Main Article Content
In this article, I analyze the trigger warning, a pedagogical practice often framed as student-responsive and trauma-informed, to elucidate the ways in which trauma-informed pedagogy functions rhetorically to pathologize and individualize experiences of racism and other societal inequities that cause collective trauma. I draw upon original interview data and rhetorical analysis through a systems framework to explore how reductive pedagogical practices developed within the confines of a white, western notion of trauma may subsequently perpetuate students’ marginalization. Finally, I highlight the potential for more comprehensive, inclusive pedagogies to address student trauma, acknowledge societal conditions that impact individual experiences, and shift popular discourse that pathologizes trauma.
Allsop, Jon. (2019, July 15). Just say ‘racist.’ Columbia Journal Review.
Alvarez, Adam H., Milner IV, Richard, & Delale-O’Connor, Lori. (2016). Race, trauma, and
education: What educators need to know. In Terry Husband, (Ed.), But I don’t see color: The perils, practices, and possibilities of antiracist education (pp. 27-40). Sense.
American Association of University Professors (AAUP). (2014). On trigger warnings.
America Psychiatric Association (APA). (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental
disorders: DSM-5. American Psychiatric Publishing.
Anderson, Daniel, Atkins, Anthony, Ball, Cheryl, Millar, Christa Homicz, Selfe, Cynthia, &
Selfe, Richard. (2006). Integrating multimodality into composition curricula: Survey methodology and results from a CCCC research grant. Composition Studies, 34(2), 59-84.
Batzer, Benjamin. (2016). Healing classrooms: Therapeutic possibilities in academic writing.
Composition Forum 34. http://compositionforum.com/issue/34/healing-classrooms.php
Bazerman, Charles. (2003). Speech acts, genres, and activity systems: How texts organize
activity and people. In Charles Bazerman & Paul Prior, (Eds.), What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices (pp. 309-339). Routledge.
Bazerman, Charles, & Russell, David. (Eds.). (2002). Writing selves/writing societies: Research
from activity perspectives. The WAC Clearinghouse.
Becker-Blease, Kathryn A. (2017). As the world becomes trauma-informed, work to do.
Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, 18(2), 131-138.
Bellet, Benjamin. W., Jones, Payton J., & McNally, Richard J. (2018). Trigger warning:
Empirical evidence ahead. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 61, 143-141.
Berger, James. (2004). Trauma without disability, disability without trauma: A disciplinary
divide. Journal of Advanced Composition, 24, 563-582.
Berkenkotter, Carol. (2001). Genre systems at work: DSM-IV and rhetorical recontextualization
in psychotherapy paperwork. Written Communication, 18(3), 326-349.
Bidgel, Zaire. (2018, June 13). I don’t owe white people trigger warnings. RaceBaitr.
Boler, Megan. (1999). Feeling power: Emotions and education. Routledge.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. (2017). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence
of racial inequality in America (5th ed.). Rowman and Littlefield.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo, & Forman, Tyrone A. (2000). ‘I am not a racist but…’: Mapping white
college students’ racial ideology in the USA. Discourse & Society, 11(1), 50-85.
Borrowman, Shane. (2005). Trauma and the teaching of writing. State University
of New York Press.
Boysen, Guy A. (2017). Evidence-based answers to questions about trigger warnings for
clinically-based distress: A review for teachers. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 3(2), 163-177.
Boysen, Guy A., Wells, Anna Mae, & Dawson, Kaylee J. (2016). Instructors’ use of trigger
warnings and behavior warnings in abnormal psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 43(4), 334-339.
Carello, Janice, & Butler, Lisa D. (2014). Potentially perilous pedagogies: Teaching trauma is
not the same as trauma-informed teaching. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 15(2), 153-168.
Coleman, Taiyon J., DeLong, Renee., DeVore, Kathleen S., Gibney, Sharon, & Kuhne,
Michael C. (2016). The risky business of engaging racial equity in writing instruction: A tragedy in five acts. Teaching English in the Two-Year College, 43(4), 347-370.
Comas-Diaz, Lillian, Hall, Gordon Nagayama, & Neville, Helen A. (2019). Racial trauma:
Theory, research, and healing: Introduction to the special issue. American Psychologist, 74(1), 1-5.
Cottom, Tressie M. (2014). Should there be trigger warnings on syllabi? The Society Pages.
Day, Michelle. (2019). Wounds and writing: building trauma-informed approaches to writing
pedagogy [Doctoral dissertation, University of Louisville]. Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 3178. https://doi.org/10.18297/etd/3178
DiAngelo, Robin. (2011). White fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3), 54-
Engeström, Yrjö. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to
developmental research. Cambridge University Press.
Engeström, Yrjö. (2009). The future of activity theory: A rough draft. In Annalisa Sannino,,
Harry Daniels, & Kris D. Gutiérrez (Eds.), Learning and Expanding with Activity Theory (pp. 303-328). Cambridge University Press.
Engeström, Yrjö, and Glăveanu, Vlad. (2012). On third generation activity theory: Interview
with Yrjö Engeström. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 8(4), 515-518.
Filipovic, J. (2014). We’ve Gone Too Far with ‘Trigger Warnings. The Guardian.
Frankenberg, Ruth. (1993). The social construction of whiteness: White women, race matters.
University of Minnesota Press.
Glover-Graf, Noreen M., Miller, Eva, & Freeman, Samuel. (2010). Accommodating veterans
with posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in the academic setting. Rehabilitation Education, 24(1-2), 43-56.
Grayson, Mara Lee. (2020). Race talk in the age of the trigger warning: Recognizing and
challenging classroom cultures of silence. Rowman and Littlefield.
Grayson, Mara Lee, & Wolfsdorf, Adam. (2020). Courageous conversations in the age of the
trigger warning. In Beth A. Durodoye& Rhonda M. Bryant, (Eds.), From Disagreement to Discourse: A Chronicle of Controversies in Schooling and Education (pp. 1-26). Information Age.
Grey, Stephanie H. (2017). Contagious speech: Mediating the eating disorder panic through
trigger warnings. In Emily J. M. Knox(Ed.), Trigger warnings: History, theory, context (pp. 37-53). Rowman and Littlefield.
Guinier, Lani. (2004). From racial liberalism to racial literacy: Brown v. Board of Education and
the interest-divergence dilemma. The Journal of American History, 91(1), 92-118.
Hanlon, Aaron. (2015). The trigger warning myth. The New Republic, 53-55.
Helms, Janet E. (1990). Toward a model of white racial identity development. In Janet E. Helms, (Ed.), Black and white racial identity: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 49-66). Praeger.
hooks, bell. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom.
Inoue, Asao B. (2012). Racial methodologies for composition studies: Reflecting on theories of
race in writing assessment research. In Lee Nickoson, & Mary P. Sheridan (Eds.), Writing studies research in practice: Methods and methodologies (pp. 125-139). Southern Illinois University Press.
Inoue, Asao B. (2016). Friday plenary address: Racism in writing programs and the CWPA.
WPA: Writing Program Administration, 40(1), 134-154.
Johnston, Emily R. (2020). Pathologizing the wounded?: Post-traumatic stress disorder in an era
of gun violence. Rhetoric of Health & Medicine, 3(1), 1-33.
Kareem, Jamila. (2019). A critical race analysis of transition-level writing curriculum to support
the racially diverse two-year college. Teaching English in the Two-Year College 46(4), 271-296.
Kataoka, Sheryl, Langley, Audra, Wong, Marleen, Baweja, Shilpa, & Stein, Bradley. (2012).
Responding to students with PTSD in schools. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 21(2), 119-133.
Keisch, Deborah M., & Scott, Tim. (2015). U.S. education reform and the maintenance of
white supremacy through structural violence. Landscapes of Violence 3(3), 1-44.
Kennedy, Tammie M., Middleton, Joyce Irene, & Ratcliffe, Krista. (2005). The matter of
whiteness: Or, why whiteness studies is important to rhetoric and composition studies. Rhetoric Review, 24(4), 359-373.
Khazan, Olga. (2019). The real problem with trigger warnings. The Atlantic.
Krebs, Christopher P., Lindquist, Christine, Warner, Tara, Fisher, Bonnie, & Martin, Sandra.
(2007). The campus sexual assault study: Final report. The National Criminal Justice Reference Service.
Lauer, Janice M., and Asher, J. William. (1988). Composition research: Empirical designs. Oxford UP.
Leonardo, Zeus. (2009). Race, whiteness, and education. New York, NY: Routledge.
Leonardo, Zeus, & Manning, Logan. (2015). White historical activity theory: Toward a critical
understanding of white zones of proximal development. Race, Ethnicity, and Education, 20(1) 1-15.
Lopez, Omar. S., Springer, Stephen. B., & Nelson, Jeffrey B. (2015). Veterans in the college
classroom: Guidelines for instructional practices. Adult Learning 27(4), 143-151.
Lorde, Audre. (2007). The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. In Audre
Lorde (Ed.), Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (pp. 110-114). Crossing Press. (Original work published 1984)
Lothian, Alexis. (2016). Choose not to warn: Trigger warnings and content notes from fan
culture to feminist pedagogy. Feminist Studies, 42(3), 743-756.
Love, Bettina L. (2019). ‘Grit is in our DNA’: Why teaching grit is inherently anti-Black.
Lukianoff, Greg, & Haidt, Jonathan. (2015). The coddling of the American mind. The
Manne, Kate. (2015). Why I use trigger warnings. The New York Times.
Marcotte, Amanda. (2013). The year of the trigger warning. Slate. https://slate.com/human
Martin, Joe C., & Frisby, Brandi N. (2017). Institution-wide trigger warnings: A case study of a
university’s ‘common reading.’ In Emily J. M. Knox. (Ed.), Trigger Warnings: History, Theory, Context (pp. 153-164.). Rowman and Littlefield.
Martinez, Aja Y. (2009). ‘The American way’: Resisting the empire of force and color-blind
racism. College English 71(6), 584-595.
McFarland, Jamie. (2017). On privilege, authority, and abuses of professorial power. In Emily j. M. Knox, (Ed.), Trigger Warnings: History, Theory, Context (pp. 165-178.). Rowman and Littlefield.
Mills, Charles. (1997). The racial contract. Cornell University Press.
Molloy, Cathryn. (2016). Multimodal composing as healing: Toward a new model for writing as
healing courses. Composition Studies 44(2), 134-52.
Molloy, Cathryn, Holladay, Drew, & Melonçon, Lisa. (2020). The place of mental health
rhetoric research (MHRR) in Rhetoric of Health and Medicine and beyond. Rhetoric of Health and Medicine, 3(2), iii-x.
National Coalition against Censorship (NCAC). (2015). What’s all this about trigger warnings?
Orem, Sarah, & Simpkins, Neil. (2015). Weepy rhetoric, trigger warnings, and the work of
making mental illness visible in the writing classroom. Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture. http://enculturation.net/weepy-rhetoric
Owens, Ernest. (2018, August 7). The real trouble with trigger warnings. Philadelphia.
Paris, Django. (2012). Culturally sustaining pedagogy: A needed change in stance, terminology,
and practice. Educational Researcher 41(3), 93-97.
Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN). (2019). Campus sexual violence: Statistics.
Ruiz, Iris D., & Sánchez, Raul. (2016). Decolonizing rhetoric and composition studies: New
Latinx keywords for theory and pedagogy. Palgrave MacMillan.
Russell, David R. (1997). Rethinking genre in school and society: An activity theory analysis.
Written Communication 14(4), 504-554.
Russell, David R. (2009). Uses of activity theory in written communication research. In Annalisa Sannino, Harry
Daniels, & Kris D. Gutiérrez . (Eds.), Learning and expanding with activity theory (pp. 40-52). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP.
Sanson Mevagh, Strange, Deryn, & Garry, Maryanne. (2019). Trigger warnings are trivially
helpful at reducing negative affect, intrusive thoughts, and avoidance. Clinical Psychological Science, 7(4), 778-793.
Sibrava, Nicholas J., Bjornsson, Andrii S., Pérez Benítez, A Carlos I, Moitra, Ethan, Weisberg,
Risa B, & Keller, Martin B. (2019). Posttraumatic stress disorder in African American and Latinx adults: Clinical course and the role of racial and ethnic discrimination. American Psychologist 74(1), 101-116.
Spear, Rachael N. (2013). ‘Let me tell you a story’: On teaching trauma narratives, writing, and
healing. Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, 14(1), 53-79.
Storla, Kari. (2017). Beyond trigger warnings: Handling traumatic topics in classroom
discussion. In Emily J. M. Knox(Ed.). Trigger warnings: History, theory, context (pp. 190-199). Rowman and Littlefield.
Sue, Derald Wing. (2015). Race talk and the conspiracy of silence: Understanding and
facilitating difficult dialogues on race. Wiley.
Thomas, M. Shelley, Crosby, Shantel, & Vanderhaar, Judy. (2019). Trauma-informed practices
in schools across two decades: An interdisciplinary review of research. Review of Research in Education 43, 422-452.
Twine, France Winddance. (2010). A white side of black Britain: Interracial intimacy and racial
literacy. Duke University Press.
Washick, Bonnie. (2017). An ‘app’ for that: The case against the ‘equal access’ argument for
trigger warnings. In Emily J. M. Knox (Ed.). Trigger warnings: History, theory, context (pp. 88-122). Rowman and Littlefield.
Williams, Concetta A. & Magras, Lydia B. (2019). What I learned and what I learnt: Teaching
English while honoring language and culture at a predominantly Black institution. Rowman and Littlefield.
Winsor, Dorothy A. (1999). Genre and activity Systems: The role of documentation in
maintaining and changing engineering activity systems. Written Communication, 16(2), 200–224.
Zurbriggen, Eileen L. (2011). Preventing secondary traumatization in the undergraduate
classroom: Lessons from theory and clinical practice.” Psychological Times: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 3(3), 223-228.