The New Republic has a story out mocking and condemning what it describes as a trend toward the use of mandatory “trigger warnings” in college classes.
I don’t have time for a full post on this subject right now, but as I said on Twitter a few moments ago, while I’ve never given a trigger warning by that name, I do make a point of mentioning to my students at the start of the semester the fact that my courses sometimes address horrific and difficult subjects. Beyond that, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I prepare my students for traumatic material in class, and about how I present that material. Classrooms can be traumatizing environments, and it’s appropriate for professors to consider how to ameliorate that possibility.
After I logged off of Twitter, I got to thinking about whether it would be appropriate for me to address the subject of potentially traumatic subjects in the syllabus, and what an attempt to do so might look like. Here’s what I came up with:
“At times during this semester we may be discussing historical events that may be disturbing, even traumatizing. If you ever feel the need to step outside before or during one of these discussions, either for a short time or for the rest of the class session, you may always do so without academic penalty. If you ever wish to discuss your personal reactions to this material, either with the class or with me afterwards, I welcome such discussion as an appropriate part of our coursework.”
That’s just a very early first draft. I don’t know for sure that I’m going to incorporate this into syllabi going forward, but it’s a whack at the problem at least.
I’m interested to know what y’all think, and to see other examples, if you know of any.
Update | Having mulled it a bit, I believe I will include language along these general lines in future syllabi. This is no longer a hypothetical, in other words—it’s something I’m going to do. Again, I’d very much welcome reactions and suggestions.
Second Update | On Twitter, @AgentStarrk asks whether students who stepped out of a class under such circumstances would be responsible for the material they missed. It’s a good question, and the answer is yes, the same as if they were absent for any other reason. The “without academic penalty” phrasing is ambiguous, though—I’ll have to tweak it a bit.