A non-scientific poll conducted by NPR found that half of college instructors surveyed have used trigger warnings to alert students to potentially upsetting or offensive content in their classes.
The debate over using trigger warnings in the classroom has heated up recently with the University of Chicago's letter to incoming freshmen that told students they would not be protected from arguments or ideas. However, NPR's survey suggests that a number of educators support the use of trigger warnings in academic settings.
Of the 829 undergraduate instructors surveyed last fall, about half said they have used a trigger warning to introduce potentially challenging material. Most respondents said they did so of their own accord, not because of a student's request or an administrative policy.
Eighty-six percent of instructors knew what trigger warnings were and 56% said they had heard of colleagues who had used them. Just 1.8% of respondents said their institutions had an official policy about using trigger warnings and only 3.4% said a student had requested one. Nearly 65% said they used trigger warnings because they thought the material necessitated one.
Respondents reported using trigger warnings mostly in reference to sexual or violent material. They were used less often for racially, politically, or religiously charged topics.
"I have had students break down reading novels depicting sexual assault and incest in my gender studies courses," one professor at the University of North Carolina wrote.
No professors reported students trying to avoid an assignment or class because of sensitive topics, and some noted that providing a trigger warning did not give students liberty to bypass uncomfortable material.
Trigger warnings, safe spaces, and microaggressions: Your student protest dictionary
Lauren Griffith, a professor of ethnology at Texas Tech University, says she uses trigger warnings on certain occasions but does not want to lean too heavily on them in her classes.
"I think that trigger warnings can and should be used in a limited number of situations, but overusing them can create a situation in which students opt out of learning experiences simply because they don't want to confront their own assumptions about the world," she says (Kamenetz, "nprEd," NPR, 9/7).
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