French course ‘may be upsetting’, students told in trigger warning - by Craig Simpson - 10.08.22

Updated: Aug 13

‘Trigger warnings’ are the latest device being employed up and down the country by service-providers fearful of upsetting their end-users.

From schools and universities to television and cinema, there is scarcely a subject, lecture, programme, or film which does not come with a health warning attached, so terrified are our institutions of ‘causing offence.’

We publish two articles on the subject: the first, by Craig Simpson from the Telegraph on the potential trauma of certain French history modules on students at the University of Aberdeen. The second is a more wide-ranging discussion on the subject by Libby Purves in The Times.

We begin with the article from the Telegraph:

“University of Aberdeen documents state that the warning is included in a course guide for a module called Qualified French Language, part of the French course.

“Potentially challenging topics” on the syllabus include language skills, literature, film, the Second World War, France’s colonial history and modern societal changes relating to migration and feminism.”

The university documents add that “potentially challenging topics are engaged with across the course, from the texts to be understood or translated to the topics discussed in oral classes and videos studied”.

The French trigger warning is one of a number of cautionary notes issued by the university, and comes as part of a growing trend of providing advisories in order to safeguard students’ feelings.”

The full article can be read below with a link to the original here:

Article for the Telegraph by Craig Simpson - French course 'may be upsetting' students tol
Download • 79KB

In her article for The Times, Libby Purves takes a look at the wider impact of such a policy on culture more generally and some of its current hypocrisies:

“Once, life was simpler. Classifiers slapped PG or X certificates on films, and TV observed a 9pm “watershed” (it’s still in the Ofcom code, though nimble little fingers can now stream anything anytime and get hideous porn on their phones).

But over-18s once had to look out for themselves. Today, content alerts have not only increased but gone beyond being basic consumer advice for parents. They are conflated with the much trickier concept of “trigger warnings”.”

The phrase itself

“originated in serious psychiatric literature about sufferers from post-traumatic stress disorder. This can create flashbacks, renewing the original terror. It deserves expert treatment. But cheapening the psychiatric “trigger” word is neither sane nor useful.”

Now it is used everywhere:

Aside from the entertainment industry, universities attach trigger warnings to course literature including in some cases essential medical, legal and scientific lectures. Any mention of sexual abuse, racism, self-harm, violence, eating disorders, homophobia, disability or bereavement is subject to this anxiety. Archaeology students at the University of Stirling may opt out of seeing “gruesome” cadavers.”

Indeed there is something to be said in favour of confronting uncomfortable issues:

“I once spent an unforgettable evening at a conference of The Compassionate Friends, where everyone wore as a badge the name of a child they lost — through illness, accident, murder, suicide. Grieving strangers bonded in memory, empathy and tribute: fellowship shimmered in the air.

Art, performance, literature and study of others’ suffering can do this too, and presuming we are flinching cowards is insulting. The most useful warning is that toughening your mind and emotions is not an optional skill. Without it you will never be able to engage intelligently even with the daily news, let alone the world’s art, philosophy and beauty.”

The full article can be read below with a link to the original here:

Article for the Telegraph by Craig Simpson - French course 'may be upsetting' students tol
Download • 79KB

(Photo: Justine Zwiebel/BuzzFeed)

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