COLLEGE

Despite Fears About Trigger Warnings, Survey Suggests Few Faculty Are Forced To Use Them

06/23/2015 02:46 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015

Very few college professors are forced to use trigger warnings in class, according to an online survey of College Art Association and Modern Language Association members.

Out of 808 who responded, less than 1 percent said their college or university had adopted a trigger warning policy. Eighty-five percent said in the survey that students had never asked them to use trigger warnings, and 93 percent did not know of any student-initiated efforts at their school to require them in class.

Without a formal policy, 12 percent said they used trigger warnings regularly, while another 11 percent said they tried them out "several times" and 34 percent utilized warnings "once or twice." Another 42 percent said they've never used a trigger warning.

The non-scientific questionnaire was developed with help from the National Coalition Against Censorship, and distributed using SurveyMonkey. The results were first presented at the annual conference of the American Association of University Professors last week, and were subsequently provided to The Huffington Post.

Trigger warnings are short statements used prior to discussing material about sensitive subjects that may bring up personal trauma. The concept of trigger warnings has existed for a century, but became increasingly popular in blogs over the past decade. As more hyper-connected millennials have arrived on college campuses, some have asked for their use ahead of potentially disturbing and "re-traumatizing" content.

The issue attracted more attention last year as campuses like the University of California, Santa Barbara and Oberlin College in Ohio began considering policies for using trigger warnings.

Yet, the survey of faculty -- which the organizations say is the only bit of data on the use of trigger warnings in academe -- suggests a trigger warning policy for professors would actually be an anomaly.

Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, said they did the survey because so far, there were only anecdotal reports to rely on. She cautioned the survey is a "snapshot of people who chose to be in the picture."

What the survey showed, Bertin said, was that if faculty is using trigger warnings, it appears that "professors do it for reasons for self-protection." Of the 626 who said they did not provide trigger warnings, 11 percent responded that "once or twice" a student complained about the lack of warning to the professor's administrators.

"We are more concerned from an academic freedom point of view for untenured or adjunct faculty that if they don't do warnings and a student complains, that's the end of their professional career or their contract," Bertin told HuffPost.

Indeed, a majority -- ​63 percent -- said trigger warnings would have a negative effect on academic freedom, compared to 7 percent who said it'd be "positive." Forty-five percent similarly believed their use would have a negative impact on classroom dynamics, while 17 percent theorized a positive result and 28 percent said they didn't know.


Tyler Kingkade covers higher education at The Huffington Post. Contact him at tyler.kingkade@huffingtonpost.com.

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