Cambridge University has encouraged staff to provide warnings on ‘challenging’ content from classics of English literature.
The historic institution said content notes – sometimes called trigger warnings – boost student attainment and academic freedom.
The Cambridge University Centre for Teaching and Learning has told staff that violence, discrimination and illness should all be marked with content notes.
New guidance sees dons defend the use of warnings to make education more inclusive by stopping students from being excessively distressed during their studies.
Cambridge University came under fire last October for putting trigger warnings on children’s books such as Little House On The Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder for its ‘stereotypical depictions of Native Americans’
The advice, issued in the last week, states: ‘Content notes are not intended to ‘coddle’ privileged students insulated from violence.
‘They help to equip students who have experienced violence to engage with their education on an equal footing, rather than exposing them to triggers without warning or preparation which may make them relive their own experiences of such realities.’
Cambridge University came under fire last October for putting trigger warnings on children’s books such as Little House On The Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder for its ‘stereotypical depictions of Native Americans’.
In 2017, students at the university were warned of gore and violence that might ‘upset’ them in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.
Yet in the new guidance, Cambridge University says there is ‘no harm in providing a content note’.
It states that content notes do not limit the topics that can be discussed in the classroom.
The university adds that students who are not given adequate warnings face a negative impact on their well-being and academic achievement
The university adds that students who are not given adequate warnings face a negative impact on their well-being and academic achievement.
The advice states: ‘There is no reason that providing content notes, or any other reasonable adjustment for disabled students, should limit the content that can be presented or discussed in the classroom.
‘In fact, students who benefit from content notes will be better equipped to discuss challenging material if content notes are provided, thus resulting in a positive impact on academic freedom and intellectual rigour, by ensuring that all students – particularly those most affected by the issues being discussed – are able to participate on a more equal footing.
It adds: ‘Content notes inform students of the content of a given piece of material, not to mark it as ‘do not read’, but instead to enable students to take the necessary steps to engage safely and with minimal psychological distress
‘It should also be noted that there is a difference between ‘psychological distress’ and being intellectually challenged, and that the former is certainly not a prerequisite to the latter.
‘Students are best prepared to deal with intellectually challenging material when they are enabled to manage any emotional / psychological distress that such material may provoke.’
‘Arguments against the use of content notes tend to employ a rhetoric of ‘snowflake students’ wanting to be protected and coddled from the harsh realities of life.
‘In fact, the issue for many students is precisely that they are already well acquainted with those realities; triggering content reflects traumatic events they themselves have experienced.’