The American Association of University Professors has taken a formal stand in opposition to “trigger warnings,” or advance notices to students that instructional material might elicit from them a troubling emotional response.
In a report issued on Monday, the AAUP argues that trigger warnings threaten academic freedom and the quality of instruction, and says there are better means of helping students who are the victims of trauma.
The use of trigger warnings suggests “that classrooms should offer protection and comfort rather than an intellectually challenging education,” says the statement, approved by the both AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure and its Committee on Women in the Academic Profession. Faculty members who are required or expected to issue trigger warnings might feel pressure to avoid certain topics for fear of being disciplined if the material they present elicits a traumatic response in any of their students. Nontenured and contingent faculty members, it says, “are particularly at risk.”
Although faculty members have a right to choose on their own to warn students that material might elicit an emotional response, even such voluntary warnings “may be counterproductive to the educational experience,” the report says, partly because they might lead students to simply not read an assignment or focus them too much on parts of the material that are expected to elicit from them a specific emotional response.
If students have a condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder, the report says, the correct venue for dealing with their needs is the college’s office of student health services, which can help devise a treatment plan for that individual student. Faculty members can then make accommodations for those students without limiting other students’ exposure to material that has educational value.