When the case returned to the court for possible annulment in 2000, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a staunch conservative of law and order, ruled for the court that Miranda was a constitutional decision and would not be overturned. “Miranda is embedded in routine policing practices, to the point where warnings have become part of our national culture,” he said. And while the warnings did relatively little to help the suspects, they tended to distract judges from the possibility that the interaction between police and citizens was abusive despite the warnings. This distraction in turn served the interests of the police and prosecutors. It`s probably no coincidence that the call for trigger warnings comes at a time when increased attention is being paid to campus violence, particularly for sexual assault, which is often linked to widespread alcohol abuse. However, triggering warnings are a way to set aside the problem by locating its solution in the classroom rather than in administrative attention to the social behaviours that enable sexual violence. Triggering warnings do not solve this problem, but only divert attention from it, threatening the academic freedom of teachers and students whose classrooms should be open to difficult discussions in any form. Critics of trigger warnings have claimed that they infantilize and treat students as children who cannot be exposed to an unpleasant idea (or even criticism of an unpleasant idea) without getting angry; whereas they are grossly anti-intellectual and even anti-educational, since, in their widest application, they invite students to reject practically all the history, literature and culture of the world; poorly prepare students to deal constructively with real-world conflicts and disagreements; threaten the academic freedom of lecturers in their areas of expertise at their discretion; and undermine freedom of expression and investigation by preemptively suppressing the discussion of potentially offensive ideas. Another objection to triggering warnings is that they are a poor substitute for the professional treatment and support that students who are victims of sexual assault and other psychological or physical trauma need, and that they risk diverting attention and resources from the problem of sexual violence in colleges and universities by focusing on reading lists and classroom discussions. As a law professor who teaches criminal, constitutional, and family law – topics such as murder, sexual assault, racial discrimination, guns, domestic violence, abortion, divorce, and child abuse – I know from experience that many students have had very difficult life and family experiences that may not be obvious to others. As a result, my introduction to each course includes a statement that it will address many of the most controversial and difficult issues in our society that can personally affect the lives of people in the class, and that all discussions should be conducted with respect for each other.

I do not formulate my statements to deal with triggers, nor do I mark any particular readings or discussions, other than the fact that a course unit may already have a title: “homicide”, “sexual assault” or “divorce” for example. (Of course, any student with a disability – including a mental illness like P.T.S.D. – can find adequate housing through the school`s disability office.) Given that trigger warnings appear in the curriculum, I am concerned about the uncertainty about whether students will benefit. Like the Brandeis students, I wondered: Is it likely that warning students that they are traumatized or re-traumatized will reduce or increase the stress they feel? Providing reasonable accommodations for students is an expected part of the lesson. We accommodate students with physical and learning needs – why not emotionally? We can`t cover all content that might surprise or trigger our students, but we can cover some of it – at no cost to educators and any potential benefits to students.