LN Feature: Trigger Warning



March 7, 2017
On the feature this week, an interview with Raymond Kobes. Raymond is part of a pro-life club at a BC University.

LHN: Raymond, let’s talk first of all about who you are and your position.

RK: I’m the treasurer of the pro-life group on campus at the University of the Fraser Valley. It’s a group where we discuss pro-life issues, try to generate discussion, have events, and try to be a light on campus.

LHN: You had an event – an art display – celebrating life. First of all, just a brief description of what your group did and what the purpose of this whole thing was.

RK: Part of our vision as a pro-life group on campus is to generate discussion and inform people on campus – students – what’s happening. And the event we did was a three-day art display. We talked to our local high school – the high school where the (club’s) president and myself attended back in the day – and we asked if the art class would be interested in doing an art project for us. The topic of the display was “The Value of Life”. They were given that as their topic and they could take it where they wanted. Many of them touched in on the value of human life and what that means, from conception to natural death. They did a short write-up on all of their pieces, which were mostly done as paintings.

LHN: I had a look at some of the pictures you posted on social media. I didn’t see any graphic anti-abortion messages or imagery or anything like that and yet there was a sign on the door warning people going into this display that this might “trigger” something. They called it a “trigger warning”. What was that about?

RK: So to understand how the trigger warning came about we have to go back to last spring where we held an event. Every spring, our club tries to have kind of a public display in order to show that we’re still around and that this discussion needs to happen. Last year we did a flag display. As you may be aware, it’s where we have 10,000 pink and blue flags representing the 100,000 abortions that happen here in Canada (every year.) And when we did this display there was quite a bit of backlash from certain groups of the university (community); a lot of students felt that they were being traumatized and they were reliving difficult circumstances. There was a counter-protest and a lot of flak was thrown at the University for allowing us there.

So this year, as we went forward, one of the things the University really wanted was to make sure that that wouldn’t happen again, that there wouldn’t be so much negative press, and that we would be having trigger warnings so that people wouldn’t stumble upon us. So they made sure we were stuck in a room with closed doors.

LHN: What kind of reaction did the display actually get? Were there any students who claimed to have been “triggered”? Any protests this time trying to shut you down or anything?

RK: No. This year, as we did the event – since it was stuck in a back corner with doors closed – there weren’t any (people) protesting it. And I think the reason that this was the case is because this is where they want us. I think they think they’ve won when they’ve sent us to a corner, the doors and closed, there’s trigger warnings up; this is the place where they want to have this discussion. Out of the public eye. In a corner where people aren’t going to stumble upon it. And I think that’s the sad part about how the discussion is going. That they’re ideally happy when this is not being discussed.

LHN: So have they won then?

RK: Well, they think they have. But as I’ve been talking with the president (of the club) and other people, we look at last week, when there was no discussion on this issue, and this week, where there is lots of discussion, I think that’s somewhere where we’ve gained a lot of traction. And just from hearing around classes on the university campus – in classes not related to this topic – there have been prof’s discussing what this was and who was involved and how this all came about. So I think the fact that the discussion is happening is opening the ears of people that this issue is still around, and is still important.

LHN: What’s really behind this though? I mean, you’ve kind of referenced the notion that they’re trying to marginalize (you) and stick you off in a room in a corner somewhere – where nobody will pay attention. I mean Falun Gong – that’s a longstanding issue in terms of the history of (religious persecution in) China and a lot of violence and a lot of nasty things going on there – the folks in support of the Falun Gong movement have had displays on campus, and there’s no trigger warnings there.

RK: Yeah, it’s interesting. Just last September, they did have an event. And there were paintings showing torture scenes and organ harvesting and truly brutal atrocities. And it was done with doors open and somebody inviting you in. I walked in and it was quite a shocking thing to see. It was eye-opening and it was good to have on a campus.

Interestingly enough, there was good comment from Jon Dykstra (on social media) who mentioned that it’s so much easier to condemn someone else’s sins and to look at persecutors of that religion and to think that “of course they’re doing something wrong; we want to publicize that and be on the right side of history.” But it’s so much more difficult when it’s an event looking inward because this is our country. This is Canada, done with taxpayer dollars funding abortions. And to have this discussion about self-critiquing is extremely difficult.

LHN: So obviously you’re not giving up. You were relegated to a corner this year, but you’re going to keep going? You’re going to keep trying to promote this issue and this cause?

RK: Yeah, for sure. We’re in discussions with the event coordinators on how this happened, and to be clear, so that everyone knows, we agreed to where we were, and we agreed to having trigger warnings. And the reason we did that is because if we (hadn’t) agreed to it and we tried to make a stand there, no event (would have) happened. And we think that having an event, even if it’s not ideal, is going to be the only way we’re going to be able to generate discussion (and) have a little bit of credibility going forward. That we’ve tried it in this way. We think it’s an infringement on free speech and we can use this as leverage in the future. And for sure, we won’t be silent.

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