When you're a freshmen, you think that your college lectures are going to be similar to high school when it comes to certain content. High school teachers try to avoid any sort of sensitive subjects in order to steer clear of disagreements, reactions, emotions, and forcing us to truly see some of the darkness in the world. College is not the same.
The University of Chicago sent out an email to their students and staff telling them that lectures are to cover the content of the world; they are no place for trigger warnings or safe spaces. Trigger warnings are when the professor writes or states that there is content coming up that could potentially cause emotional distress.
The college sent a message to their students that their emotional reactions to any sort of learning in the classroom was not the problem of the professors or the university. The students were to deal with their emotions on their own terms; it was not the issue of the college. They are there to learn about the world that they live in, good and bad. Other colleges like Brown University followed suit and sent a similar email to their students.
The Chronicle wrote an insightful article about how professors from other colleges are sharing why they use trigger warnings in the hopes of changing the minds of the University of Chicago's staff. Click the link to read the full article, or read below for the basic gist.
There are professors like Martha J. Reineke, who teach religion at the University of Northern Iowa.
While teaching a class on the readings of "The Birth of the Living God," one of her students became upset. After class, she was told that the descriptions of physical abuse had brought up the abusive history of his past.
The next time Professor Reineke taught this book, she decided to give a trigger warning to her students. She explains to The Chronicle that some of these stories can be disturbing, and gives them instructions on where they can go if they feel like they need help. She doesn't use it as a way to avoid the readings, though.
I don’t want a student to be startled and at a loss and maybe drop the class because of their feelings.
There are other professors like Patrick J. Keenan and David R. Andersen-Rodgers, who teach at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and California State University at Sacramento, respectively. Both of these professors come across students who are veterans or come from war-torn countries.
Professor Keenan teaches about international-laws. He says that the lectures about sexual violence and war crimes can cause emotional trauma for some of his students. Preferring to not call his prefaces trigger warnings, he just considers it a part of the ritual of learning about hard material.
Springing those topics on them without warning would be unprofessional and "just rude.
Professor Andersen-Rodgers understands that his students come from different parts of the world. During one of his classes, he noticed that a student was texting. When the class was over, the student came up to him and apologized for being on his phone, "saying that his neighborhood in Yemen had just been bombed."
Rather than repeating his message about emotional content with every new topic, Professor Andersen-Rodgers just writes a memo in the syllabus.
"It’s not that these students are cowering," Mr. Andersen-Rodgers says to The Chronicle. "They’re braver. They see the realities of the world."
It just goes to show the University of Chicago that they don't have to forego the lessons that they want to teach in order to show compassion for their students. There will always be traumatic and emotional events going on in the world that should be discussed in college, but it is imperative that the students feel as if their college cares about their well-being enough to give them a moment's notice to prepare themselves and information on where to go if they feel the need to talk to someone. The students should always come first.
Lead Image Credit: University of Liverpool via Flickr Creative Commons