American University’s student government is pushing back against a faculty resolution that embraces freedom of speech, launching a #LetUsLearn campaign that demands mandatory trigger warnings at the top of each syllabus.
“The fact of the matter is, trigger warnings are necessary in order to make our academic spaces accessible to all students, especially those who have experienced trauma,” said the student government president, Devontae Torriente, in a video. “In doing so, we uphold AU’s commitment to academic freedom and allow all students to participate in the exchange of ideas and discussion.”
The faculty resolution, which was passed in 2015, reads: “American University is committed to protecting and championing the right to freely communicate ideas—without censorship—and to study material as it is written, produced, or stated, even material that some members of our community may find disturbing or that provokes uncomfortable feelings. … As laws and individual sensitivities may seek to restrict, label, warn or exclude specific content, the academy must stand firm as a place that is open to diverse ideas and free speech.”
While the resolution shuns mandatory trigger warnings, it also doesn’t ban them among professors who want to use them.
Student government will soon meet with American University’s faculty senate, pushing it to reconsider its stance and embrace trigger warnings for each class. The meetings will focus on “creat[ing] a campus-wide definition to continue to make academic spaces accessible to all students,” Torriente said.
But that’s easier said than done. A reporting project published by American University students last semester illustrates how on campus, there’s little agreement on the definitions of terms like “safe space” or “trigger warning.”
Though the faculty senate is open to meeting, professors probably won’t budge on the free speech resolution, said chair Todd Eisenstadt.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.