"Not So Scary: Using and Defusing Content Warnings in the Classroom"
Journal of Political Science Education 14:1 (2018)
Content warnings — notices to students that class material may evoke their past traumas — have become entangled in (over)heated debates about the role of free speech on campus. Critics denounce content warnings as silencing tools intended to promote censorship, preclude discussion of difficult topics or punish professors who hold unpopular views. Supporters too often conflate content warnings with broader demands for classroom “safe space” that fail to recognize the distinct features of posttraumatic stress as a form of mental illness. In this article, I reconceptualize content warnings as a way to facilitate access to course material for students with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I then offer a set of concrete strategies for employing content warnings in political science courses. These strategies aim not only to support students struggling with trauma but also to de-escalate the controversy around content warnings by emphasizing how such warnings work to encourage engagement, access, and discussion.