Communication Studies, Department of


First Advisor

Dawn O. Braithwaite

Date of this Version



A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Dawn O. Braithwaite. Lincoln, Nebraska : May 2018.

Copyright (c) 2018 Amy Arellano


Challenging the predominance of rape culture within academia, this dissertation focuses on the intersection of academic conversations regarding the inclusion of trigger warnings. This project examines the academic trigger warning debate from its inception in January 2014 through its peak in May 2015. I argue that the implementation of trigger warnings serves as a visible adaptation within pedagogy to respond to the role trauma from sexual assaults may influence the classroom. To achieve this, I offer a careful examination of the trigger warning debate informed by an approach that puts Kenneth Burke’s indexing in conversation with Michael McGee’s ideographic analysis. This theoretical lens allows me to adopt a stance rooted within Deanna Fassett and John T. Warren’s critical communication pedagogy.

Throughout the dissertation, I argue that depictions of graphic sexual violence in the classroom can cause both educators and students to experience a “second assault.” “Second assaults” occur when exposure to classroom content results in triggering a PTSD response within the individual. The project culminates with a guide of pedagogical options aimed at rupturing the presence of rape culture, while allowing for discussion of sexual violence within the classroom. Finally, I address the (im)possible articulations of this study for future research.

Advisor: Dawn O. Braithwaite