Controversy re-emerges over Faculty Senate's opposition to mandated trigger warnings

AUSG launches campaign opposing Faculty Senate’s stance

Controversy re-emerges over Faculty Senate's opposition to mandated trigger warnings

Student Government has released a video opposing a recent email from the Faculty Senate to the campus community reiterating the body’s opposition to mandate professors to include trigger warnings in class.

Last year, the Faculty Senate unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to mandating in-class trigger warnings. The resolution does not oppose faculty who choose to include trigger warnings. Faculty Senate Chairman Todd Eisenstadt said that the Faculty Senate did so in an effort to support academic freedom in the classroom, which he believes trigger warnings have the potential to threaten.

“The Faculty Senate took a position for academic freedom which does not oppose trigger warnings, but doesn’t require them,” Eisenstadt said. “So, the faculty are free to use trigger warnings if they decide that’s something that they need to do, but we as a unit, the Faculty Senate, are not universally requiring them. So, it’s not that we’re opposing trigger warnings, it’s that we’re favoring academic freedom. At least that’s how we see it.”

After a recent controversy about trigger warnings at the University of Chicago, Eisenstadt said that the Faculty Senate wanted to remind people that it had already addressed the issue and had a resolution on it. Student Government has since come out in opposition to the Faculty Senate’s stance and has launched a campaign called “Let Us Learn,” which is intended to explain the need for trigger warnings and refocus the discussion on student trauma.

"Student government right now feels that there's a difference in understanding as to what trigger warnings are and why they're necessary,” Student Government President Devontae Torriente said. “And we think that difference in understanding is between the students and the faculty. And so it's important for us to play a role in bridging that gap to ensure that we are balancing the goals of ensuring academic freedom while making these spaces accessible to all students."

The “Let Us Learn” campaign has so far involved a video of Torriente explaining Student Government’s support for trigger warnings. Torriente said he wants to expand on this by bringing student experiences into the campaign and by meeting with more students to find out why they think trigger warnings are necessary. SG has also reached out the the Faculty Senate to set up a meeting, Torriente said.

"We still have to just do our due diligence anyway in trying to bridge that gap and seeing where we can go from there,” Torriente said. “Because it never hurts to have a conversation on the matter."

Eisenstadt said that he is unsure of whether the conversation would be productive and that the Faculty is unlikely to change the resolution. However, he said that he was open to a meeting, if there was time given the other projects that the Faculty Senate is working on.

Some students have come out in support of the Faculty Senate’s position on free expression and trigger warnings, including Young Americans for Liberty (YAL). According to YAL president Andrew Magloughlin, the group does not object to professors using trigger warnings, but are against any mandate.

“Professors have the individual freedom, and students have the individual freedom, to either implement or advocate for trigger warnings,” Magloughlin said. “However, I’m highly skeptical of any policy that would codify the requirement of somebody to put a trigger warning on a syllabus for the reason that I’m skeptical of who decides what is triggering or what is traumatic, and I’m also skeptical of how somebody may be punished for failing to comply.”

Members of the Faculty Senate believe that trigger warnings give students the opportunity to opt out of controversial discussions and avoid important topics, according to Eisenstadt.

“What this does is it allows people to make a choice about when they think they don’t want to hear a topic and it lets them then choose not to hear it,” Eisenstadt said. “We think that citizenship building and the pursuit of knowledge requires hearing sometimes uncomfortable things, processing those and learning to think about them in new ways.”

Torriente said that he does not believe students are looking to opt out, but rather want to be prepared for difficult topics.

"I don't see any student who's paying a lot of money to go to this school wanting to opt out of learning,” Torriente said. “We're here, we want to learn, we want to engage in these discussions and we think that trigger warnings will facilitate that engagement."

The Faculty Senate did not want to “encourage any emotional distress or discomfort,” Eisenstadt said, but believes that students should seek out resources on campus to deal with these issues, rather than requiring professors to use trigger warnings.

However, the Faculty Senate is currently working on a code of faculty conduct, which will provide regular guidelines for faculty conduct. Though the Faculty Senate has come out in support of free expression, faculty nonetheless have obligations to present material responsibly, Eisenstadt said. The Faculty Senate plans to vote on the code once the task force working on it has completed a proposal.

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