The Associated Students Senate and Office of the Student Advocate General are working together to implement a guideline advising professors to alert students of class content that can potentially “trigger” symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in those who have experienced traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse or fighting in war.
The goal of the policy — enacted by an A.S. resolution passed last week — is to protect students with PTSD who may be harshly affected by content, such as video scenes, and it would allow these students to miss classes containing such material without losing course points. The proposal does not require that professors alter their planned course material, but that they include in their syllabi “trigger warnings” — a term for a warning label on content that might trigger a traumatic response. However, the resolution for the policy only directs A.S. collegiate senators to visit the deans at the three colleges of the university to request the new guideline; thus, the resolution has not resulted in any concrete changes to current university policy.
As defined by the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD develops after a “terrifying” incident involving physical harm or the threat of harm and it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents — rape, being kidnapped, child abuse, torture, car accidents, plane crashes, train wrecks, bombings or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.
Student Advocate Chief of Staff Bailey Loverin, a third-year student in the CCS Literature program, introduced the proposal last week at a Senate meeting and explained her personal experiences in classes as the reason behind the proposal.
“There was absolutely no warning before class that [this material] would be covered,” Loverin said.
Several A.S. Senators, including second-year student Nikki Calderon, immediately jumped on board with the proposal, stating that it will give students “the opportunity to be attentive in their classes and protect themselves.”
“UCSB has lots of resources, but at the same time they can’t reach you when you’re sitting in a lecture, uncomfortably watching a film,” Calderon said. “If they do need to miss a lecture, they could tell the professor ahead of time and do an alternative assignment.”
Calderon also said she thinks there might be a correlation between watching violent material and acting violently in real life, however she insisted that she did not believe in censoring that material.
“T.V. is definitely a factor among children, but ultimately, it’s up to adults to make the right decisions,” Calderon said.
Not everyone has responded positively to the Senate resolution, however. Second-year political science major Jason Garshfield said he was disappointed in the A.S. Senate for passing the resolution, as he said it may hinder the intellectual and emotional growth of some students and that it approaches censorship.
“The learning process necessarily involves exposing people to ideas that will challenge their beliefs and make them feel uncomfortable,” Garshfield said. “People who attend college are implicitly agreeing to be pushed outside their intellectual and emotional comfort zones … I would like to see the Senate have a higher regard for the fortitude and resilience of the students of this university, as well as the discretion of our professors to teach their students at the level they feel is appropriate.”
According to professor of English and comparative literature, and Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, David Marshall, faculty currently tend to warn students if they think certain material might be disturbing. Marshall also said that while he believes faculty should be sensitive to the concerns of students, “thousands of years of art and literature have been provocative and disturbing,” and these works are important because they advance our understanding of social ills.
“Think of ‘Oedipus Rex,’ which contains scenes of violence, patricide, incest, and death. In addition, there are many works of art, film, and literature that contain disturbing images in order to prevent social ills, such as violence against women,” Marshall said in an email. “Finally, I would note that our university adheres to the principles of academic freedom.”
Off-Campus Senator and third-year Asian American studies major Beatrice Contreras said she has an idea of how this resolution could be implemented on campus.
“Ideally, some professors are already [having these warnings], and are putting in UCSB C.A.R.E. and C.A.P.S. numbers on their syllabi,” Contreras said. “The first step is bringing it to Academic Senate, and they can choose to make it a departmental choice to make it a requirement in that class to warn students.”
Over time, Loverin aims to make trigger warnings on syllabi a UC-wide policy.
“[A.S. External Vice President of Statewide Affairs] Alex Choate will introduce this to the next UC government meeting … to make sure this is not just Santa Barbara, but across the nation.”