‘Trigger warning’ contest

(AP Photo/Odyssey)
“Gulliver’s Travels” trigger warning: Book has strong size-ist theme. (AP Photo/Odyssey)

The National Association of Scholars announces:

This spring, students at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Rutgers, Oberlin, and George Washington University have called for “trigger warnings” on syllabi and in courses that deal with potentially “triggering” material, the New York Times reports.

A trigger warning is an alert that what follows may activate trauma. The Times mentions that some people have suggested that classic books could benefit from trigger warnings, including “Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ (contains anti-Semitism) and Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ (addresses suicide).” A Rutgers student recommends that The Great Gatsby be tagged as possessing “a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence.”

One NYU professor has revised the syllabus for his U.S. history course to include trigger warnings on every segment. In the spirit of his satire and because in the future it appears that no one will make an intellectual endeavor without first ascertaining its triggering content, we thought that we should make a practical contribution. The National Association of Scholars (NAS) is keen on helping to inspire Americans to read good books. Lest the lack of accompanying trigger warnings discourage people from such reading, we are building a collection. But we need your help.

Of what should readers be warned before reading, say, Hamlet, The Republic, Anne of Green Gables, or The Wind in the Willows?

We invite readers young and old to submit trigger warnings for well-loved books. You can do so on Twitter, including NAS’s handle and the hashtag #triggerwarningfail.

Examples:

The Iliad: warning – disturbing scene for those suffering sports injuries. #triggerwarningfail @NASorg

Oedipus Rex: warning – prejudicial treatment of alternative family structures. #triggerwarningfail @NASorg

Gulliver’s Travels: warning – size-ist. #triggerwarningfail @NASorg

You may also make submissions on NAS’s Facebook page.

NAS will review submissions and on Friday (6/6/14) will announce the top 3 trigger warnings. The top 3 will each receive a free copy of NAS president Peter Wood’s book A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now (warning: not recommended for the apiphobic).

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy. Before coming to UCLA, he clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court and for Judge Alex Kozinski on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Volokh is the author of the textbooks The First Amendment and Related Statutes (4th ed. 2011), The Religion Clauses and Related Statutes (2005), and Academic Legal Writing (4th ed. 2010), as well as over 70 law review articles. Volokh is also an Academic Affiliate for the Mayer Brown LLP law firm.
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Eugene Volokh | June 2