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Trigger Warnings

CAUT Policy Statement

Classrooms cannot be risk free zones – it is not only a right, but an essential component of academic freedom for instructors to teach.

“Trigger” is a psychological term associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and refers to the evocation of serious psychological symptoms by often unpredictable events or environmental conditions related to a previous trauma. It is an individual and unique response that is very difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate or control in the classroom setting.

Triggers should not be confused with discomfort caused by the teaching of provocative and potentially disturbing material, including the repetition and representation of materials related to socio-political events, discrimination, and oppression. Academic staff should be sensitive to individual students’ responses to potentially disturbing course content. Students should be prepared for potentially disturbing material, while those in need may be directed to appropriate healthcare support.

When institutions require or suggest that academic staff use trigger warnings, they are interfering with academic freedom to choose and use course materials and teaching methods. Trigger warnings are inimical to the academic enterprise because they encourage censorship, and the inappropriate surveillance of the classroom.

Approved by the CAUT Council, May 2015.