Sheffield Uni refute claims students can skip exam topics they find ‘upsetting’

The university have said they have only issued guidance to staff for use in ‘exceptional circumstances’

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The University of Sheffield have rejected claims that students are allowed to skip certain exam topics should they find the content of them upsetting or distressing, as reported in The Sunday Times yesterday.

Instead of staff being told not to include potentially disturbing topics in exams and assessments, Sheffield Uni told The Tab: "The guidance around teaching sensitive topics is to help staff confidently encourage debate, scrutiny and critical thinking – it is not aimed at preventing it."

This includes topics such as race, gender, politics, incest, HIV/Aids, faith and religion, sexuality, mental health and paedophilia.

Yesterday The Sunday Times, The Daily Mail and The Sun all reported that students would be able to remove themselves from exams or modules with sensitive material, however the University of Sheffield have confirmed this is not the case.

The guidance offered to staff includes: "It should not be necessary for students to explain their backstory," implying the choices that students would get around material taught means that no one would be singled out or forced to come forward and explain exactly why they can't do an exam on a topic they find upsetting.

Critics have said this will only result in students expecting to be traumatised by material which would just make the problem worse and that exams should not be open to negotiation.

Sheffield's mental health society have supported this move after an English Literature module last year involved discussing sexual abuse and other "disturbing material" without an alternative being provided. The reading list also included "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison which features racism, violence and rape. The society also said a student should not have to "put their own mental health at risk to receive an education" after a student on the English Literature course had to leave a lecture crying and later suffered a panic attack.

In contrast, Caroline Dodds, a History lecturer at Sheffield, called the report "rubbish" because it seemed to have taken quotes from a page on the University of Sheffield's website that aids lecturers on how to teach sensitive or controversial topics.

The University of Sheffield's original statement on this matter said: "This is only done in exceptional circumstances. Students are often provided with a choice of questions to answer in their exams."