Syllabi could include content warnings

The MSA passed a resolution last week that asks faculty members to include trigger warnings on future syllabi.

by Haley Hansen

In an effort to ensure course content doesn’t adversely affect trauma victims, University of Minnesota student leaders are asking faculty members to disclose material that could trigger psychological reactions.

The Minnesota Student Association approved a resolution last week requesting that instructors add trigger warnings to syllabi. Students say they’re hoping to start a conversation about the issue on campus and to educate community members about trauma and its effects in the classroom and elsewhere.

The warnings might take the form of an additional syllabus section outlining assignments that could include triggering material, student leaders say, similar to content disclaimers before movies or TV shows.

The resolution also asks that instructors ensure classroom achievement doesn’t largely depend on working with triggering materials. If it does, MSA members say there should be an alternative assignment option.

Resolution author and MSA Ranking At-Large Representative Abeer Syedah said she hopes the initiative starts constructive conversations about the issue, adding that she’s received positive feedback on the resolution from faculty members and students.

Fully implementing the change will likely take time, she said.

“I’m aware that this is going to be difficult, but starting a conversation and having support from administration is pretty key,” she said.

Material that could trigger adverse reactions varies greatly from person to person, but it usually includes explicit descriptions of trauma, said Dr. Kelsey Carignan, a Boynton Health Service psychiatrist.

Although this variation makes it difficult to identify potentially triggering material, she said, it’s often graphic depictions of violence.

MSA’s resolution states that it’s unreasonable to ask those who have experienced trauma to proactively speak with instructors about potentially triggering material.

Some instructors already give verbal warnings, Syedah said, but those notices aren’t consistent.

Student and University leaders hope conversations on trigger warnings will help the community better understand issues facing trauma victims.

“People will have a lot of trouble understanding something they don’t experience themselves,” Syedah said.

Katie Eichele, director of the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education, said she supports MSA’s initiative because more conversations could encourage trauma victims to seek treatment.

Receiving treatment through the Aurora Center, Boynton or elsewhere is critical in the process of recovering from trauma, Carignan said.

“Finding a source of support and being able to talk about it is crucial,” she said.

The resolution garnered positive feedback from officials at the Aurora Center and Disability Services, Syedah said.

Although implementing policies that call for syllabi changes is often difficult, she said, she hopes the resolution will at least bring the issue to light and create more opportunities for discussion across disciplines.

“We just want people to look out for their students,” she said.