A well-known university in the UK has decided to move away from the phrase ‘trigger warning’, after they have decided that its use may upset students. But the term ‘trigger warning’ has been used for a long time now, especially in academia, in order to allow people to prepare themselves for tough information.

Critics and MPs have started to debate this decision, slamming the University of Warwick’s choices. Tory MP Andrew Bridgen in particular said that “Warwick’s decision to take offence at the word trigger is ludicrous”.

Why has the University of Warwick scrapped ‘trigger warning’?

trigger warning
Source: The University of Warwick

The university recently revealed that ‘trigger warnings’ are now going to be referred to by their staff as ‘content notes’ since they have established that, for many students, ‘trigger’ is a provocative word. This particularly focuses on the university’s literature and drama courses, which, by nature, examine many tough decisions, ideas and concepts.

The university has stood by its decision to continue to provide these notes, as the courses they provide include material that ‘can be difficult for some people, even traumatic’.

What has the response to this change been? 

The university is not the only one in the country to provide trigger warnings for their courses’ content. But this change away from the term ‘trigger warning’ has angered many people even more than the original warnings had done previously.

trigger warning
Source: The Independent

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen spoke to the MailOnline and asked “How is this preparing students for a life in the outside world? Who is actually calling for these trigger or content warnings? Is it resilient young people or woke-afflicted academics? It is getting out of control and harming the next generation. When I attended university it was to be educated and prepared for the world of work. It now appears our universities are preparing their students for a world of woke.”

Universities have continuously been under backlash and debate for their attitudes towards ‘wokeness’, with many claims in the past that universities are breeding grounds for leftist ideas and ‘woke’ concepts.

As well as MPs and university critics, celebrated authors have said that such warnings aid in turning a generation of ‘snowflake’ students away from literature. Margaret Dabble, for example, said that ‘in principle, [she is] against censorship and believe[s] literature has a right to distress and alarm’. Likewise, Lord Archer, bestselling author, added that ‘[he] would hope that intelligent people could make up their own minds. Where does it end? Of course, the next step will be to stop reading altogether and no one wants that. We don’t want to end up with a situation when we can only read Hans Christian Andersen’.

What have other universities done?

Warwick is one of 24 Russell Group universities that have been using trigger warnings since around 2019. Other universities, like the University of Greenwich, has also started using the term ‘content notes’ as opposed to ‘trigger warnings’.

Do trigger warnings actually help?

trigger warnings
Source: Child Rescue Coalition

Trigger warnings are usually used to prevent upsetting anyone who has perhaps experienced deep psychological trauma which has left scars or emotional pain or memories. In an effort to prevent survivors from remembering unnecessarily, these warnings are used to prepare them for potentially uncomfortable content, i.e that which evolves around sexual violence, racism, homophobia, domestic violence.

But researchers, according to Psychological Science, has discovered that trigger warnings seem to increase how many people see their trauma as central to their identity, which can worsen PTSD.

So is the University of Warwick right in providing content notes? And should they continue to avoid the word trigger? Or should they scrap it altogether?