Trigger warnings have arrived at Australian universities

Article by Matthew Lesh /
June 29, 2016 /
Click here to view original /

The anti-intellectual and seriously dangerous phenomena of trigger warnings has arrived at Australian universities.

The Age reported late last week that Australian lecturers have begun warning students about potentially graphic or sensitive content:

Australian academics are issuing so-called “trigger warnings” for confronting material in classrooms at the start of each semester, and before classes, to give students the chance to opt out.

These types of warnings encourage academics to not teach ideas, for fear of facing complaints, and students to ignore confronting ideas. And, as has been noted in the United States, there are serious mental health concerns about trigger warnings: they have the potential to establish fears students would otherwise not have, and encourage individuals to avoid addressing their fears.

University of Melbourne senior lecturer Lauren Rosewarne, who uses and supports trigger warnings, interestingly told The Age that she is seeing a change in attitude among students:

Dr Rosewarne said students in the past two years have been increasingly “polic[ing] the language of lecturers”, and said she is frequently being scrutinised by students, who shout out corrections in the middle of lectures.

Rosewarne followed up her comments with an article in The Conversation on the topic:

Semester 1 has recently concluded. I mentioned change-over-time data and this year, more than any other, I’ve noticed a discernible difference in the way students approach my material. And my hunch is that the cultural chatter on trigger warnings plays a part in this. Me telling students that my material may upset or distress them not only plants the seed of possible wound but validates these sentiments. Gives meaning to them.

She suggests the change in modern technology and upbringing is having an impact:

A diet of social media and an upbringing in an outrage culture, means many students are now far more likely to come to class with their views fully formed before I even open my mouth. A very new experience for me. This year for example, I had a slew of students arrive having already decided that radical feminism – not my political bent, no, but essential to cover – is oppressive devilry. Which means that when they’re in tutorials, they politically opposed to engagement. That they didn’t do the assigned reading in some kind of bizarre (and lazy) protest.

Sadly, trigger warnings form another element of the dangerous anti-ideas culture forming on campus.