CAUT Policy Statement
Institutional policies that require or suggest that academic staff include trigger warnings as part of best practices in teaching interfere with the academic freedom of faculty to choose their own course materials and teaching methods. Trigger warnings are inimical to the academic enterprise because they foreclose the process of inquiry, encourage censorship, and empower the inappropriate surveillance of the classroom.
“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.
Triggers should not be confused with discomfort caused by the teaching of material that challenges students’ moral and political convictions, or that represents events and experiences related to conflict, discrimination and oppression.
Mandated trigger warnings require academic staff to provide students with advance notification of material that someone else has designated as potentially offensive, disturbing, or problematic in some way.
Trigger warnings should not be confused with the duty to accommodate; any student who has a disability, such as PTSD, has the right to identify a need for accommodation through their institution’s normal accommodation process.
Classrooms cannot be risk free zones – it is not only a right, but an essential component of academic freedom for instructors to teach without restriction by prescribed doctrine.
Approved by the CAUT Council, May 2015.
Approved by the CAUT Council, November 2022.