“Trigger Warnings & Neoliberal Classrooms: Rethinking Pedagogy in Our Time of Precarity,” an interdisciplinary panel and discussion, will take place at the Stony Brook University Humanities Institute on Wednesday, February 18th at 4:00pm. We would like to begin the discussion here on the IJFAB site, so please feel free to comment below–before, or even well after, the panel. We’ve also set up a website where we are compiling a list of resources on these issues for instructors, so please email us via the site with links to add. The following is how Michelle Ho and I have conceived of the panel and discussion:
After months of death and rape threats protesting her work, feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian canceled her talk at Utah State University that was scheduled for October 15, 2014. Despite having received an email threatening a “shooting massacre” at the event, the institution could not prohibit the carrying of guns due to state law. The case of Sarkeesian, who challenges representations of women in video games, highlights the issue of safety in academia. As feminist speakers and teachers are increasingly feeling less safe in certain pedagogical spaces, students are demanding “trigger warnings.” They, too, want to feel safe—both physically and emotionally—in our time of precarity. As Tavia Nyong’o says, it is not that this networked generation is unfamiliar with violence—rather, its members have grown up with the ability to edit and delete images (and knowledge) with ease. Yet, Jack Halberstam argues that there is no one-to-one relationship between trauma and the material triggering it.
This panel aims to encourage pedagogical discussions among instructors whose courses challenge constructions of race, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, and nationality. At the wider institutional level, it also draws awareness to the issue of trigger warnings on course syllabi, such as at UC Santa Barbara, where student leaders pushed for them to be mandatory. We fear a dystopia of administrators who enforce neoliberal classroom policies, especially because classes that challenge the status quo would be precisely the ones policed and censored. We do not want to treat our students as consumer-citizens by avoiding hurt feelings and heated classroom debates, or by necessarily catering to their trigger warning requests. We want to create productive spaces that might allow students to begin working through, or to make connections that could lead to solidarity, instead of necessarily protecting students. At the same time, we want to advocate a “pedagogy of care” and a “safe enough” classroom, or as Ann Pellegrini defines it, “someplace safe and beautifully caring in our time of precarity.”
Stony Brook Professors Kadji Amin, Nerissa Balce, Lisa Diedrich and Michael Kimmel will offer their thoughts on the following:
1. Are our Stony Brook classrooms “safe spaces”? What is a “safe space” anyway? What does a “safe enough” classroom feel like, and how might we define the “pedagogy of care and caring”?
2. Do trigger warnings have a place in the Stony Brook classroom? If so, what are the cases for trigger warnings, and what is an ethical approach to trigger warnings?
3. While the advent of “men’s rights” groups proves that power is indeed shifting, it is still deeply unsettling and sometimes leaves us fearing for our lives. Is there anything to be done about this issue?
4. In August, a top administrative officer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign “unhired” Steven Salaita under the auspices of protecting “civility.” How might the idea of “civil” language in the classroom add to this discussion, especially in light of politically engaged affect theories positing that women and racial others are most often accused of being “angry” or overly emotional?