Top uni told not to use phrase 'trigger warning' to avoid 'alarming' students

30 April 2022, 22:40

Cambridge University has issued new guidance to staff
Cambridge University has issued new guidance to staff. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

A top university has advised staff to avoid the term "trigger warning" as to not alarm students, and instead use the phrase "content note".

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Cambridge University has issued guidance saying the use of "content notes" is "a more neutral, descriptive term".

"This term also helps to avoid unnecessary alarmism, particularly that which can arise due to the cultural connotations sometimes attached to the word "trigger"," the guidance reads.

The university says examples of themes which may need content notes include death, representations of mental health issues, discrimination, illness and animal abuse.

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The guidance states that content notes "enable students to take the necessary steps to engage safely and with minimal psychological distress".

The advice is not prescriptive, but staff are urged to follow it to make campus an "inclusive environment".

The handbook says the warnings should be included at appropriate points on reading lists, in course handbooks, in emails before lectures, during exams and verbally during classes.

The guidance says it aims to create an "inclusive environment"
The guidance says it aims to create an "inclusive environment". Picture: Alamy

The university has been accused of discouraging discussion about important subjects.

Prof Arif Ahmed, a reader in philosophy at Cambridge, told The Telegraph students should be prepared to "encounter speech that you find profoundly shocking, disturbing or offensive".

"Real life doesn't come with a trigger warning," he added.

Dr James Orr, an assistant professor of philosophy of religion at the university, also hit out at the guidance, saying it came close to "coddling students".

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But the university defended the warnings, saying content notes are not a 'do not read' label, but "enable students to take the necessary steps to engage safely and with minimal psychological distress".

"The purpose of content notes is to facilitate engagement with challenging material, rather than to encourage disengagement," the guidance reads.

It also pointed out that the argument students were protected from the "harsh realities" of life by content notes was fundamentally flawed, because many of the students need to be protected because they have already encountered them.

It said: "In fact, the issue for many students is precisely that they are already well acquainted with those realities; triggering content reflects traumatic events they themselves have experienced."