Everyone is guilty of falling into their individual busy schedule of classes and becoming oblivious to the struggles of others. This change, if anything, is a reminder to support everyone on campus, regardless of their personal experiences, regardless of the mental illnesses they may or may not struggle with. 

Similarly to the warnings about heavy concepts before school meeting, these “trigger warnings” should be extended to books read in school as well. These warnings leave time for students to mentally and emotionally prepare themselves; being in the right headspace is crucial when dealing with heavy topics. 

Our experiences and our struggles as people should not define or stop our learning.