Readers' Letters: What’s so triggering about so-called 'trigger warnings'?

Courses on which I (and others) teach at the University of Aberdeen have been subject to sustained media attention and headlines about “wokeness”, censorship and ridicule (Scotsman, 9 January)

The “trigger” for this has been content warnings applied to texts, plays and novels leading to a deluge of negative articles followed up with intensity on social media. But what is so triggering about so-called trigger warnings and why are they used or requested by students?

Many practitioners differentiate between “trigger warnings”, which would apply specifically to students with post-traumatic stress disorder, and “content warnings” which apply more broadly. Academics are not mental health professionals, nor is the classroom a therapy session; rather than attempting to anticipate every student’s specific needs, content warnings include a whole range of issues.

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The University serves a wide variety of students, who may have very different previous life experiences. It is precisely because the material studied includes “real world” situations that it requires preparation. By providing this information in advance, students are empowered to approach the work critically and sensitively, and to discuss it in a way that does not exclude any of their peers.

Content warnings for students include a whole range of issues
Content warnings for students include a whole range of issues
Content warnings for students include a whole range of issues

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, content warnings are not censorship, nor are they an indication that students are not able to confront difficult material. There are texts on courses I teach which I personally find, and I believe many readers would find, extremely distressing; providing content warnings is a way not of excluding material, but of keeping it on a course.

The media attention often focuses only on those texts where at first reading it may sound ridiculous, such as Peter Pan. It should perhaps be noted that the warning which attracted so many headlines was applied to the book Peter Pan and Other Plays – and it is one of the other plays (Mary Rose) which is actually studied.

Content warnings with which the journalist apparently sympathises are rarely reported on: I teach texts that include sexual violence, for instance, or racism, that are ignored. Instead, articles highlight what is perceived as the most innocuous text on a course. Yet university study is about unpicking texts and thinking critically, perhaps juxtaposing work that initially seems simplistic with more complicated, graphic, or experimental texts.

To put it simply: however well content warnings do or do not work, there is no student whose academic performance is improved by having distressing material sprung on them as a surprise. Providing advance information is a way of taking students seriously as participants in challenging conversation, and demonstrates the continued power of literature.

Professor Timothy C Baker, Personal Chair in Scottish and Contemporary Literature, University of Aberdeen

Music madness

It is unbelievable that Radio Scotland has chosen to axe its excellent classical and jazz programmes, Classics Unwrapped with Jamie MacDougall and Jazz Nights with Seonaid Aitken (Scotsman, 11 January).

There is little enough from these genres on the station, and the news that piping programmes are being cut by half is a further example of idiocy.

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The excuse of financial necessity is ludicrous, as these programmes cost virtually nothing in the context of the BBC budget. There are many young musicians coming on stream in Scotland at the moment, and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is consistently highly rated. The standard of singing and playing in Scotland is at an all-time high, and interest in classical music is growing. Why would you axe the only programme on Radio Scotland to feature and celebrate Scottish excellence in classical music.

I encourage everyone interested to bombard Radio Scotland with complaints, and force the reversal of this crazy decision!

Brian Bannatyne-Scott, Edinburgh

Identity politics

An interesting letter from Jill Stephenson (11 January), where she puzzles over why so many find the SNP record and policies poor, yet still support them. The answer may lie in a kind of Scottish identity politics, ie, those who do not vote on record, but on identity. They see the SNP as “Scotland's party”, and vote accordingly.

In my view, the SNP has cleverly hijacked Scottish patriotism to equate it with nationalism; you can be a proud Scot, and abhor nationalism; you can be a proud Scot and support the Union, as this helps Scotland. However, some think that to be Scottish means support for the SNP. It is time unionist parties took heed of this.

William Ballantine, Bo’ness, West Lothian

Raptors thriving

Duncan Orr-Ewing’s article contains a gross misrepresentation of grouse moor management in Scotland (“Golden opportunity to consign illegal killing of birds of prey to the history books”, Scotsman, 12 January).

Raptors are thriving on Scotland’s grouse moors thanks to the hard work of gamekeepers, whose diligent management of moorland provides exceptional habitat and a plentiful food supply.

By contrast, the RSPB’s management of the Lake Vyrnwy Nature Reserve in Wales (a former grouse moor) leaves much to be desired. The charity has invested vast sums of public money while presiding over catastrophic declines in curlew, black grouse and merlin – species that are abundant on grouse moors – and there are fears for the future of hen harriers and red grouse. Perhaps the RSPB should consider its own impoverished track record of delivering for wild birds before castigating the good work of grouse moor managers.

Lianne MacLennan, Regional PR Coordinator, Angus Glens Moorland Group, Brechin, Angus

Triple lock

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As a fellow pensioner aged 75 I refer to Derek Farmer’s letter of 11 January when he says he has no possibility of getting “anything like a ten per cent-plus increase”. I can reassure him that the increase in the State pension in April will be 10.1 per cent thanks to the triple lock.

Scott Miller, Edinburgh

Hating the UK

Clearly, judging by various comments in the Scotsman (12 January), there are people who hate the UK and malign it at every turn. My main concern is that this hatred is often based on total ignorance, or anti-English antagonistic prejudice. Something needs to be done to educate them.

Take Twitter comments on the Elgin Marbles. One states: “Giving them back is an admission of theft. The UK never admits its wrongdoings”. Lord Elgin (a Scot) bankrupted himself buying the Marbles from the Greek government of the time. He sold them to the British government and an inquiry found that he had acquired them legally. End of. The Greeks, by the way, were grinding them down to make cement when he bought them and he saved them at a personal cost of £4,700,000 in present-day money for humanity in an age that worshipped classical culture. It was not a UK problem, but a Greek one.

Then, in the same issue, with a typical flourish, Elizabeth Scott complains about “spin doctors” in the Scottish Office. Why would they be needed, one might ask? Because the SNP is spending £4 million per annum on “spin doctors” creating grudges against Westminster and the UK!

She continues her attack on our country by stating that Brexit is “filling the country with food banks”, when 3.5 million French (79 food banks in Paris alone) rely on them “due to Covid” and in Germany, more than two million use food banks now “due to 7.3 per cent inflation”. Stop blaming Brexit and live in the real world!

Andrew HN Gray, Edinburgh

Wind’s downsides

It would appear that Barry Hughes (Letters, 12 January) has not factored in the danger from wind power that arises when a lack of wind results in no output to provide light and heat for schools, hospitals and care homes, a problem that more than offsets difficulties that arise from fossil fuels.

In addition, replacing domestic gas (10p/unit ) with renewable electricity (34p/unit ) will be a major financial blow to those in fuel poverty, the forgotten sector of society, when currently 80 per cent of their energy use is met by fossl fuels.

Ian Moir, Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway

Battery power

While I agree that at some point in the future, we will have to phase out oil and gas, until we can recharge electric vehicles as quickly as we can refuel a petrol or diesel vehicle the electric vehicle option is not viable. Those who live in the countryside would struggle. I have yet to see an electric tractor, digger or combine harvester.

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If only we could "switch batteries” on electric cars like putting new batteries in a torch, then the game would be on.

John Cutland, Kirkcaldy, Fife

Oil’s many uses

When will the SNP/Greens understand that every barrel of oil produced does not go to making petrol and diesel?

Without oil all industry would stop. For example, most of the machinery used in the construction industry operates with hydraulic oil. Oil is used in the manufacture of many products. Every piece of machinery needs lubrication, from bicycles to hospital lifts, electric cars and wind turbines – all of which use oil at some stage of manufacture.

However the SNP/Greens want to stop all oil production (Scotsman, 11 January) and instead import it from half-way round the world, at great cost both financially and environmentally. So much for their much-vaunted green agenda.

Charles Sinclair, Kirkcaldy, Fife

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