Voices from Russia

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Hand-Holding 101: Universities Warn Theology Students About Crucifixion, Other Triggers



In their efforts to ensure students feel safe while learning, some universities in the USA and UK risk becoming helicopter-parent caricatures… warning archaeology students that old bones might upset them; warning theology students that crucifixion can be gory; warning veterinary students that, indeed, they will be working with dead animals. In other words… d’oh!

 The Telegraph reports that Glasgow University took it upon itself to warn theology students that in studying the Bible, they’d see material that “contains graphic scenes of the crucifixion”. Mind you, these are adults or near adults who chose to study the Bible. This isn’t, presumably, because they don’t know how the story ends. The university also warned veterinary students that they’d encounter and work with dead animals and that those studying “contemporary society” would discuss illness and violence. One wonders how either of those announcements could come as a surprise, unless the university launched a campaign to focus on attracting all those prospective students who were left behind because they live under rocks. Glasgow University defended itself through a spokesman, who said:

We have an absolute duty of care to all of our students and where it’s felt course material may cause potential upset or concern warnings may be given.

Glasgow University isn’t the only educational institution taking precautions, on the off chance their students simply picked a major out of a hat, without knowing anything about the subject. the Daily Mail and others reported that Those who choose to study forensic science at Strathclyde University, also in Glasgow, are warned in person “at the beginning of some lectures where sensitive images, involving blood patterns, crime scenes and bodies… are in the presentation”. Surely, students studying forensic science would revolt if they weren’t shown gory crime scenes?

However, there’s more. At Stirling University, archaeology students are warned that they may find old preserved bodies in their archaeological context “a bit gruesome”. In the gender studies department, they’ve simply thrown up their hands. The university explained to the Daily Mail:

We can’t anticipate or exclude the possibility that you may encounter material which is triggering and we urge that you take all necessary precautions to look after yourself in and around the programme.

Last year, the Independent reported on law students at Oxford University being warned ahead of potentially “distressing” lectures. Law lecturer Laura Hoyano criticised the practice, telling the Mail Online:

[Lawyers] have to deal with things that are difficult. We can’t remove sexual offences from the criminal law syllabus… obviously.

The trigger warning debate remains heated across the pond in the USA. In 2015, a group of students at Columbia University wrote an op-ed calling for a trigger warning for Greek mythology, for example. Four students, members of Columbia’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, wrote for the school newspaper:

Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a fixture of [literature humanities], but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalises student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of colour, or a student from a low-income background.

The University of Chicago pushed back last year, in its letter to the incoming freshmen class of fall 2016. Dean of Students John Ellison wrote:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we don’t support so-called trigger warnings; we don’t cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we don’t condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

The note was polarising, with many applauding the university’s commitment to intellectual freedom whilst others said he’d misunderstood humane efforts to minimise trauma. Feminist writer and lecturer Naomi Wolf thought that concern can go too far. She told the Sunday Times:

Trauma from sexual or other assault and abuse is very real, and “triggers” are real for victims of abuse, but the place to process or deal with survivor triggers is with a trained therapist in a counsellor’s office, and not in a classroom or university context.

8 January 2017

Sputnik International



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