Discourse / Editorials / September 28, 2016

Thoughts from the Embers: Institute campus-wide content warning policy

Editor’s Note: The Editorial Board prefers the term “content warning” as opposed to “trigger warning” as we feel that the word “trigger” victimizes students and is a violent way of exposing an already sensitive topic.

Knox needs a campus-wide policy that instructs students on what they must do if they are in need of a content warning during their academic career. Currently, there is no policy in place and students and professors must choose how to handle content warnings on their own.

Right now, the system is entirely random. Some professors offer content warnings regularly or put them in their syllabus, others do not have them in the classroom at all. Some will give them to students if they approach them and let them know that they need one.

If students who need content warnings are in a classroom with a professor who does not use them, they must approach the professor on their own. Telling a professor that they need a content warning for topics like sexual assault or domestic violence, no matter how vaguely they put it, lets the professor know something personal about the student that the student might not wish to share.

Some students who need content warnings are probably not telling their professors because they fear being revictimized, being reported under mandatory reporting policies or making their private lives known to someone who is ultimately in a position of power.

Students should not have to relive or discuss trauma at the beginning of every term in each class that they are taking and go through hoops to ensure that their mental health needs are being met. The college should recognize this fact and implement a system to reduce the burden put on students.

The Editorial Board suggests that the college institute a policy as soon as possible that allows students to get the content warnings they need without having to approach their professor. We can think of multiple ways that this could be accomplished.

Students could go through counseling or disability services or possibly the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) to make it known that they need a content warning. One of these centers could then let the professor know that a student in their class needs a specific warning. The student should remain anonymous to the professor if that is their wish.

If appropriate, the professor could then either give that content warning to the whole class on the first day or could communicate it back through the counseling center or CTL to the student needing it.

Requests for content warnings could also possibly be made through an anonymous digital form.

The issue of mandatory reporting is also incredibly relevant here. We suggest the counseling center as the avenue for students needing content warnings because the staff members are not mandatory reporters. In contrast, disability services and the CTL staff are mandatory reporters.

With this in mind, the college should clarify its mandatory reporting policies, so that all students are aware of who mandatory reporters are and what is subject to being reported. Professors should make it known in their syllabi and on the first day of class that they are mandatory reporters and RAs and other mandatory reporters in the room should also alert their peers.

Professors understand that the issue of content warnings is complicated and sensitive. On the one hand, they want to respect students’ needs, but on the other, some professors worry that providing content warnings will spoil content and take away from the dramatic or literary merits of a piece.

Ultimately, a student’s mental health is far more important than their enjoyment of classroom content. Professors should be able to give a warning without diminishing the work in question.

Students, administration, faculty and staff should all be involved in the creation of the campus’ policy. We recommend the college hold an open forum or dialogue to generate ideas and hear from the greater campus body and show their commitment to addressing this important subject.

TKS Editorial Board

Tags:  content warnings counseling ctl discourse embers mandatory reporters policy professors trigger warnings

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