UTPD incident notifications must include trigger warnings

Lucero Ponce, Columnist

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the January 21 Flipbook.

When it comes to matters of safety, every student has the right to be made aware of ongoing crimes on and around campus. The Clery Act requires institutions to provide emergency alerts to all students on their campuses. However, due to the often graphic nature of these incidents, the alerts may remind students of past trauma. 

The UT Police Department should protect the mental health of students when sending incident notifications. UTPD should add trigger warnings to incident notifications for sensitive topics, such as sexual misconduct, gun violence and death to help prepare readers for any reaction they may have. 

Trigger warnings help prepare individuals who have experienced traumatic events for discussion of topics that might cause stress and anxiety. For survivors of traumatic events and those with post-traumatic stress disorder, reading re-traumatizing messages unprepared can trigger an emotional reaction or flashbacks. According to the Eastern Colorado Healthcare System, 17% of college students suffer from PTSD, and UTPD needs to be more understanding and adaptable. 

Some universities around the country are starting to add trigger warnings to their emergency alerts. UTPD should follow suit to help students process potentially disturbing information in a more accommodating way. 

“When we put out incident notifications, I would almost assume that every time you see that (notification), there’s going to be somebody that’s triggered,” acting UTPD police chief Don Verett said. “If you watch the news, you’re going to be triggered. If you’re a person who could be triggered or who’s had challenges (with) being triggered in the past, I think that you would almost have to assume, ‘Look, this is a significant incident or the University wouldn’t be putting it out, so I need to be careful about that. But it’s something we’ll consider and talk (about) with our communications team. It isn’t something that I had thought of before.”

Survivors can be triggered when they’re reminded of past trauma, and not all incident notifications would do so. It’s insensitive to imply that survivors are too sensitive and cannot handle being exposed to any news of violence or crime. 

 If UTPD can acknowledge that someone will likely be affected by an incident notification, then trigger warnings are necessary. It isn’t something to just consider, and it isn’t a responsibility that should fall on the student. Survivors shouldn’t be responsible for making sure they aren’t triggered. 

Environmental science freshman Kyle Huang says that having trigger warnings would only benefit the UT community.

“You’ll have folks say that this might be silly, but there’s no drawbacks or negative consequences of having a content warning in front of such messages,” Huang said. “The only result would be that the UT community benefits because the mental health of certain students, who may have had traumatic experiences, will be more protected, and they’ll be able to analyze this information in a healthier way.”

Adding a trigger warning to incident notifications would only require a short additional sentence and leaving space between the warning and description. The warning doesn’t take away from the gravity of the situation and requires no extra money or research. It requires nothing but compassion for already vulnerable and traumatized students. 

Students deserve campus police that look out for both their physical and mental health. It’s time for UTPD to end the stigmatizing idea that trigger warnings cater to overly-sensitive students. All students deserve to know what is going on around campus, and UTPD must take the necessary steps to protect its vulnerable students while disseminating this type of information.

Ponce is a journalism freshman from Laredo, Texas.