Trigger warnings foster healthy learning environments

By Melissa Simpson

Students discuss free speech at the University of Chicago. Critics of trigger warnings say free speech in the classrooms may be threatened. Photo courtesy of University of Chicago

Students beginning their fall semester at the University of Chicago received an unexpected letter from Dean of Students John Ellison: “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’” Ellison wrote, adding that the university does not condone “safe spaces.”

A trigger warning, or content warning, alerts people that a topic that is about to be discussed has the potential to be emotionally traumatic for some. Trigger warnings are often associated with content that is centered around rape, suicide, drug overdoses, genocide, and hate crimes.

I became privy to the term “trigger warning” about two years ago. I don’t remember the topic that was being discussed, but I know I likely came across it while scrolling through my Facebook news feed.

I live in a socially conscious bubble wherein the people with whom I interact regularly and quite casually discuss patriarchy, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, racism, and class and racial privilege. However, recently, I have learned that not everyone is comfortable with discussing these topics for they may drudge up old trauma and memories of negative experiences.

Therefore, since learning about trigger warnings, I have become more mindful of the content that I share and, more importantly, the forewarning I give when sharing it.

Even if the content does not emote post-traumatic stress disorder like symptoms, one can simply be unprepared and jolted by the message that they are about to consume. Nevertheless, slight discomfort is still discomfort.

So now I place a “trigger warning” or “content warning” in the caption on potentially triggering articles that I share on Facebook. I have no desire to make someone feel uncomfortable; in fact, I am the type of person that actively tries to work against that.

Students at the University of Chicago were sent a letter at the beginning of the fall semester, warning them not to expect trigger warnings regarding controversial or potentially upsetting topics on campus. Photo courtesy of University of Chicago Instagram

Yet, in the real world, specifically academia, it is rare for me to see this same courtesy being extended.

Imagine being a victim of a rape, dealing with flashbacks to the moment where you were taken sexually violated. Now imagine being bombarded by a discussion about rape in your classroom. Imagine all the memories that would resurface. If someone offered you a trigger warning before the discussion began, you would be able to leave or at the very least prepare yourself for the potentially traumatizing conversation ahead.

During my college career, I have been a part of classroom discussions that have centred around rape, suicide, drug overdoses, genocide, and hate crimes. But never once have I or anyone is the classroom been issued a trigger warning. Trauma has a significant effect on a student’s learning capabilities.

“A traumatic event can seriously interrupt the school routine and the processes of teaching and learning,” according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s website.

When students feel like they are not in a safe space, they tend to exhibit signs of emotional discomfort, disruptive behaviour, and lower attendance rates.

According to Helen Collins Sitler, a teacher-consultant with the Southcentral Pennsylvania Writing Project at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and author of “Teaching With Awareness: The Hidden Effects of Trauma on Learning” educators often confuse these effects of trauma with a negative attitude.

“Passivity with no interest in looking at the long-term or even at tomorrow, inability to concentrate, and lashing out verbally or physically are common behavioural effects of trauma,” Collins Sitler writes. This means that teachers confuse this reaction to trauma with disobedience and disinterest in education.

I don’t have any significant traumas that I am dealing with, so discussing offensive or disturbing topics in a class has no severe or immediate impact on my mental health. But I do get uncomfortable discussing topics like race and gender equality with people, who have race, class, and gender privilege. If I had a trigger warning it would allow me the time and space to prepare myself for the discussion. Simply stating that the following discussion will have information dealing with rape, war, death, or any other triggering topic would be enough.

Clearly, lack of trigger and content warnings in academia robs students of their agency. Students do not have the option to take control of their own mental health care if they don’t know what traumatic topics they are about to confont.

Critics of trigger warnings feel that content warnings in academia inhibit robust learning experiences and dialogue in the classroom.

However, trigger warnings do not signify the end of a discussion; instead, they allows individuals the means to protect their mental health. This selfpreservation can be done in the form of exiting the space, putting up mental blocks that allow the individual to get through the content without feeling significant stress, preparing dialogue and feedback to share with the collective, or simply taking deep breaths before the discussion begins.

Others who are against trigger warnings believe that some people are just being sensitive and need to toughen up. That thought process is problematic because emotions are subjective and based on the individual. What may be a pebble to some could be a boulder to others. What needs to be understood is that no two people are able to process information in the same manner.

Unfortunately, it is clear that Ellison is more concerned with education being uncensored, than he is with making sure his students are learning in a healthy environment.

Overall, academia needs to err on the side of non-threatening, respectful discourse. In no way do trigger warnings inhibit learning in the classroom. If anything, learners can benefit from it. It is imperative to cultivate diverse and healthy learning environments and using trigger warnings in the classroom can help us to achieve that goal.

Contact Melissa Simpson at

Why we shouldn’t be shopping on Thanksgiving Day

By Alicia Stearn

Thanksgiving Day is just 10 days away, which means we all will sit down with our families and enjoy our turkey dinners.

But to some, it means they will spend all day sleeping so that after dinner they can rush to the mall to start their Christmas shopping.

But is shopping on Thanksgiving Day really worth it?

Starting a few years ago, stores began opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day to bring in extra sales. According to Civic Science, shoppers on Black Friday “seem to be more price-conscious than Thanksgiving Day shoppers.”

Last Thanksgiving Day, after dinner, I decided to go out with a few friends to the mall.

I noticed groups of people walking around in pajamas carrying one or two bags. There were groups of people leaving stores empty handed and hanging around, taking selfies with friends.

I go shopping on Black Friday every year, and I notice everyone around me carrying handfuls of bags, making several trips out to their cars, and never wasting their time to go into stores unless they plan on buying something.

But on Thanksgiving Day, this is not the case. Thanksgiving isn’t being used for productive shopping, instead those going out are more laissez-faire.

Some may argue that doctors and firefighters have to work on Thanksgiving too. However, it’s a part of their service to be available 24/7 because they never know when dire circumstances will arise. Someone may need an ambulance at 7:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving. No one’s going to need a flat screen TV.

Many people may complain about stores starting to sell Christmas decorations right after Halloween, yet this sales tactic helps dwindle down the amount of shoppers all at once before the Christmas holiday.

By offering these products earlier, those true early birds are able to get what they want without having the temptation to go the day before Black Friday.

Are the prices actually any cheaper? I currently work in the pricing department at a retail store and I’ve noticed that before they launch a big price drop, tons of other prices raise. While they are gearing your attention towards the prices that are dropping, they are raising prices on a ton of other items in the store you might not be aware of.

The items that are on sale may not always be of the highest quality or best brand. For example, looking at Wal-Mart’s Black Friday deals from last year, the one that catches my eye is the “HP 2541 Wireless Printer” on sale for $19, originally priced at $69. That’s a huge savings, but this is a low quality printer, compared to all of the better brands still at regular retail price.

If you truly want to be a price-conscious shopper, help your wallet and stay home Thanksgiving night.

Contact Alicia Stearn at communitarian@mail.

Pumpkin spice and everything nice

By Brendan Gunn

An assortment of a few pumpkin spice flavored products offered at stores during the fall season amidst a pumpkin and autumn leaves. Photo By Brendan Gunn

Pumpkin spice Oreos. Pumpkin spice Triscuits. Pumpkin spice Jell-O. Pumpkin spice Ghirardelli chocolate.

Pumpkin spice Country Crock margarine, pumpkin spice Pepperidge Farm swirl bread, and — pumpkin spice pasta sauce.

A pumpkin spice phenomenon has taken the country by storm, and there are plenty of positives and negatives to this seasonal craze.

Every year, for the months of October and November, supermarket shelves are stocked from top to bottom with pumpkin spice flavored items, and coffee shops are filled with signs advertising their “limited time only” pumpkin lattes.

Many people are either intrigued by the idea of a pumpkin spiced twist to their favorite food items, or they are completely turned off and annoyed by the oversaturated market.

My mission was to find out what all the fuss was about.

After trying numerous products, including pumpkin spice Life cereal, Milano cookies, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, PopTarts, Chobani Greek yogurt, a Starbucks latte, and a beer called The Gourdfather, brewed by The Sterling Pig, located in Media, it is safe to say moderation is key.

When the Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please,” he definitely definitely had all the pros and cons of the pumpkin spice madness in mind.

First, let us start with the negatives.

Only one of the tested items has actual pumpkin listed in the ingredients, and that is the PopTarts.

Life cereal, Milano cookies, Starbucks’ latte, and The Gourdfather contain no pumpkin, and the Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Chobani Greek yogurt contain an ingredient called pumpkin puree, the ingredients of which are a bit cloudy.

According to their official site, Libby’s Pure Pumpkin, a branch of Nestle, makes up 85 percent of the world’s pumpkin puree sales, and it does not contain pumpkin at all; in fact, it’s made with squash.

Due to a technicality, which states that it is too difficult to draw a line between pumpkins and winter squash, the FDA allows the company to label their products as pumpkin.

So if most products are made with pumpkin puree, or no pumpkin at all, then this whole craze is somewhat based on white lies.

Now, let us get to the positives.

For one, the pumpkin spice mania generates a ton of money for corporations. In fact, in 2015 alone, pumpkin spice products brought in $361 million worth of earnings to all the various suppliers nationwide, according to Nielsen Holdings PLC, the top rated information, data, and measurement company in the country.

Next, pumpkin flavored items offer a nice twist, which allows people to change their diet routine up a bit and possibly step out of their comfort zone.

But the most important thing when judging this phenomenon is: Do the products even taste good?

None of the products that I sampled tasted gross. Quite the contrary, most of them were very good, especially for those consumers with a sweet tooth. They also offer a feeling of nostalgia because enjoying them may bring back memories of Halloween as a kid, or getting together with the family over Thanksgivings past.

In particular, the Milano cookies, Starbucks latte, and The Gourdfather tasted the best. The home brewed Gourdfather offers a savory taste that leaves craft beer lovers and newcomers alike wanting more, and the cinnamon covered brim provides a sweet compliment to the beer’s taste and presentation.

In short, if you do not get distracted by the overwhelming number of products on the market and limit yourself to only a few pumpkin spiced goodies during the fall season, then pumpkin flavored commodities are a good way to spice up your taste buds.

Contact Brendan Gunn at

Politicians in denial as death toll in Aleppo rises

By Marwa Benahmed-Ali

Wounded civilians arrive at a hospital in Aleppo during the Syrian civil war, October 2012. Photo courtesy of Voice of America News

Since the spark of civil war in 2011, Syria has experienced devastating casualties and the displacement of millions. More recently, both the Syrian and Russian army are constantly bombarding Aleppo, the largest city in Syria.

Russian and Syrian forces believe they are fighting ISIS and recapturing Aleppo. Reality tells a different story. Graphic videos and images of dying families on the web have caused a ripple of shock and heartbreak internationally.

The people of Aleppo are being torn apart by Russia’s constant air raids. Russia has been striking civilian neighborhoods with cluster bombs, incendiary bombs, chlorine bombs, bunker burst bombs, and other destructive warheads.

In their so-called efforts to “combat ISIS,” Russia has killed thousands of civilians and has destroyed 90 percent of east Aleppo. The Russians are deliberately attacking rescue workers and dropping bombs on them.

Nearly all of the hospitals in eastern Aleppo were destroyed and only a few doctors are left. Severely injured civilians who are seeking medical help have no choice but to suffer or die.

The situation in Aleppo has become so dire that doctors in neighboring cities are begging Russia and Assad to help civilians. Yet Russia, and the Syrian regime are not allowing domestic and international human aid workers to enter the city.

A representative from UNICEF has also called for a dire humanitarian and psychological intervention.

Worst of all, ISIS, who is the real villains, is continuing to pursue territorial expansion and the genocide of minorities.

The United Nations Security Council has demanded a ceasefire but Russia vetoed it. The UN Security Council is continuing to pressure Russia but efforts to provide relief in Aleppo are still on standby.

What is even more heartbreaking is the fact that American politicians are clueless about the situation.

When asked during an MSNBC Morning Joe interview about Aleppo, Libertarian presidential candidate, Gary Johnson did not even know what Aleppo is.

The nightmare isn’t over. GOP candidate Donald Trump stated during the second presidential debate that he is supporting Russia and the regime in fighting ISIS. If we vote for Trump Aleppo will most likely cease to exist.

Aleppo is burning and nothing is being done to save both civilians and the historical city of Aleppo. With ruthless and ignorant leaders, Aleppo will continue to burn until it is annihilated.

Contact Marwa Benahmed-Ali at communitarian@mail.dccc. edu

Harriet Tubman is deserving of a spot on U.S. currency By Dom Giordano

Friday, May 6, 2016

By Dom Giordano

Philadelphia Daily News (TNS)

Late last week, Google’s top trending question was depressing. The question was “Who is Harriet Tubman?” It’s hard to believe so many people would have no sense of Tubman when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew named her to replace former President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill.

Almost equally predictable was that Tubman would not replace Alexander Hamilton, as had been originally speculated. The thought originally was to get a prominent woman on our currency, and Hamilton was not a former president and thus targeted. This thought was trumped, however, by the success of the hit Broadway play Hamilton. It’s helped Hamilton to be lionized in pop culture as one of the “good” Founding Fathers.

Hamilton is the counterpoint to these guys, and his big-government views were just lionized last Friday by prominent leftist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

I like Fox News Channel Greta Van Susteren’s suggestion: “Give Tubman her own bill. Like a $25 bill. Put her picture on that,

and we could all celebrate. That’s the smart and easy thing to do. But, no, some people don’t think and would gratuitously stir up conflict in the nation.”

It also interested me that were people on the left and some feminists who argued that Tubman would not want to be on our currency, because she wasn’t a capitalist. The Washington Post debunked some myths around Tubman, and noted that she was an entrepreneur who established a laundry and restaurant near Hilton Head, S.C., during the Civil War and instructed recently liberated women in providing various services to the Union for pay.

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, wrote in the New York Post about Tubman thinking before her escape: “There’s two things I’ve got a right to, and these are Death or Liberty — one or the other I meant to have.”

Lowry echoes my thoughts when he says, “Is it possible to utter a more American sentiment? In an era of ethnic and gender bean-counting, everyone wants to keep score, but Harriet Tubman belongs to all of us.”

Maybe she even deserves a Broadway musical.

So I think we should embrace this together and use it as an opportunity to attack Andrew

Jackson. Jackson was a slave owner, but he stopped the South from leaving the Union and won the War of 1812 against the British. Let’s not make this about getting even with Jackson, but embracing an American hero.

This whole debate has made me think about whom else should we consider placing on our money? The biggest figure missing is former President Reagan. I rank Reagan along with Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt as among our most consequential presidents. How about if we target Ulysses S. Grant, who appears on the $50 bill, or Grover Cleveland, who appears on the $1,000 bill? If we place Reagan on the $1,000 bill, I could use it to get two decent seats when Hamilton comes to Philadelphia.

Also, there is a movement starting that maintains that, given President Obama’s historic status, he belongs on our currency. The debate over both presidents will be intense.

As far as Obama is concerned, a listener of mine summed up the opposition feelings last week. As we discussed Tubman on the $20 bill, he said, “Given the huge deficit President Obama has produced, in the future, he belongs on the 20 trillion-dollar bill.”