Depending on the nature of the course you teach, it may be necessary to alert students to potentially activating (sometimes called “triggering”) content or resources before broaching sensitive topics. This provides students who experienced trauma with a warning that they may experience adverse reactions by engaging with the material.
As an instructor, consider the locations and timing of these warnings. Some locations include a blanket syllabus statement; separate warnings about specific course content prior to a lecture, assignment, or video; or in-class announcements before beginning discussion about a topic. You may also offer a personalized invitation to students to reach out to you if they find course content to be problematic or activating.
At the start of the semester, decide how you expect students to prepare for and handle potentially distressing course content, and communicate these expectations to students at the start of the course. Respond to student concerns with empathy and respect, and identify alternative course resources or ways of engaging with the material if needed. These warnings make course content more accessible to students who experienced various types of trauma.
Sample content warnings include the following:
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“This course may include readings, media, and discussion around topics such as sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, physical violence, and identity-based discrimination and harassment. I acknowledge that it may be difficult to engage with this content. I also encourage you to care for your safety and well-being.”
“The content of this course will include topics that may be difficult for some people to confront or discuss. I will flag especially difficult content proactively and will do my best to make this classroom a space where we can engage bravely, empathetically and thoughtfully with difficult content every week.”
“If you have concerns about encountering anything specific in the course material that I have not already identified and would like me to provide warnings, please come see me or send me an email. I will do my best to flag any requested types of content for you in advance.”
“Let’s take a break before we discuss [insert sensitive topic].”