Students at the prestigious Cambridge University have been given “trigger warnings” ahead of a Shakespeare reading assignment because the assigned play involves depictions of sexual violence.
Undergraduate students at Cambridge were provided a document this semester that warned that a lecture on Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors could be potentially upsetting because the lecture would cover topics such as sexual and non-sexual violence.
Gill Evans, emeritus professor of medieval theology and intellectual history at Cambridge, criticized the decisions to forewarn students but conceded that the document was likely produced due to “a genuine wish not to risk upsetting students.”
“Interfering with academic courses for non-academic reasons is so important, and it ought to be approved by Regent House,” she added. “Obviously one would not want to be heartless. But you’ve got to learn to be a bit resilient.”
Other faculty members were less reserved in their criticisms of the policy. “If a student of English Literature doesn’t know that ‘Titus Andronicus’ contains scenes of violence they shouldn’t be on the course,” Dr. David Crilly, who serves as the artistic director of the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, argued. “This degree of sensitivity will inevitably curtail academic freedom. If the academic staff are concerned they might say something students find uncomfortable they will avoid doing it.”
The Telegraph noted in their report that law lecturers at the University of Oxford were also allegedly asked to provide trigger warnings before entering into discussions on cases that involve violence or death. Students were also permitted to leave the classroom if they personally found the content to be “distressing.”
A Cambridge University spokesman said in a statement that the decision to provide trigger warnings to the students is not reflective of any specific university policy: “Some lecturers indicate that some sensitive material will be covered in a lecture by informing the English Faculty Admin staff who prepare the Faculty’s ‘Notes on Lectures’ which are distributed to English students.