Study shows most students want to be warned before triggering content is discussed in class
At college and university there are courses that cover sensitive subjects that could trigger students with experiences of past trauma and it is important that teachers give warnings about it.
A trigger warning, as defined by the Academia Group, is a discussion or statement alerting the audience of possibly distressing material, and students have a right to know.
Often misunderstood, being triggered is not the same as being uncomfortable, it can cause severe psychological symptoms and can be related to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Triggering material can be anything from a statement in a piece of writing, a video or class discussions. Though it is impossible to know what may trigger a student, classroom discussions about the subject can help teachers ensure the safety and security of their students, while creating comfort within the classroom.
As an inclusive school where all students have the right to feel comfortable, students should be given trigger warnings prior to starting the course.
These warnings are sometimes dismissed, and students who become triggered are often called too sensitive or emotional. This suggestion, that students need to toughen up, is not helping build an inclusive environment. If you are frustrated by teachers outlining emotionally challenging course material, consider the difficulties faced by someone having a severe reaction without warning in front of their classmates.
Trigger warnings need to be recognized by faculty as a crucial part of their students’ well-being. Yet, as with most important changes, there are critics. The Canadian Association of University Teachers is pushing back against the implementation of trigger warnings in the classroom, suggesting that the warnings obstruct the academic process and promote censorship and surveillance.
While some teachers oppose trigger warnings, students seem to be on board. In a recent study by StudentVu of 1,500 Canadian students, over two-thirds of the students agreed that trigger warning should be discussed in the classroom, provided that the warnings were limited to material that is disturbing or could be related to traumatic events.
At George Brown, there is no policy around trigger warnings and the impact that discussing sensitive material can have on students. But the college’s faculty code of conduct states that all professors should be familiar with the information they will be teaching.
Though not all programs need trigger warnings it is currently at the discretion of the professors if they will be given. This should change and the college should look at developing policy and training for faculty on how and when to give trigger warnings.
For students who become triggered by course content, the college does have safe spaces for students like the counselling office but it would be better to give students the heads-up so they have the choice to leave class or address how the content is discussed before they are triggered.