When you were in school, did your classes have “content warnings”?
Probably not, but these are the days of tremendous triggering.
Therefore, at the University of Washington, student government leaders are imploring the administration to create warnings for courses.
Earlier this month, the Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW) approved a bill calling for warnings prior to “readings or any other classroom materials that include sensitive topics including but not limited to sexual assault, child abuse, physical assault, racially-motivated violence, abuse, and suicide.”
Legislation sponsor Eva Hudak told campus outlet The Daily she’d witnessed such topics being addressed with no warning at all:
“I’ve noticed… professors showing graphic images and launching into discussion around racially-motivated violence and sexual assault without warning.”
Per The Daily, another reason for the bill is the unequal impact “graphic content has on students who have experienced trauma symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD.”
“In an environment without content warnings,” it says, “graphic and violent material can severely affect these students’ ability to perform in class. Encountering traumatic content can evoke involuntary physical or psychological responses.”
Eva believes she shouldn’t have to be worried…about being worried:
“I deserve to be able to participate in discussions without having to deal with physical anxiety symptoms, and so does everybody else.”
It’s certainly an era of warning labels.
Last June, HBO temporarily removed Gone With the Wind from its library, in order to add in “historical context” for viewers.
Two months later, the network provided a 3-minute preface to Blazing Saddles.
In February, Disney Plus added a disclaimer to The Muppets.
As for warnings preceding mere description, it seems a natural course, in light of the culture.
Years ago, children were told sticks and stones could break their bones, but not words.
These days, we’re informed that nouns and verbs are violence.
If that’s true, people should be able to opt out.
However, as stated above, ASUW’s proposal relates to more than words.
Other kinds of content warrant caution, and such is the case for PSYCH 210: The Diversity of Human Sexuality.
Dr. Nicole McNichols described her handling of videos featuring explicit sex and pornography:
“I try to give full warning about the fact that there is sensitive content, and I make it clear that I’m showing it for educational purposes, that it is not there to try to shock or upset students in any way.”
Even so, in Dr. McNichols’ view, sometimes it’s good to get jolted:
“Sometimes we need to see shock, sometimes the benefit of seeing something that might be sensitive in nature helps to overcome some of the taboos that we need to consider, at least with the topic of human sexuality.”
For McNichols’ course specifically, a warning’s also befitting due to a key theme: consent.
She lectures on sexual harassment and assault and notes that this particular unit of the class, as well as content regarding child sexual abuse, is the issue most sensitive to students. These topics are given additional warnings, and attendance is optional.
“This is just a topic where a lot of people have firsthand experience and are still working through their own feelings,” she explained.
Before the advancement of the new bill, Eva Hudak conducted a survey.
Regarding descriptions of physical assault, 91% of students favored warnings.
As for descriptions of racial violence, 86% were on board.
Some poll participants thought talk of racially-motivated violence particularly lacked appropriate care concerning nonwhites:
One respondent lamented thusly:
“It was a casual thing to discuss the traumas inflicted on the BiPoC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color).”
ASUW’s plan does more than set up a warning system; it also provides a way of reporting on those who don’t follow the rules.
It…introduces the enforcement of a formal student complaint system to report professors who do not provide “fair warnings” and for a question regarding compliance to be added in quarterly teaching evaluations that students can fill out anonymously.
Just a few decades ago, there was virtually no such thing as a content warning on college campuses.
That was the rootin’ tootin’ wild frontier.
These days, society’s more civilized.
We’ve traded our spurs for slippers, our guns for gardenias.
Ironically, more than ever before, we’re replete with triggers.
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