A faculty resolution passed at American University (AU) in Washington, D.C., stands out as one of the most vocal and direct condemnations of the “trigger warning” phenomenon sweeping college campuses.
The resolution, passed unanimously by AU’s faculty senate, lays out in no uncertain terms that trigger warnings are wholly incompatible with the intellectual environment a university is supposed to foster.
“For hundreds of years, the pursuit of knowledge has been at the center of university life,” the resolution declares. “Unfettered discourse, no matter how controversial, inconvenient, or uncomfortable, is a condition necessary to that pursuit.”
“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,” it continues. “These are standards and principles that American University will not compromise.”
Accordingly, “the Faculty 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.”
“Trigger warnings” are sought by activists who claim that unpleasant material, such as that which evokes racial discrimination or sexual assault, can “trigger” individuals who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other psychological problems. To help these individuals cope, they believe events, books, and class syllabi should be tagged with “trigger warnings” so that students who may be triggered can excuse themselves and avoid what would make them uncomfortable. (RELATED: The Dictionary Of The Modern Campus Activist)
At some schools, demands for trigger warnings have been quite strong. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, the student government passed a resolution demanding that a list of trigger warnings be included in the syllabus of every class, and that students be allowed to skip without penalty any class days they believed would trigger them. Similar student requests for trigger warnings have also been seen at Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, Oberlin College, and other schools.
In AU’s case, there is no ongoing effort to force trigger warnings on them. Instead, the resolution was created in response to a request from the university library, which wanted to know if there was any official school policy on the matter of trigger warnings if students asked about it.
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