UCSB “Trigger Warnings” Policy Mirrors Disputed Aspects of CVUSD Book Policy

New CVUSD Board Seeks To Change Key Aspects of Previously Approved CVUSD Alternative Assignment Policy 6161.1

“Including trigger warnings is not a form of criticism or censorship of content. In addition, it does not restrict academic freedom but simply requests the respect and acknowledgement of the affect of triggering content on students with PTSD, both diagnosed and undiagnosed.” -UCSB Resolution 02262014:61


(Santa Barbara, CA)  In February 2014, the Associated Student Senate at the University of California at Santa Barbara recognized an issue that individuals in their student body were facing: triggering material.

The issue was brought to the surface when Bailey Loverin, a student at Santa Barbara, was shown a graphic film depicting rape. She herself had been a victim of sexual abuse, and although she had not felt threatened by the film, she had approached the professor to suggest that students should have been warned.

This issue ultimately resulted in a resolution being passed by the student government body that was entitled, “A Resolution to Mandate Warnings for Triggering Content in Academic Settings (02262014:61).” Click Here to See the Full Document.

The document describes the staggering statistics related to sexual assault and similar crimes and the re-trauma issues (also known as secondary trauma) faced by victims.

Whereas: UCSB CARE (Campus Advocacy Resources & Education) reports that: 1 in 4 college women will be sexually assaulted during her academic career,; 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence; and 1 in 33 men will experience attempted or completed rape. Therefore this is a pertinent and widespread issue that should be acknowledged on campus. (maybe, but this may be better as a separate whereas at the end)

Whereas: Triggers are not limited to sexual assault and violence.

Whereas: Trigger Warnings should be used for content not covered by the rating system used by the MPAA or TV warnings (such as contains violence, nudity or, language).
Whereas: The current suggested list of Trigger Warnings includes Rape, Sexual Assault, Abuse, Self-Injurious Behavior, Suicide, Graphic Violence, Pornography, Kidnapping, and Graphic Depictions of Gore.

Whereas: Triggers are a symptom of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Whereas: UCSB Disabled Students Program recognizes PTSD as a disability.

Whereas: Having memories or flashbacks triggered can cause the person severe emotional, mental, and even physical distress. These reactions can affect a student’s ability to perform academically.
Whereas: College level courses may contain materials with mature content. These particularly affect students if material is being read in the classroom or a film is being screened, as the student cannot choose to stop being exposed to the material.

Whereas: Including trigger warnings is not a form of criticism or censorship of content. In addition, it does not restrict academic freedom but simply requests the respect and acknowledgement of the affect of triggering content on students with PTSD, both diagnosed and undiagnosed.

Whereas: Being informed well in advance of triggering content allows students to avoid a potentially triggering situation without public attention. Having a trigger warning on a syllabus allows a student the choice to be present gives a student advance notice of possible triggers and the choice to be present or not instead of having to leave in the middle of a class or lecture.
The most fundamental part of the resolution was that, “The Associated Students of UC Santa Barbara urge the instructor of any course that includes triggering content to list trigger warnings on the syllabus.”

CVUSD Policy 6161.1 Comparison to UCSB Resolution 02262014:61

Parents of students in the Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) fought for a similar policy, otherwise known as the alternative assignment policy 6161.1. The CVUSD policy focused on literature courses only.
Click here to Read the Full Policy.
What resulted after a year of effort from various contributors was a policy that
  • Allowed students to receive an alternate literature assignment upon request when material is graphic in nature.
  • Provided advance notice about books with graphic content through the class syllabus with asterisk warnings for parents & students
  • Formed a Parent Committee (selected by each CVUSD Trustees) that asked for feedback about literature from the community
The basic tenets of the policy were to provide warnings about content via notations on the syllabus (which parents would be required to sign), to provide for a community committee (made up of parents selected by CVUSD trustees) that would provide feedback on new literature, and the ability for students to receive alternate assignments upon request without recourse from their English teacher.
To date, the CVUSD board has placed a stay on the creation of the community committee with an appeal to the public that such a committee is not needed.
The remaining element that opponents seek to change is the asterisk on the syllabus warning parents and students of the potentially triggering material.
Both the UCSB and CVUSD policies recognize the need for advance warning to students, perhaps the most contentious aspect in both policies. At both UCSB and with the Conejo Valley school district, certain groups decried an infringement of freedom and a movement towards censorship.
In the case of UCSB, a New York Times article from May 2014 quoted Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit group that advocates free speech was quoted as saying, “It is only going to get harder to teach people that there is a real important and serious value to being offended. Part of that is talking about deadly serious and uncomfortable subjects.”
In the same New York Times article, a professor from Oberlin University, a school that also visited a similar policy, stated, “I quite object to the argument of ‘Kids today need to toughen up,’ ” she said. “That absolutely misses the reality that we’re dealing with. We have students coming to us with serious issues, and we need to deal with that respectfully and seriously.”
CVUSD parents of high school children can expect further debate and action from the new CVUSD Board. With the change of guard from a 3-2 conservative weighted board to a 4-1 progressive board, the policy is likely to change without intervention from the community.
The next CVUSD Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 2. Regular Board Meetings are held on the first and third Tuesday of the month unless noted otherwise. Discussion Session begins at 4:00 p.m. (when placed on the agenda) unless noted otherwise. Closed Session begins at 5:00 p.m. unless noted otherwise. Open Session begins at 6:00 p.m. unless noted otherwise.

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