The Dark Self East & West: Trigger Warnings

This course examines the dark side of human existence, both as defined by various religions and philosophies and as found in the histories of religions and cultures. As such, there are themes of violence, oppression, and sexuality that are at times quite intense, both in the readings and the films we will be seeing. 

In academic circles, there is a debate as to whether “trigger warnings” should be provided to students, to let them know where and when scenes of graphic violence and sexuality might appear. In the past I have tried to not emphasize these issues too much, offering brief verbal warnings at the beginnings of films that are assigned and shown in class. Some argue that “trigger warnings” are too artificial, excluding facts that students need to be exposed to, and will lead to sanitizing the educational process. Others argue that, depending on individual students’ backgrounds and commitments, they have a right to not be exposed to material they find offensive.

My own experience and view is that the less we as instructors interfere, and the more freely we allow students to interact with course materials, the better for the education as full adults. However, this needs to be balanced with respect for students’ principled stance against exposure to materials that they find objectionable for themselves.

Based on this, I am adopting the following policy: If students wish to avoid seeing elements of graphic violence or sexuality in the course films, they can email me, and I can let them know what portions they might want to avoid. I am not including course texts in this policy at this point because films pose a greater problem, both because of their graphic nature and because students cannot stop “seeing and hearing” in the way that they can stop “reading” texts. Since this is partially a matter of judgment, the warnings may not cover everything that people would like to have addressed, but I will do my best to address this matter in a practical way.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this.