Hello Young Americans for Liberty (YAL),
My name is Kali Pelletier. I’m a third year student at UMaine majoring in early childhood education and minoring in theatre. I’m also mentally ill.
You would not campaign for the removal of ramps for those who are in a wheelchair or have limited abilities that make stair climbing difficult. You do, however, want to remove a very important part of my own safety.
A trigger warning is a very simple thing — a warning. You should be familiar with them. They’re on every movie you’ve ever watched. “Contains sexual violence. Contains excessive swearing.” A trigger warning is simply a content warning, with the target audience being mentally ill people. It does not require the altering of content. It does not suggest that those presenting potentially “triggering” material are uneducated, insensitive or careless. It does give me a good 60 seconds to think, “Can I handle this today?”
The rest of my letter contains information about mental illness, eating disorders and car accident death. (See? That’s a trigger warning — very simple.)
I once drove by a crumpled tin can that passed for a car, only to learn that it killed my first boyfriend. That experience was traumatizing enough without me having anxiety and depression. I’m okay now. But for the first year or so, if I were to go into a neutral space like a classroom and — with no warning — see graphic images and video of vehicle crashes and deaths, I would spiral into panic.
I could only see the car, imagine the blood collecting in my boyfriend’s stomach and start scratching and clawing at my skin. If a teacher let me know at the beginning of class “Hey, there’s going to be graphic content about car crashes,” just like at the start of every movie, I could get ready. I could close my eyes, start some coping mechanisms or simply excuse myself to go to the bathroom.
I’m fine now. I don’t need a trigger warning for that, but I’m sure other people do and I do not want them to feel that crippling danger when it is not needed.
I also had an eating disorder, like many women do and it completely dismantled my life. I’m a happy little chub now, but there have been times when I’m presented with graphic images or interviews of skeletal dying women and instantly I feel a cold slimeball form inside me. Everyone in the room appears dangerous, everyone is out to get me and I am fat again. I am hideous again and no one will ever leave me alone unless I am thin, so I cannot eat.
It can take days for me to recover from that. And I know there are times when I can’t escape it, especially on the internet. I avoid it the best I can. But in a classroom, in spaces that should be safe, a trigger warning of “today’s lecture will contain graphic content about eating disorders” could spare me literal days of starvation, terror and self-harm. It would not change the content of the lecture at all.
I’m also queer. I like to say I’m 83 percent gay, which of course means I’m bisexual. Safe spaces allotted for queer students, like the Rainbow Resource Center, are invaluable to people like me, who often benefit from even the knowledge that a space exists where I can be safe.
Safe spaces are not radical. Trigger warnings are not censorship. They’re simple, non-invasive accommodations that change my entire world experience for the better. You would not take away inhalers for those with asthma. You would not make an ill student stay in their seat instead of letting them rush to the bathroom. Please, do not advocate for the removal of what allows me to integrate into this university like a healthy person.
I realize this is a very long letter, but I hope you read it. I hope you can see the genuine harm you are doing to your community members that most need your help and make the decision to be an ally instead.
I did not choose to be sick.
And if you happen to believe “if you’re sick go to a doctor” like lots of people, I did and I do. Getting medicated doesn’t remove an illness, just like having an inhaler doesn’t mean people with asthma don’t need to be cautious about running.