Using trigger warnings in law lectures doesn’t make us ‘delicate’

We don’t need to ‘man-up’ either

A leading criminal barrister has called Oxford law students “delicate flowers” after it was reported lecturers should consider using a trigger warning before discussing the law on rape.

Matthew Scott tweeted at lunchtime yesterday saying “Delicate Oxford flowers given trigger warning before learning about law of rape”. His tweet linked to another account which suggested Oxford students were too “fragile” to study law.

Scott backed up his comments by referring to the Daily Mail, which, on close reading (a skill taught at the very first steps on any legal education) reveals this hostile backlash has resulted from the director of undergraduate studies for law merely suggesting that lecturers “bear in mind” the use of trigger warnings.

Responses to the barrister’s tweet suggested students ought to “man-up.” Clearly Oxford students have forgotten that sensitivity doesn’t conform to the standards of hyper-masculinity needed for any and every legal career. Please excuse us while we focus our energies on conforming to gender stereotypes in order to progress, and the females amongst us accept lower pay-checks and lesser roles. (Who cares if you got a first if you’re not the superior sex?)

Matthew Scott, described by his chambers as “a specialist criminal advocate with considerable expertise in defending allegations of rape and child cruelty,” continued on his Twitter hate campaign by suggesting sarcastically that students perhaps “thought that law was just about the Leasehold Enfranchisement Reform Act 1967”.

But would it be so hard to believe that those who he refers to as ‘high-fliers’ obtain a place on their degree unaware of content they might be studying, when Scott himself has made it evident that achievement and ignorance are not mutually exclusive?

Let’s get a few things straight:

Lectures are not the conclusive aggregate of the Oxford law degree 

Professor Hoyano, an Oxford lecturer, told the Mail on Sunday: “If you’re going to study law, you have to deal with things that are difficult,” but even she would know that there are many other elements to the learning process that take place outside the lecture theatre. Missing, or leaving a lecture, would not automatically exclude you from covering certain material. Introducing a simple sentence at the beginning of a lecture, diverting approximately 0.002 per cent of the lecture time, to pre-warn students that some of the information about to be covered could be distressing for some, allows people to make a choice for themselves about what they’re comfortable with and where they want to deal with it.

Suggesting that someone should anticipate what’s coming in a lecture anyway is stupid

Sure, with criminal law you’d expect nasty cases. Yes, sexual offences lectures are going to discuss sexual offences. But as one student pointed out, when you’re going to a lecture on economic loss, you wouldn’t generally anticipate half of it being dedicated to the Hillsborough tragedy.

Can we stop for a second and just celebrate the fact the Oxford is taking positive steps towards mental health awareness? 

This is not an ‘everything offends’ argument. Students are not being ‘fragile’ or ‘over-sensitive.’ The introduction of a DISCRETIONARY trigger warning is not going to cause every law student to drop sticks and walk out of a lecture. This is a hugely beneficial and valuable step towards recognition and awareness of mental health, and shows a lot of respect to those that may have suffered traumatic experiences.

TV shows often contain warnings for graphic violence, and nobody bats an eye-lid about it. Oxford University suggests the inclusion of a sentence at the beginning of a lecture and suddenly students are melodramatic and inept.

Knowing nothing of Mr Scott’s personal experiences in the progression of his career, I cannot say whether he has ever experienced anything which he might find to be traumatic if discussed with him unexpectedly. However, I can say that I know several hugely intelligent, competent, ‘high-flying’ law students who would very much appreciate the inclusion of a trigger warning with regards to certain content in lectures, who are very well-fitted to their choice of degree and future career.

Lots of love,a delicate flower x