Friday, March 28, 2014


Diligent readers of this blog may recall some text from our posting of the audio of the Regents meeting of March 20:

...(T)he meeting began with a public comment period.  A student spoke about "trigger warnings" at UC-Santa Barbara which have something to do with PTSD.  Really, I had no idea what this was about or what the Regents should do about it.  Hint: If you want to speak at Regents meetings, make it clear what you are talking about...

Thanks to an op ed in the LA Times, the mystery is solved.  But the incident on which it is based is rather bizarre:

Mireille Miller-Young, a feminist studies professor at UC Santa Barbara, has been charged with battery, vandalism and theft after she allegedly stole and destroyed the sign of an antiabortion protester on campus and then pushed and scratched the 16-year-old when she tried to grab her sign back.  It looks like an open-and-shut case. Miller-Young told a police officer who interviewed her after the incident that she had seized and torn up the sign, and there's a video posted on YouTube* that appears to record the March 4 altercation (warning: copious use of the "F-word"). The alleged victim, Thrin Short, told Fox News that Miller-Young had pushed her out of an elevator where Miller-Young and several UCSB students had taken the sign, and that she had suffered several scratches during the ensuing melee. Short had been among a group of about a dozen antiabortion protesters, most of them students at Thomas Aquinas College, a small Catholic institution in Santa Paula, who said they had gathered in UCSB's "free speech zone" on campus, where such activities are permitted, to hand out information to UCSB students...

Miller-Young's excuse for her deed (was) that she was "triggered" by images in the protesters' materials, which reportedly included graphic pictures of aborted fetuses. Here's what the officer said she told him:

"In essence, Miller-Young told me she felt 'triggered' by the images on the posters. Miller-Young stated that she had been walking through the Arbor to get back to South Hall. Miller-Young said she was approached by people who gave her literature about abortion. Miller-Young said that she found this literature and pictures disturbing. Miller-Young said that she found this material offensive because she teaches about women's 'reproductive rights' and is pregnant. She said an argument ensued about the graphic nature of these images. Miller-Young said that she [sic] situation became 'passionate' and that other students in the area were 'triggered' in a negative way by the imagery." ...

Fortunately, police and prosecutors in Santa Barbara County don't seem to be buying Miller-Young's "triggering" defense to committing what might be viewed as "triggering" trauma to someone else. And fortunately as well, UCSB administrators, while not especially sympathetic to antiabortion "crusaders," as they call them, did stand up for their free-speech rights. According to National Review, UCSB Vice Chancellor Michael Young wrote in an email:  

"[T]he principle of freedom of expression resides at the very foundation of our society and, most certainly, at the foundation of a world-class university such as UC Santa Barbara. Freedom and rights are not situational: we either have freedom of speech or we do not. We cannot pick and choose which views are allowed to be aired and who is allowed to speak."

Full op ed at

The trigger defense seems like the “Twinkie defense” which is associated with the 1978 murder of the mayor of San Francisco – although it wasn’t the essence of the defense in that case.  See

It still remains a mystery as to what the speaker at the Regents meeting wanted the Regents to do.  But it seems unlikely that UC-SB will adopt rules allowing "triggered" attacks on demonstrators.  

A report in the student newspaper on the incident is at:

*Actually, the video which is at is not very clear.


Chris Newfield said...

you can find a far less stupid commentary on this incident than the LAT blog post at along with many comments covering the legal aspects of free speech spaces on UC campuses among other things. I'm surprised that you would ignore this in your post and liken a faculty member grabbing a very graphic sign equating pro-choice with mass murder to a justification for a double murder

California Policy Issues said...

There was no justification for grabbing the sign or the sign carrier and she ended up causing sympathy for the cause she opposed. She also became the poster child (child is a good word here) for intolerance that right wing critics of universities love to highlight. Sorry but the LA Times has it right. The trigger idea is ridiculous. Students are old enough to read about things that are disturbing. And professors are old enough to look at disturbing signs without going haywire.