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Oxford University law students being issued with ‘trigger warnings’ before lectures

The move, which is reportedly trending at US universities, has been criticised by academics

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Tuesday 10 May 2016 16:38 BST
The University of Oxford, pictured
The University of Oxford, pictured (Getty)

Undergraduate law students at Oxford university are being issued with trigger warnings before lectures containing material deemed too “distressing” – a move which has drawn criticism from academics.

According to MailOnline, the request to “bear in mind” when using the warnings – particularly on lessons centred on sexual violence – has been passed on to lecturers by the director of undergraduate studies for law.

One unnamed law student told the site that, prior to lectures on sexual offences – which included issues such as rape and assault their class was warned the content could be “distressing, and were then given the opportunity to leave” if needed.

However, academics have said the future lawyers shouldn’t have to be shielded from such content, considering the nature of the career field they could potentially head into.

Law lecturer, Laura Hoyano, insisted those who wish to study law “have to deal with things that are difficult." She told the site: “We can’t remove sexual offences from the criminal law syllabus obviously.”

Another academic said it was “really regrettable” the move had been introduced at the institution.

A University of Oxford spokesperson, though, said the institution had not adopted a formal policy on trigger warnings.

In a statement, the spokesperson added: “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.”

The university also said the law faculty’s position is consistent with its statement and that individual lecturers are free to either give or not give trigger warnings as and when they see fit.

The culture and rising use of trigger warnings has been criticised, with some saying they are having “a sanitising effect” on universities and their student bodies.

Cambridge scholar and classicist, Mary Beard, recently spoke about taking issue with the warnings, a trend which has been dominating universities across the US.

Speaking to The Sunday Times in April, she said it would be “dishonest, fundamentally dishonest” to teach only Roman history and to miss out “not just the rape of the Sabines, but all their rapes.”

Beard added: “We have to encourage students to be able to face that, even when they find they’re awkward and difficult for all kinds of good reasons.”

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