Policy guaranteeing sexual violence content warnings in academics is the least Queen’s can do to support survivors

This article discusses sexual violence and may be triggering for some readers. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424.

Selecting course material that’s challenging, correlates with a department’s mandatory content, and makes every student feel comfortable and safe is an impossible task. Typically, literature that makes us uncomfortable is the content we learn from the most.

However, almost every novel I’ve read this year for my English courses has detailed a scene of rape or sexual violence—most with the victim being a young woman and the perpetrator an older man in a position of power.

The school year started eight months ago, and I’ve heard maybe two content warnings during that time.

I often hear the argument that trigger warnings are superficial and specious, taking the onus off professors and universities to provide us with beneficial mental health resources to support those impacted by upsetting content.

While there is truth to this, I fail to see the downsides of granting students a moment to reflect on how a piece may trigger their personal trauma.

However, these content warnings must be paired with research-backed, student-involved, faculty-supported initiatives and resources for students struggling with sexual violence-related trauma. I think encouraging and educating professors about the drawbacks, benefits, and nuances of sexual assault content warnings is a wonderful first step.

Based on my knowledge and research, there are no current policies at Queen’s that inform professors on how to offer content warnings and resources when delivering course material that may be upsetting for survivors of sexual violence.

Queen’s has made some wonderful moves towards creating a safer space for students dealing with sexual assault trauma—like this past semester’s protest on Summer Hill—but many are reactionary steps.

We need a proactive approach.

I recently spoke with the 2022 Arts and Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS) President, Alyth Roos, about an ASUS initiative currently underway and in the process of finalization. ASUS is taking a positive step by exploring the best ways to incorporate sexual violence prevention and response training into our academic setting here at Queen’s.

This initiative will produce a list of resources and strategies for students on how to navigate triggering or distressing course content.

There will also be faculty-centred conversations on available resources for handling discussions about difficult topics in the classroom, facilitated by the Centre for Teaching and Learning. 

While there’s still work to be done, the ASUS initiative empowers our student body and faculty’s steps towards a safer academic environment for all students. 

Queen’s can’t predict or cushion the emotional response of every student in every academic setting. However, sexual assault content warning policies and trainings are a positive step towards a safer environment for students and staff.

Madeleine is a third-year English student and The Journal’s Assistant Lifestyle Editor.

Corrections

An earlier version of the article incorrectly described the resources provided by the Centre for Teaching and Learning. 

The Journal regrets the error.

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