Cornell University’s student assembly has voted unanimously in favor of requiring trigger warnings for “traumatic” content in classes, a move that some people have said will restrict freedom of speech on campus.
The recently introduced resolution “implores all instructors to provide content warnings on the syllabus that may be discussed,” meaning professors would be on the hook for anticipating what readings or other materials might “traumatize” their students.
According to the decision, topics or mentions that would require a trigger warning include “but [are] not limited to” sexual assault, domestic violence, self-harm, suicide, child abuse, racial hate crimes, transphobic violence, homophobic harassment and xenophobia.
Minutes from the meeting which discussed the legislation have been released and they show the student assembly voted to adopt the resolution last week.
FIRE attorney Alex Morey told The Post that he spoke out against this legislation, fearing that it would hinder academic freedom.
“That Cornell’s student government passed this unanimously should prompt Cornell to take a hard look about how its current crop of students view getting a college education,” Morey said.
Students also have their frustrations about the ruling. Cornell senior and College Republicans president Avery Bower said he “firmly opposes” the resolution.
“It is troubling how little academic freedom is regarded by many of the students here at Cornell,” he told The Post.
“We go to college to be exposed to controversial subject matter, and trigger warnings have a chilling effect on professors and students pursuing Cornell’s stated mission of free inquiry,” Bower added.
Trigger warnings have been increasing across campuses over the past decade and are intended to protect students from material that might traumatize them.
Those who advocate for free speech have long warned that requiring professors to proactively anticipate what students might subjectively find “triggering” could lead them to self-censor or avoid certain material.
“There’s no question that [trigger warnings] make professors more cautious about what they cover,” FIRE president and CEO Greg Lukianoff told The Post. “That’s a disaster for academic freedom.”
“As a student of history, I cannot imagine what my courses would look like if they were not engaging with controversial material,” Bower noted.
Lukianoff also said that these trigger warnings could do more harm than good for the students they should be protecting.
“Believing you can be hurt by words can become sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he warned. “People are very resilient, but if you tell them they’re not, that can really undermine their resilience.”
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