Content Warnings for Donald Trump

Content warnings: description of Donald Trump; mention of sexual assault, mental illness, homophobia

The Counterpoint staff recently had a discussion about our Content Warnings Policy, specifically on whether or not we would provide CWs for articles that discuss Donald Trump. We decided as a staff that, as a magazine by Wellesley students for Wellesley students, we should open up the discussion to our campus readers via an anonymous poll and comment section. However, we also as a staff agreed that if just one Wellesley student said that they wanted CW for Donald Trump, we would provide them because we are a magazine for all Wellesley students. Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that we will provide CW for Donald Trump. In addition, though, we have decided to start having more detailed CWs overall. We will now provide three categories of CW, described below. These descriptions will now be available in the inside front cover of every issue of Counterpoint for our reader’s convenience. 

Implication of: for content that seems to be implied in any given article, but does not actually name or give a description or discussion of said content

Mention of: for content that is named or defined in any given article, but does not provide specific details or descriptions in the usage of said content

Description of: for content that is named and described in detail in any given article

We have also decided to share the results of our survey, along with some anonymous poll comments and staff responses, below. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact editors-in-chief, Charlotte Yu (cyu3) and Allyson Larcom (alarcom).

Reader responses

  • I think it is more productive to have trigger warnings about the actual ideas and concepts that Trump is propagating than about the man himself. DJT is not the type of thing to warrant a TW in my opinion. His ideas are what are most harmful about him.

  • Sometimes it's all just too much, you know? It seems like all news media has dissolved into a constant barrage of negativity, and I just can't pay attention to it sometimes. Stress from this election has on occasion made me dissociate or unable to function, and I'm seeing it happen to my friends too. And as someone who believes that one of the best ways to be patriotic is to be an informed voter, it kills me that I have to purposefully ignore the news sometimes for my own health, but I'm going to survive this presidency if it kills me.

  • He is our President and it is important to understand that not all of the students at Wellesley feel negatively about this Administration. Not everyone will always agree with the current President, and it is unfair to make grand assumptions about students at Wellesley, when a group of us already feel uncomfortable enough with the political climate on campus. For the last 8 years President Obama was a democrat in office, and Republicans were respectful of this and stayed quiet. Now it is time for liberals to respect President Trump and provide us with the same courtesy.

  • but like not if his name is just mentioned in an article. if an article is dissecting or discussing his history, his actions, one of his policies, etc. in detail, then yes, a content warning to fight the normalization of his disgusting crap would be great. thanks y'all

  • I think the other content warnings are much more about trauma and triggers that people can have relating to experiences they have gone through. Those content warnings are important to have to keep members of the community safe from reliving past traumas (I myself am triggered by certain content due to my panic disorder). But I personally do not believe Donald Trump fits into this category of triggers. Rather, he is something that may be more uncomfortable to read about than triggering. I don't think ceasing such practices normalizes Donald Trump and his behavior. More often than not(I assume), the articles on Counterpoint will be criticizing him.

  • I think it would diminish the gravity of other content warnings. Donald Trump being president (ugh) is a fact, and I think we need to face that (myself included). I think we should continue using content warnings about misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc when we talk about Trump, but not specifically give him his own content warning. Giving him his own content warning acknowledges him as a dangerous person, which gives him power. Really, the only dangerous things about him are his followers and what he's saying to encourage him, so I think we should put content warnings on that, not Trump himself. Just my opinion! :)

  • I just want to know that the piece is going to be about Donald Trump or include something about him before I read it. Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness, Counterpoint!

  • I think it's worth brainstorming other ways (instead of using cw) of not normalizing trumps actions—maybe adding a small note at the beginning of all articles related to trump saying "*note: we continue to recognize the abnormality and outrageousness of all this" ok bad example but even stating explicitly like that as a tiny note ?

  • Thinking about Trump is very stressful for me and I would just appreciate the heads up before I read about him

  • I worry about the normalization of shutting out voices we dislike. The Trump presidency is our unfortunate reality for the next four years and we have to learn to deal with it. Trump's actions, beliefs, and behaviors resonate with a large portion of our society, and it's up to us to figure out why. Content warnings for Donald Trump will not keep students safer - they will only keep people deeper in their smug bubbles, out of touch with our country's reality. I am wondering, however, if you really are keeping this decision open to the campus community, when you plan on providing warnings if even a small fraction answers this poll "yes". This doesn't keep our community safe. This keeps our community ignorant and unprepared.

  • I wasn't going to fill this out because I don't use content warnings. But because I am not "ignorant" I can understand that there are people who are different than me who might need them. And in that case, if you also provide warnings for rape, homophobic or racist language, ect, then yeah, it logically makes sense to provide a warning about someone who does those things. And for people like me who don't need the warnings, it incidentally serves as a reminder that the leader of our country is someone who says and does things that should not be acceptable. The warning's primary function is just that, a warning, but it has the added bonus of being a call to arms. I don't think there's any harm in it serving two purposes, as the warning is well deserved.

  • As a queer woman of color i already have to take time to emotionally engage with trump related news elsewhere. it would be fantastic if counterpoint could include these content warnings on a publication centered around the experiences of wellesley students so we can opt to skip over the content without becoming more exhausted. thanks for all the work you do—keep it up! :)

  • Yes, I think Trump is something very triggering to some people's mental health and there should be a warning that content will be there. However, perhaps different language should be used instead of using the same language or presentation as other issues like rape and and eating disorders.

  • Thinking about the Trump presidency fills me with an overwhelming sense of fear. A content warning will help me judge whether I want to confront those feelings or not over the course of reading a Counterpoint article that mentions him.

  • I just read an angry response to this and I think it's really important for people to have these content warnings for mental health support, specifically, because Donald Trump is a person who has bragged about sexually assaulting women and it is really hard for lots of women to read about things he says because it brings back very painful and uncomfortable memories. Besides even if there's a content warning, the content is still there for people to read so it's a good measure to take care of people during this very scary time.

  • I don't read Counterpoint, but I feel it is fair to say that to live by content warnings, is to avoid the fullness of the reality we live in. It makes us weaker in the way we approach situations and information, and it fosters a culture where the feelings of the individual surpass the general necessity for transparent and unfiltered communication, which is already scarce nowadays. In other words, let's grow up folks. The world ain't gonna give content warnings.

  • The debate surrounding inclusion of content warnings in general as well as on this poll only serves to illustrate their importance to me. The hateful, discriminatory rhetoric and actions connected to and perpetuated by DT cause destruction to the minds and bodies of many people, including members of the Wellesley College community. Including these content warnings acknowledges the damage that his and his supporters' behaviors cause and emphasizes that people who are hurt by this rhetoric have a right to do what is best for their mental health. People do not heed content warnings to stay ignorant and avoid things that make them uncomfortable—people use them to avoid topics that might be damaging to their mental health, whether at a particular moment in time or perpetually. People do not have to read things that will make them uncomfortable, and people do not have to read things that are detrimental to their mental health. People who want to resist the actions of DT can do so in ways that they feel are safe for them, but not everyone has the ability or energy to consume as much media about DT as others and that is to be respected. Including content warnings does not serve to stifle conversation on the basis of disagreement. Some people will not be heavily affected by the actions taken by the administration, but this administration has and will continue to take actions that some people simply will not be able to "deal with." People are not morally obligated to listen to voices that deny their humanity, nor is every person morally obligated to listen to opinions that they “dislike” if this “disliked” opinion is detrimental to their well-being. I very much appreciate Counterpoint bringing up this debate and attempting to do what they think is appropriate for the Wellesley community. I recognize that the debate was initially referring to the inclusion of DT as a content warning and whether including him as a content warning makes light of the other content warnings Counterpoint includes. The actions that the administration has carried out, even only two weeks after taking power, have caused incredible damage to the minds and bodies of people around the world. In my view, his actions have been severe enough to warrant the inclusion of content warnings.

  • what's the harm in providing them? Most people will read anyways, and it will just save the people who actually need the warning from potentially being triggered. There's a difference between "not caring about politics" and specifically not wanting to read about someone that is profoundly damaging to your mental health (and I think people can make this decision on their own).

Staff responses

There is a fundamental misunderstanding as to what content warnings even are in many responses. 

gonna scream

I understand why some people feel a Content Warning (CW) for him as a person specifically undermines the value of other CWs. But I also feel like comparing the problems “liberals” have with DT and problems conservatives have with Obama is ridiculous. Yes, you may not have agreed with his policies and kept “quiet” during his presidency, but Obama was not a reality star running for president for shits and giggles. CW are not so people can stay “ignorant” and “protected” and “coddled” from the real world. They’re to keep people safe, both mentally and emotionally. You cannot tell me that as a conservative or a liberal or a whatever, you don’t get tired from the constant news cycle bombarding you every hour. To say that your Wellesley Sibs are “weak” and “need to grow up” for wanting a warning if they need a break is disrespectful and honestly pretty gross. How about you grow up and realize that everyone has the right to absorb whatever information they choose, and that no, we don’t have to absorb information about a inherently awful man if it’s going to cause us emotional or mental harm every single time his name pops up somewhere in our day to day life. It does not make you weak to take a break sometimes. It gives you time to recuperate, build up strength, and rejoin the fight when you’re ready. I understand the argument that giving his name itself a warning is giving him a kind of power. I think it would be best for us to give a content warning for the awful things he stands for in regards to him. Like “racism: Trump” so that way students know this subject will be in the article and directly related to him. 

Content warnings are ubiquitous: we bold ingredients on food products that people may be allergic to; we write “Do Not Lean On Railing” so people don’t fall off cliffs; we rate movies so parents don’t bring their kids to something explicitly violent, sexual, or otherwise “inappropriate.” So no, trigger warnings are not an invention of the liberal media. Some might say we put the aforementioned warnings in place because those situations are life-threatening. This is where the perceived illegitimacy of mental illness comes in: sometimes, trauma is life-threatening. Originally I was against content warnings for Trump, thinking that they would undermine more “serious” triggers. But the reality is that for many people, Trump poses a threat to their existence—because of their race, or their gender, or their religion, or their immigration status. The possibilities of the future can be just as traumatic as any memory of the past. 

If a content warning is requested by even one person, it should be respected. The arguments against content warnings are inherently flawed; letting a reader know that a topic contains a certain subject is not censorship or a situation where “the feelings of the individual surpass the general necessity for transparent and unfiltered communication,” as one reader put it in our survey. Content warnings do not hinder a person from continuing to read the piece, nor do they filter communication. They simply provide an easy-to-ignore piece of information that can help some people avoid panic attacks, flashbacks, or other harmful situations. I will never understand how a person can feel validated in any argument against trigger and content warnings, knowing that adding one causes essentially zero effort and can stop a person from re-experiencing their trauma. I’m proud to be part of a publication that prioritizes the mental health of its readership.


From February 2017 issue