Where does the line between being sensitive of others and restricting education lie? Universities across the nation now have to draw that line as students call for the implementation of trigger warning policies.
At USF’s Faculty Senate Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday, faculty members discussed trigger warnings and how to approach sensitive issues as they sought an answer to the growing demand for “tolerance” in classrooms.
No one is arguing most graphic material shouldn’t come with a warning, but creating campus-wide policies catered to coddling students will only inhibit our education.
The fact is most professors on campus already use trigger warnings when broaching sensitive topics in their courses. Forcing a new policy could lead to legal ramifications if a student is triggered by something the professor didn’t realize would cause an issue.
It will also cause professors to be more reluctant to address sensitive issues that could possibly get them in trouble if a student feels offended. Trigger warnings are well intended, but they create expectations professors should not have to uphold. No one can anticipate what every single student’s trigger is, and forcing that responsibility on staff sets them up to fail.
Obviously, no one wants a student to undergo stress or anxiety because of something they were blindsided with in class. However, it is ultimately up to both the professor and the student to ensure they can avoid that situation.
Professors need to begin offering detailed syllabi for their classes. Not a basic one-page overview of the course, but a week-by-week outline of what they intend to teach. While some professors already offer a detailed breakdown of their courses, many do not.
Yes, this will take more time to create, but let’s be honest — most professors don’t make major changes to their courses. Taking the time to create a detailed syllabus isn’t a big deal considering they can re-use it for years with just minor tweaks along the way.
Then it’s up to the students. Students, take five minutes out of your oh-so-busy schedule and actually read the syllabus handed out on the first day of class. If you see something is going to be covered that will trigger you, drop the class.
Do some research. Find out exactly what you’ll be reading before you commit to a course, and you won’t be caught off guard when the sensitive material comes.
Universities could even have a frank conversation with incoming students at orientation or during campus tours. Let them know this is a university, not an elementary school. In an effort to grow students’ minds and character, the university will approach subjects students may disagree with or find uncomfortable.
Encourage incoming students to pay attention to syllabi and look into classes before blindly signing up for them because they meet a requirement.
USF needs to take a hard look at its goals. If the university wants to encourage learning and a productive environment, they need to crack down on syllabi rather than attempt to implement a policy that will do more harm than good.
Contrary to popular belief, most students want college to be a challenging environment rather than have their hand held as they only discuss issues no one could potentially be offended by.
Being sensitive to students doesn’t equate to coddling them. As President Barack Obama stated at an Iowa town hall meeting, “Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, ‘You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.’ That’s not the way we learn, either.”
We are all adults here. Give us detailed syllabi. Warn us at orientation that there will be things we come across that may be disturbing.
But do not think we want an environment that will inhibit the way we learn.
Breanne Williams is a junior majoring in mass communications.