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Blaser: Schools too quick on the literature trigger

One of the joys of college life is that the campus is a sacred space, a relatively safe place to learn about life, to learn about yourself and to learn about others.

For many students, lately, it seems the classroom is just not safe enough.

The latest campus fad is something called “trigger warnings” for classroom material.

Students have dreamed up this mechanism as a way to warn students of an artistic portrayal of heavy, and at times, unpleasant life events. And I’m not talking about binge drinking, hazing and date rape, all of which have been identified as all too real issues confronting today’s coeds.

Trigger warnings are meant to warn students about the awful things they might come across in literature. To today’s fragile students, simply reading about some bad things might cause a student to suffer from some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder.

What books have been targeted for trigger warnings? Would you believe “The Great Gatsby?” Why? I always thought it was just a grossly over-rated piece of work. Turns out, that when a college kid is about to read Gatsby, they need to be warned that the material covers suicide, domestic abuse and graphic violence.

Other books on the trigger list include the classic “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf and Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.”

Are there others waiting in the wings? Certainly anyone who has lived through the last 14 years of Big Brotherism, the never-ending war on terror, so-called Homeland Security and NSA spying might need a trigger warning for “1984.”

When you think about it, the list of great books deemed too subversive or coercive to be read by college students would be endless.

Literature does not explore the kind and the meek and the best of all possible worlds. “Pollyanna” was a dangerous place to be.

Literature explores the human condition and how people deal with the hand that life has dealt them, however lousy that might be.

So the study of literature is the study of life. Its purpose is to teach life lessons.

Sometimes those lessons are hard to learn, but learn them we must. Sometimes the lessons are unpleasant, but deal with them we must.

Otherwise, what is the point of literature, of college, of art?

Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish wit, once said that all art is quite useless. With this trigger thing, universities will make sure of that.

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