Oxford University enforces real-life trigger warnings before lectures

Students can leave if they worry that the content will be ‘distressing’

Law lecturers at the University of Oxford have been asked to deliver trigger warnings before lectures on cases involving violence or death. Undergraduates at the university are being told that they can leave if they are worried that the content will be too “distressing”.

The director of undergraduate studies for law has reportedly suggested to lecturers that they consider using the warnings in certain lectures, for example those about cases of sexual violence.

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“Before the lectures on sexual offences – which included issues such as rape and sexual assault – we were warned that the content could be distressing, and were then given the opportunity to leave if we needed to,” an unnamed Oxford student told the Mail on Sunday today.

It is the latest directive of the ‘safe space’ movement, although unusual in the sense that it came from the university, rather than students.

However, some academics are unhappy. Last week a law lecturer, Professor Laura Hoyano, delivered her own tongue-in-cheek trigger warning, when she advised students “from a farming family” that she intended to discuss a case about food and mouth.

“We can’t remove sexual offences from the criminal law syllabus – obviously,” she told the Mail. “If you’re going to study law, you have to deal with things that are difficult.”

A spokesman for the university explains: “The University of Oxford has not adopted a formal policy on trigger warnings. The University aims to encourage independent and critical thinking and does not, as a rule, seek to protect students from ideas or material they may find uncomfortable. However, there may be occasions when an individual lecturer feels it is appropriate to advise students of potentially distressing subject matter.”

Have you ever been warned before a lecture that it might contain “distressing” material? Get in touch at [email protected]

A previous version of this article said that the university “defended” trigger warnings. The article was amended on Monday at 10.30am to include a statement from the University of Oxford which states that the university does not have a formal policy on trigger warnings. 

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