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Staff Editorial

Staff Editorial: Trigger Warnings Threaten Academic Freedom

Earlier last week, the LA Times published an article, “Warning: College students this editorial may upset you,” about how the student Senate at UC Santa Barbara recently passed a resolution that calls for mandatory “trigger warnings” to be issued by professors to their students if an upcoming lecture, class discussion, activity and/or assignment might cause psychological or emotional distress. A “trigger warning” gets its name from the term “trauma trigger,” the latter being what psychologists and mental health professionals refer to as an experience that may evoke a traumatic event. “Trigger warnings” are not new on the Internet and in the social media sphere, but news of this resolution has been the onset of a nationwide debate over whether or not such resolutions are threatening academic freedom by censoring class material in an attempt to protect students’ sensitivities.

The goal of the UCSB resolution states in part that, “including trigger warnings is not a form of criticism or censorship of content.” Furthermore, “it does not restrict academic freedom but simply requests the respect and acknowledgement of the effect of triggering content on students with P.T.S.D., both diagnosed and undiagnosed.” The resolution also suggests a list of “triggers,” including “rape, sexual assault, abuse, self-injurious behavior, suicide, graphic violence, pornography and graphic depictions of gore.”

What makes the UCSB resolution more controversial is the fact that if students do find course material to be distressing, professors will have to excuse the students from those lectures and assignments without a deduction in points from their grade. This aspect of the resolution is what is drawing criticism from anti-censorship advocates, who believe that “trigger warnings” will give students a concrete reason to skip class without reprimand. This also proves unfair for students who regularly attend class and are still held accountable for their attendance and completion of assignments, as well as further muddling the lines between what material is and is not appropriate to be introduced in the academic course to begin with.

Marc Blecher, a political science professor at Oberlin College, was featured in an article by the New Republic, in which he states that he believes Oberlin’s new “trigger warning” policy — meant to guide university faculty in avoiding subjects that could induce “triggers” relating to “heterosexism, cissexism, [and] ableism” — constitutes as academic censorship. He explained that the purpose of a liberal arts education is “to challenge students, to conduct open inquiry in classrooms, [and] to make students feel uncomfortable.” Blecher’s statement inspires a point: most students enroll in a course knowing a bit about the nature of material to be covered. This leaves sole discretion to the students in deciding whether or not they would like to take the course.

In addition, recent psychological and mental health research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania on P.T.S.D. (post-traumatic stress disorder) suggests that, for those who have experienced trauma, “triggers” can be unpredictable and difficult to understand. “Triggers” can arise from various different factors, including a particular taste or smell, a certain time or place, or specific colors or objects. In this sense, almost anything can be classified as a “trigger.”

The problem with a “trigger warning” resolution, like the one at UCSB, is not found in its intent or the attempt to validate individual experiences, but the sole fact that a “trigger” warning will not solve the core problems most commonly exhibited by individuals who have P.T.S.D. or other mental health issues, nor will it be fair to students who have not experienced traumatic events that allow them to cite a “trigger warning” as reason to miss class lectures or assignments. Instead, focus needs to be placed on strengthening the awareness and availability of campus psychology and mental health resources to help aid students in their recovery and healing process, and also for professors to provide supplemental assignments to accommodate students who cannot participate fully in their academic courses due to distressing material. Otherwise, “trigger warnings” are a threat to academic freedom.


Staff Editorial

Staff Editorial: It May be Plastic, But It’s not Fantastic

A few weeks ago, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a bill that would restrict the sale of consumer goods on all city property. The bill, conceived and drafted by board member David Chiu, would ban the sale of plastic water bottles under 21 oz. at all public events and by food trucks that are regulated by the city. Although many city citizens and environmentalists are rallying behind this bill in support, it does appear to be deeply flawed. The bill will only forbid the sale and use of plastic water bottles, and not other kinds of plastic goods and packaging. This raises the question: Is the ban even worth it after all?

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Staff Editorial

Staff Editorial: Genders Just Wanna Have Fun!

Facebook sets the stage for gender inclusion

This month, Facebook added over 50 new gender options and by doing so, changed the way people have been forced to identify themselves on social media for the past ten years. Users will no longer be forced to conform to the gender binary of male and female. All one needs to do now is customize their gender, and Facebook will offer the multitude of options — including cis(gender), gender fluid, transsexual, and neither — in a drop-down menu. Not just that, Facebook users will now be given the choice to publicize their preferred pronoun for those who are not already aware. At the Foghorn office, we find this move to be progressive and a much-needed acknowledgement of the diverse range of genders on a widely used online platform by all generations.


This month, Facebook added over 50 new gender options and by doing so, changed the way people have been forced to identify themselves on social media for the past ten years.

This shift in Facebook settings triggered a media circus. Bloggers and news sources took it upon themselves to identify all 56 new, gender options for those who were confused or unaware that there were so many ways one could identify; and the likes of Stephen Colbert interviewed acclaimed transsexual author and activist, Janet Mock.

Daniela Ricci, former Editor-in-chief of the Foghorn, identifies themself as genderqueer, and says “I’ve seen a lot of backlash from people who have never heard of non-binary gender identities before and consider it freakish, unnecessary, annoying, etc., which just goes to show that just because something is on Facebook, doesn’t make it automatically socially acceptable. I’ve also heard people in the queer community scoff at it and consider it a relatively meaningless action… I don’t think it’s revolutionary or anything, but I do think it’s a small step in the right direction of normalizing queer identities and making people like me feel as though there is a place for us in society.”

Users will no longer be forced to conform to the gender binary of male and female.

The fact is that while this change is a move forward, it comes with its own murky territory. Those who are unwilling to learn about gender and sex might alienate those who have decided to make known their gender identification. And there is no denying that others might abuse this new feature, thinking it as funny as getting creative with the ‘religious views’ and ‘political views’ section. This only means that we must take advantage of the timeliness of this Facebook move and push for more awareness and education of the struggles of those who affiliate with a multitude genders and sexes.

For more resources and educational material on related topics, please contact the USF Gender and Sexuality Center in UC 412, or email at gsc@usfca.edu.


Staff Editorial: New Price For College Tuition: $0

Tennessee Gov. understands education is a right. Why don’t we?

The stress of college begins for many students and their families long before the first semester. College prices (room, board, and tuition)  have risen 42% for public, and 31% for private universities from 2000-2011, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. With the unbelievably high price of college tuition, students are expected to delve deep  into their own (or their parent’s) bank accounts for a good education.  For most, this means loans taken out and massive debts accrued, or the alternative — foregoing higher education completely. We at the Foghorn do not believe these are good options; thankfully, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam recently proposed a simple solution: make college free.

Education is a human right that should not be limited by a student’s financial situation. In order to make for a more progressive society, we must ensure free and easy access to a higher degree. As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ (UDHR) Article 26: “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” Haslam’s Tennessee Promise serves to fulfill this basic human right outlined by the UDHR, a right that has largely been ignored in this country.

The “Tennessee Promise” was proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam during his State of the State address on Monday, Feb. 3 2014. The promise was a big one — two free years of either community college or or technical school for high school graduates in the state of Tennessee.  If Gov. Haslam’s promise is fulfilled, Tennessee would be the only state in the country with free college. The initiative is important for Tennessee especially, one of the least-educated states in the country where less than one third of residents have a two-year degree, according to NPR.

At first Haslam’s plan seems a grandiose dream, one that raises more questions than it answers. The biggest question of all — if the students are not paying for college then who is? The answer, according to Haslam, is the state’s lottery where an excess amount of cash is generated to the tune of $300 million. “Net cost to the state, zero. Net impact on our future? Priceless,” Haslam said at the address.  Haslam’s plan is a breath of clean air in a polluted education environment — an environment that caters to the wealthy while indebting, or excluding, the less fortunate. Haslam has a feasible plan to offer free education in this country.

However  it is shocking that we are so behind other countries in terms of free education. Countries like Germany, Sweden, and Ireland (just to name a few) all have free education for their people. Does our Government place lesser value on higher education? During his first joint address to Congress in 2009, Obama stated that the United States “should once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” How will this goal be achieved if many in this country can not afford it?

Attending college might not be right for every person, but having access to it should be a right for every person. The Foghorn hopes Gov. Haslam’s enthusiasm for free education proves contagious, and it spreads across the rest of our country.


Staff Editorial: Justin Bieber Sparks Political Outcry

You Better Belieb It

The Internet, and more specifically social media networks, never fail to provide us with plenty of opportunity to give our support for causes or voice our dissent on certain issues. One would think that would mean that our country would be a large body of participating and politically- and socially-aware citizens with the average weekly time spent online at an all-time high of 23 hours, according to an Aug. 2013 report by eMarketer.

Yet, we at the Foghorn have watched with astonishment as Justin Bieber’s recent ‘shenanigans’ topped the news charts as the most viewed news in the past couple weeks, and not just on tabloids or gossip sites, but the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal — known for their more serious reporting.

We watched on in horror as an MSNBC anchorwoman Andrea Mitchell cut off Congresswoman Jane Harman’s (D-CA) discussion on NSA surveillance reform to break the more pressing news of Justin Bieber’s arrest on DUI and drag-racing charges.

As a result of his news-topping antics, the White House will be forced to release an official statement in response to the ‘We The People’ petition, “Deport Justin Bieber and revoke his green card”, which has garnered over 242,000 signatures as of Monday. The text of the petition reads: “We the people of the United States feel that we are being wrongly represented in the world of pop culture. We would like to see the dangerous, reckless, destructive, and drug abusing, Justin Bieber deported and his green card revoked. He is not only threatening the safety of our people but he is also a terrible influence on our nations youth. We the people would like to remove Justin Bieber from our society.”

Surpassing the 100,000 mark is enough to gain the federal government’s attention, but the fact that people feel so strongly about this issue is saddening. More importantly, his charges of DUI and drag-racing are not bad enough to merit deportation, if our politically-involved signers had done their research; as reported by CNN, only “in the event of a violent crime or a prison sentence that exceeds one year”, can our star of the hour’s immigration visa be revoked and he be deported.

This is not the first time that the White House has had to comment on petty celebrity issues. Popular petitions, including the calling for the construction of a Death Star and the cancellation of Jimmy Fallon Live! after a particularly offensive segment, do not really seem to pertain to issues of greater, political impact. Why are we not sharing petitions on Facebook regarding the fact that our government has had open access to our private e-mails and phone conversations? Unfortunately, it seems that Rep. Harman’s interview would not have risen to YouTube fame if it were not for the breaking of Bieber’s arrest.

Bieber’s arraignment is set for Feb. 14, and until then, we can only hope that everyone will turn to more critical news. As politically conscious citizens, we hold the power of defining what is and what is not ‘news’ to us. If we continue to share YouTube videos and links spotlighting the more absurd topics, then we will find that our ever-reliable news stations and media outlets will further exacerbate the lack of awareness amongst our voting society members by feeding our demands and ‘interests’.