AAUP Opposes Trigger Warnings

September 9, 2014

Trigger warnings alerting students to potentially sensitive material have been polarizing on college campuses in recent years. Now the American Association of University Professors is weighing in. In a new report, the AAUP calls trigger warnings “a threat to academic freedom in the classroom.” The report says that even voluntary trigger warning policies for faculty such as the one proposed but tabled last year at Oberlin College run counter to the goals of higher education.

“The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual,” the report says. “It makes comfort a higher priority than intellectual engagement and — as the Oberlin list demonstrates — it singles out politically controversial topics like sex, race, class, capitalism, and colonialism for attention. Indeed, if such topics are associated with triggers, correctly or not, they are likely to be marginalized if not avoided altogether by faculty who fear complaints for offending or discomforting some of their students.”

The report, which also extends to university libraries, continues: “Although all faculty are affected by potential charges of this kind, non-tenured and contingent faculty are particularly at risk. In this way the demand for trigger warnings creates a repressive, ‘chilly climate’ for critical thinking in the classroom.”

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