Washington -- American University’s Faculty Senate has voted to reject the use of “trigger warnings” to shield students from instructional materials they might find disturbing.
The practice of warning students about controversial material in college syllabi or before lectures has become the subject of intense debate in academe as growing numbers of instructors have opted to give students such advance notices and the range of topics covered by the warnings has grown more varied.
Such warnings appear unlikely, however, to be used at American University as a result of a resolution unanimously passed this month by its Faculty Senate and announced this week to the rest of its faculty.
The resolution, drafted by the Faculty Senate’s leaders in consultation with Scott A. Bass, the university’s provost, says the Senate “does not endorse offering ‘trigger warnings’ or otherwise labeling controversial material in such a way that students construe it as an option to ‘opt out’ of engaging with texts or concepts, or otherwise not participating in intellectual inquiries.”
Faculty members “may advise students before exposing them to controversial readings and other materials that are part of their curricula,” the resolution says. But, rather than being shielded from material that might disturb them or make them uncomfortable, students should be exposed to such material and directed to the university’s support-services offices if they experience personal difficulties, the resolution says.
Shielding students from such material “will deter them from becoming critical thinkers and responsible citizens,” and helping them learn to process such material “fulfills one of the most important responsibilities of higher education,” the resolution says.
“As laws and individual sensitivities may seek to restrict, label, warn, or exclude specific content, the academy must stand firm as a place that is open to diverse ideas and free expression,” the resolution says. “These are standards and principles that American University will not compromise.”