Students speak out about trigger warnings for suicide exhibition
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The university’s chapter of Active Minds — an organization dedicated to promoting conversation about mental health issues — orchestrated an exhibition last week in which 1,100 backpacks were spread out across The Green. The event was planned in conjunction with Send Silence Packing, Active Minds’ nationally acclaimed suicide awareness program.
The 1,100 backpacks sprawled across The Green represented the 1,100 college-age students who commit suicide every year.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, on average, one in 12 U.S. college students makes a suicide plan. Commonly, trigger warnings are used to flag content that could potentially elicit flashbacks or panic attacks in individuals who have suffered from traumatic events, including those affected by suicide. For students with a history of trauma, suicidal behavior or depression, no trigger warning was provided by Active Minds or the university.
In a phone interview, Gina Cricchi, co-president of Active Minds, said the national organization requires the presence of a representative from the campus counseling center for at least four hours during the exhibition.
However, staff members from the university’s Center for Counseling and Student Development were available to respond to any concerns that arose due to the sensitive nature of the exhibition throughout the whole day — well surpassing the four-hour requirement. But Cricchi admits the actions taken were “less preventative… after the fact.”
“In retrospect, an email would have been a good idea for the purposes of a trigger warning and for spreading awareness for the event,” Cricchi said. “Through the email system would have been the best way, like how we send out UD alerts or UD Communications and Public Affairs.”
Freshman Natalie Veiga believed that an email would have definitely promoted awareness for the exhibition and informed students who saw the exhibition as potentially triggering.
“The actual existence of the backpacks on The Green wasn’t blatantly triggering,” Veiga said. “The only way that it would have been triggering were to be if you had gone up to the backpacks and started reading the stories that were there.”
Many people are against trigger warnings on college campuses, as they are thought to allow people to permanently avoid topics they believe are offensive. But trigger warnings, especially on college campuses, are implemented to help people who have recently experienced trauma and are especially sensitive to painful memories.
“I really need to be thoughtful about the pros and cons about [trigger] warnings… There is a lot I need to learn and sort through as I think about our student body,” said Dr. Charles L. Beale, Director of the Center for Counseling and Student Development, in an interview. “We need to ensure our student body is aware of the fact that we are here. Our challenge is to widen that knowledge base of students who are aware of the Center.”
Many students are aware of the prevalence and risk of mental health issues in college. In recent years, awareness of student mental health issues has been on the rise.
“So many students deal with depression, anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders. This is not a niche group,” Veiga said. “Trigger warnings exist everywhere. Everything from nutritional information, to the movie, TV, music and video games ratings are trigger warnings. Now there is just a new language for it. To eradicate trigger warnings would be to eradicate an awareness of the way you consume life.”
With the closing of the academic year, this time of year is incredibly stressful for students and faculty alike. While most students believe that it would have been more beneficial to set up a dialogue about resources for recovery and assistance during this time of year, Cricchi and Beale both expressed that the university’s chapter of Active Minds had no decisionmaking abilities when it came to scheduling the exhibition.
Cricchi, reflecting, said while an email was not requested, the university could have taken that action. There could have been “more push from the university, for both the purpose of a trigger warning and for spreading awareness.”
“I think it’s honestly more important than alcohol education, it’s more of a silent thing that nobody talks about,” freshman Camryn Garcia said.
The Center for Counseling and Student Development has reached out to Active Minds national chapter’s team, concerning the potentiality of triggers, and any information concerning triggers, when considering the sensitive nature of the exhibition.
“We want to know what measures other universities are implementing when providing events that could potentially be triggering,” Beale said. “We want to provide the best service for all of our students.”
Students in need of support and assistance are encouraged to contact the Center for Counseling and Student Development at 302-831-2141.