College students around the country are calling for alerts to be added to course materials and syllabi to warn them if content is potentially upsetting or if it could trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to The New York Times. The movement has been strongest at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, and George Washington University, and it’s causing a debate about whether these “trigger warnings” hinder academic freedom. Lisa Hajjar, a professor at UC Santa Barbara, spoke to The Times about those concerns:
"Any kind of blanket trigger policy is inimical to academic freedom. Any student can request some sort of individual accommodation, but to say we need some kind of one-size-fits-all approach is totally wrong. The presumption there is that students should not be forced to deal with something that makes them uncomfortable is absurd or even dangerous."
Proponents of the warnings argue that students should know ahead of time if course material is going to trigger traumatic memories, as Oberlin dean Meredith Raimondo told The Times:
"I quite object to the argument of 'Kids today need to toughen up.' That absolutely misses the reality that we're dealing with. We have students coming to us with serious issues, and we need to deal with that respectfully and seriously."
The story cites Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” which contains anti-Semitism, and Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” which discusses suicide, as examples of works that could require these warnings.
This same issue arose at Wellesley College in February when a statue of a man sleepwalking in his underwear appeared on campus as part of an art exhibit. Hundreds of students signed a petition to have the statue removed citing its ability to trigger memories or fear of sexual assault, but the president decided to keep it.