Trigger and Content Warning Guidance
In 2021, through the prompting of a concerned student, the Provost's Office formed a task force to educate and determine the use of trigger and content warnings in our classrooms. This multidisciplinary and representative committee devoted research and significant time to seek out exemplary practices of trigger and content warnings in the academy.
The following types of content: sexual violence, racial violence, familial violence, racial slurs, and other examples of overt racism, eating disorders, and suicide are examples of content that may be upsetting or triggering, but is clearly not exhaustive.
The committee has provided resources on this page including definition of terms, template language for faculty to integrate into syllabi and verbal prompts to use in class before content is introduced. These resources are for faculty use if you deem their benefit appropriate to your learning objectives and the classroom culture you seek to establish. This language is in no way intended to impede academic freedom, but to offer another opportunity for you to support your student's ability to learn and engage in your class.
Definitions of Content and Trigger Warnings
We recognize there is some debate and lack of clarity regarding the semantics of these warnings. For the purposes of this guidance, we offer two definitions and encourage instructors to determine which one to share and when. These terms are often used interchangeably. The definitions below are an attempt to clarify when one, versus the other, should be used. Both are intended to give students agency to mentally prepare for their interactions with the content and to make choices about how and if to engage with it. We encourage instructors to consider the level of distress the content is likely to elicit.
A stated warning that the content of the immediately following text, video, etc., may upset or offend some people (from dictionary.com)
- Generally, it is anticipated that a handful of students may feel distressed by the content covered
- Proposed Definition: A content warning is a written or oral statement given before presenting certain material that discloses that the content covered may be sensitive in nature. It also flags content in material that does not obviously signal that it contains sensitive content.
A statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material. (from Oxford Languages)
- Specify the material that will be covered contains potentially triggering content for trauma survivors
- This does not mean the material WILL be triggering; just that it MAY
- Proposed Definition: A trigger warning is a written or oral statement given directly before presenting material commonly known to cause trauma, that discloses that the content covered might be triggering for trauma survivors, invite students to emotionally prepare ahead of time, and give students the option to step away and return when they are ready. This “material” includes any content that touches on any of the following 18 topics: (1) rape, (2) sexual assault, (3) abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, verbal), (4) child abuse or pedophilia, (5) animal cruelty or animal death, (6) self-injurious behavior (ex. Self-harm, eating disorders), (7) suicide, (8) excessive or gratuitous violence, (9) violence and trauma connected to racism and racial conflict, (10) racial slurs, (11) needles, (12) depiction of pornography (including child pornography), (13) incest (including any and all elements of romantic or sexual relationships between family, tonal in theme, thought, or activity), (14) kidnapping (forceful deprivation of/disregard for personal autonomy), (15) death or dying, (16) pregnancy or childbirth, (17) miscarriages or abortion, and (18) blood.
Trigger and Content Warning Templates for Syllabi
(Note: best practice suggests that a statement of Content or Trigger Warning in the syllabi, coupled with a verbal announcement before the class where the material referred is presented, supports a safe, inclusive, engaged learning environment)
I acknowledge that each of you comes to UConn with your own unique life experiences. This contributes to the way you perceive various types of information. In [class name], all of the class content, including that which may be intellectually or emotionally challenging, has been intentionally curated to achieve the learning goals for this course. The decision to include such material is not taken lightly. These topics include [list topics]. If you encounter a topic that is intellectually challenging for you, it can manifest in feelings of discomfort and upset. In response, I encourage you to come talk to me or your friends or family about it. Class topics are discussed for the sole purpose of expanding your intellectual engagement in the area of [subject/major], and I will support you throughout your learning in this course.
I acknowledge that each of you comes to UConn with your own unique life experiences. This contributes to the way you perceive several types of information. In [class name], we will cover a variety of topics, some of which you may find triggering. These topics include [list topics]. Each time this topic appears in a reading or unit, it is marked on the syllabus. The experience of being triggered versus intellectually challenged are different. The main difference is that an individual must have experienced trauma to experience being triggered, whereas an intellectual challenge has nothing to do with trauma. If you are a trauma survivor and encounter a topic in this class that is triggering for you, you may feel overwhelmed or panicked and find it difficult to concentrate. In response, I encourage you to take the necessary steps for your emotional safety. This may include leaving class while the topic is discussed or talking to a therapist at SHaW Mental Health. Should you choose to sit out on discussion of a certain topic, know that you are still responsible for the material; but we can discuss if there are other methods for accessing that material, and for assessing your learning on that material. Class topics are discussed for the sole purpose of expanding your intellectual engagement in the area of [subject/major], and I will support you throughout your learning in this course.
Trigger and Content Warning For First-Year Orientation (New Student Orientation)
We acknowledge that each of you comes to UConn with your own unique life experiences. This contributes to the way you perceive various types of information. During your career as a student here at UConn, regardless of what you study, you may encounter topics that you find uncomfortable or upsetting. If you feel intellectually or emotionally disturbed by what you learn in class, please know that this is often a normal result of exposure to new ideas or information.
All faculty and staff at UConn encourage on-going conversation on these subjects, not only with university personnel, but also with others in your circle. At the same time, please keep in mind that a college education is designed to expose you to material we believe is integral to your intellectual growth and personal development. Should class content cause you additional distress, including triggering past traumas, we encourage you seek out campus resources such as SHaW (Student Health and Wellness) Mental Health, Dean of Students Office, or Regional Campus Student Services staff to learn of potential options for support.