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The Mail on Sunday - 2021-11-21

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Top university axes ‘trigger warnings’ – for scaring students

China In The Dock

By Chris Hastings

A UNIVERSITY has scrapped the term ‘trigger warning’ because it fears its use alone could upset snowflake students. Warwick University has deemed the phrase too ‘provocative’ for those on its literature and drama course and is instead now using the term ‘content notes’. In common with dozens of universities, Warwick uses such warnings to alert students to sensitive material, such as racism, homophobia and violence, so they can prepare themselves for a potentially unpleasant experience. But in reply to a Freedom of Information request, it has revealed: ‘“Trigger warnings” are now referred to as “content notes” due to the word “trigger” being itself a provocative word.’ Critics last night accused university bosses of mollycoddling students. Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: ‘Warwick’s decision to take offence at the word trigger is ludicrous. How is this preparing students for a life in the outside world? Who is actually calling for these trigger or content warnings? Is it resilient young people or wokeafflicted academics? ‘It is getting out of control and harming the next generation. ‘When I attended university it was to be educated and prepared for the world of work. It now appears our universities are preparing their students for a world of woke.’ Warwick, one of 24 members of the elite Russell Group of British universities, began using trigger warnings in 2019, but had received several complaints over the past year about the content of literature and drama courses. The content notes state: ‘Studying literature necessarily involves confronting particular ideas, words and experiences that you might find offensive, upsetting, or disturbing. All of the modules you take in the department will involve material that can be difficult for some people, even traumatic.’ The University of Greenwich also uses content rather than ‘trigger warnings’. It began issuing such guidance in its course-material lists earlier this year following requests from students. More than 80 novels, plays and films that feature in its courses, including George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, H.G. Wells’s War Of The Worlds and a translation of Homer’s The Odyssey, carry alerts advising undergraduates that the material ‘is not comfortable’. Students are also advised that Shakespearean tragedy can be ‘emotionally challenging’ because it is ‘riddled with representations of violence and the suffering caused by violent acts’. But some believe the warnings are turning a generation of ‘snowflake’ students away from great literature. Dame Margaret Drabble, one of Britain’s most celebrated authors, said: ‘In principle I am against censorship and believe literature has a right to distress and alarm.’ Bestselling author Lord Archer said: ‘I would hope that intelligent people could make up their own minds. ‘Where does it end? Of course the next step will be to stop reading altogether and no one wants that. We don’t want to end up with a situation when we can only read Hans Christian Andersen.’ Warwick was last week accused of being ‘captured’ by the controversial LGBT charity Stonewall. Professor Kathleen Stock, the academic who resigned from Sussex University over abuse she received when she was accused of transphobia, highlighted the university’s transgender policies as ‘a quick snapshot of what Stonewall can do’. In response to the Freedom of Information request, Warwick described how its English and Comparative Literary Studies department helps students deal with ‘difficult and complex questions’. ‘The department has always had strategies in place to address these questions, although the way these strategies are flagged has changed,’ said a spokesman, but declined to elaborate.

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