Old White Men who need to not.
I’m not sure if I can accurately write what I’m feeling here but it’s an attempt.
Alright. So. Tonight I went into my contemporary cinema class with the knowledge that the class/professor in previous semesters had shown films that are triggering to students. These films were shown without a warning to students or a discussion about the content. A friend of mine suggested that I ask the professor to at least discuss the triggering aspects of the films before they were shown. I think this is a hugely valid concern and so I did just that.
First of all, I was so intensely nervous about this that I was shaking when I spoke to him before class. When I walked up to him he simply stared at me. At which time I extended my hand for a handshake and he looked at it confused for a moment before obliging. I then stated my concerns about the inclusion of rape scenes in the selected movies. I didn’t ask him to remove any movies from the list, but I asked kindly if he could warn students so that they may avoid the triggering selections if they pleased.
He seemed to understand and went on to bring up an example of a film he had shown that depicted a rabbit being skinned. He said he felt bad that one of his students had such an adverse reaction to watching it. I sort of felt that maybe I was getting the idea through to this professor until he said, “I don’t know how to say this without getting personal.” Bad move, Mr. Professor. I know what you’re going to ask and it is absolutely none of your fucking business. I wish I had told him that, unfortunately, faced with a class sitting behind me and an old white man directly in front of me, when he asked “would you be personally triggered?” I responded. I told him, no, not personally, but that I feared for the others in the class.
Honestly, I don’t know if I stated the case well enough to him. He said that he may not make a statement tonight but that he would say something next class. I said that he should think about what to say and that I appreciated his understanding.
Class begins and everything is fine until he decides that he will not wait for next class. He decided that his ideas were fully formed on the subject already and that he should address it now. He recounted the rabbit story again in a much less sympathetic way. He finished his anecdote (that’s what it was to him, an anecdote) by saying “But of course nothing bad happened to me, academic freedom and that!”
I as absolutely appalled by the student response to this. Some people laughed. Lots of people laughed. One guy did a single clap. Academic freedom? how about being a good person and understanding that you made a mistake by not warning your students.
He then went on to state that he would never want a student to ‘be traumatized by watching a fictional representation of something they had gone through.”
I’m sorry? Everything is wrong about this. The wording made it sound like these concerns were not in any way valid. That someone should not be affected deeply by fiction. If a person has had a violent encounter in their life and a film or book brings back unwelcome memories, that triggering experience is not fictional. That experience can be a reminder of the worst day in a person’s life.
The professor used some words that he did not understand. He used the word ‘trigger’ about once. And that’s because he had just heard me use it five minutes prior.
He then went on to say that he didn’t think that any of the films could be triggering. Spoken like someone who has never had to worry about such things.
He then went on to list some movies we’d be watching. I swear the first two he mentioned were “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises.”
OH MY GOD, TRIGGERING MOVIES.
The whole premise of Eastern Promises is rape. He was too afraid to say the word rape! “I can’t think of any of these films to be triggering.” I’m sorry, fuck you.
He said that the students should take it upon themselves to look the movies up online if they felt they would be triggered and then contact him. After all that, he wanted the students to contact him about the issue. I already contacted you.
I have more to say but I can’t think of it right now. The only redeeming factor this man had was that he did not say “one of your fellow students was concerned about triggering scenes.” He’s lucky he didn’t look at me during his little speech. He would not have liked what he saw.