The Triggering Effect

September 21, 2015 OPINION/NEWS



Robert Kilborn

They had equipped the room with cookies, colouring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies. They had sealed the windows and softened the lights. Students and staff members trained to deal with trauma stood in a row. The trauma coordinator glanced at her watch. No one spoke.

Two, three, then four students, one of them crying softly, entered the room. The crier sank into a pillow. A friend stroked her hair. One student ate cookies and watched the onscreen puppies frolic. Another picked up a crayon and began to fill in a colouring book. Within 30 minutes, the room was filled with two dozen or more students. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” one student said.

Social media and an article in the school newspaper had warned students of the debate and its possible triggering effect. “Students should not be threatened by ideas that challenge their most deeply held convictions,” the article said. “But since the committee could not get this debate cancelled, it will set up a safe room adjacent to the lecture hall, where traumatized students can get help.”

The day after the debate, another article appeared in the school newspaper. “Debates like these serve no other purpose than to alienate half the student population,” the article said. “We need to get out and demonstrate and force the administration to comply with our wishes to shut down debates of this kind.”

The demonstration took place three days later. The university no longer hosts debates of this kind.






Robert Kilborn

Robert Kilborn writes friction, non-friction, thrillosophical essays, articles, reviews, and jeux d’esprit. He started out as a rock singer. At the University of British Columbia he read Literature, Philosophy, and Art History. He’s been an English teacher, a Don Draper, and a former general manager of one of Canada’s leading modern dance companies, Anna Wyman Dance Theatre. He lives in Montreal. You may contact him at [email protected].


  1. Patrice September 28, at 12:57

    What might I add....the world seems to be moving in a direction that alienates me.

  2. The Countess Christina September 22, at 00:51

    You had me at "one student ate cookies." humour. First, I love the artwork with this short story. Fits the article and matches well with your icon in B&W. Second, I found the content to be on point. In this day and age of social media many things have changed. For you and I its somewhat strange as we come from a different time in the world. Myself, at 68, remember when we listened to the radio at night as we did not have a TV. You, at 37, remember when the BC Lions were a force in the Canadian League with Matt Dunigan at the helm. Over all the article makes the reader think. Are we better off today at communicating our opinions or are we simply following the herd who would like to be heard? Its a fine line between "mothering" a generation or simply ignoring their minor concerns. I took this away from the article. Well played always. /s/ Christina Saint Marché

  3. Anthony Jenkins September 21, at 17:16

    Brilliant! And sadly- but I hope not- sounds true. Perhaps this piece should be labelled " Warning: Satirical Content!", just in case.


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