We launched Idea Exchange at the 2018 Annual Conference in Los Angeles in response to members who expressed an interest in holding informal roundtable discussions on topics ranging from fellowship applications and gallery representation to student engagement in the classroom and preserving women artists’s legacies.
We’re offering Idea Exchange again in 2019 and we’re looking for CAA members to serve as discussion leaders.
Propose a topic that you would like to discuss with your colleagues for a sixty-minute roundtable at the conference. It can relate to professional development, teaching, or fellowships. Suggest a discussion around current events, such as the debate surrounding Confederate monuments or the #MeToo movement in the arts. Be creative. The conversations are meant to be lively and engaging. Please submit your Idea Exchange proposals by December 14, 2018.
In order to submit an Idea Exchange topic, you will need to have your member ID and password ready. If you do not have an individual ID number and password or you do not know it, please contact member services by email at email@example.com or by phone at 212-691-1051, ext. 1.
Idea Exchange will be held in the Cultural and Academic Network Hall during the following times:
Thursday, February 14: 8:30 AM; 10:30 AM; 12:30 PM; 2:00 PM; 4:00 PM
Friday, February 15: 8:30 AM; 10:30 AM; 12:30 PM; 2:00 PM; 4:00 PM
Saturday, February 16: 8:30 AM; 10:30 AM; 12:30 PM
For more information on Idea Exchange, contact Alison Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (212) 392-4436.
posted by CAA — August 08, 2018
We are pleased to announce CAA has received a major anonymous gift of $1 million to fund travel for art history faculty and their students to special exhibitions related to their classwork. The gift will establish the Fund for Travel to Special Exhibitions, a new program to be administered and juried by CAA.
“This incredibly generous gift will not only support art history scholars and students for years to come, it is a powerful message to the visual arts field that their work is as important as ever,” said Hunter O’Hanian, CAA’s executive director. “The new Fund also reinforces CAA as the preeminent organization supporting and advancing professionals in the visual arts and design.”
Groundbreaking in its scope, the Fund for Travel to Special Exhibitions is intended exclusively to enhance the first-hand knowledge of original works of art. The Fund will support travel, lodging, and admission for art history students and faculty in conjunction with special museum exhibitions in the United States and throughout the world. Awards will be made exclusively to support travel to exhibitions that directly correspond to the class content. However, exhibitions on all artists, periods, and areas of art history are eligible.
Awards of up to $10,000 will be granted on a per project basis by a jury formed by CAA to oversee the Fund for Travel to Special Exhibitions.
Applications will be accepted by CAA beginning in fall 2018. All application criteria and information will be listed on the CAA website.
CAA recently corresponded with Marc Handelman, an artist and assistant professor of visual arts for the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, about a new grassroots organization concerned with advocacy issues, called the Art Professors of America.
When and why did the Art Professors of America form? What are its goals?
A couple of dozen art professors from several schools in the Northeast came together in the wake of the election initially to discuss how we might respond to a right-wing campaign to blacklist liberal and progressive faculty by smearing them as un-American. Simultaneously, many of us were seeing a troubling uptick both of threats and attacks on Latino, Muslim, and LGBTQ students, and of anti-Semitism on campuses. Some of us were also experiencing increased feelings of anxiety and self-censorship. Most of all, we felt the urgency and need of being together and sharing our experiences as artists and educators and citizens. We decided to meet every two weeks in New York and continue the conversation. Because colleagues from around the country reached out to be part of the dialogue, we started an email group that now represents professors in well over a dozen states. We are currently working on expanding this network to all fifty states, welcoming art professors of all ranks and teaching status, including TAs and those between positions. Our primary goal right now is to be a platform that connects people nationally and shares critical information. Our latest project was the launch of our website that features news related to education in our political climate and a critical resource page.
What is the purpose of the advocacy resource APA is building?
There are many potential and actual threats that faculty are facing increasingly. Some of these issues begin at the state level, where funding for classes or entire programs are being cut due to their political content. Other issues range from online harassment to deceptively progressive legislation for free-speech protection on campus. Meanwhile, higher education in general continues to foster crippling student debt as institutions struggle to deal with increasing demands for greater diversity, inclusion, and equity. The resource page we launched and continue to build on modestly attempts to provide critical information and tools to help us deal with some of these problems, from distributing information about student loans for undocumented students to debt models in art education. Other items provide online security protocol and consent laws for recording in classrooms. Some of the categories include Censorship and Intimidation, Critical Pedagogy, Alternative Art Programs, Debt and Precarity, Sanctuary and Immigration, and Legal Resources, among others.
Where do the resources come from?
Nearly all of the content already exists online in some form, from other organizations and studies. Populating the website was an extensive three-month process of collecting information and links and aggregating them in these categories. We have been so grateful to other working groups and colleagues for sharing their resources as well.
What are the most urgent issues confronting art professors in the United States today?
Clearly we don’t assume to speak for every program. But in the immediate context, the travel ban and ICE deportations may have the most immediate effects on our students, faculty, and visiting artists. Academic freedom has been under various levels of threat for a long time, and it remains to be seen how deeply and broadly new threats develop. But economic precarity and inequality remain the most pressing structural issue in education both for art schools and the larger university system. This affects part-time adjuncts who, already underpaid, are increasingly asked to do things such as decrease their course loads so as not to trigger contingent benefits, the end of tenured lines, and students who suffer under crippling debt or have no access to higher education at all. Critical and progressive curricula can’t make up for the undergirded issues of access, which are directly tied to geography, race, and class.
Under this current political regime, arts faculty may actually have a greater deal of security than professors and departments researching and teaching social justice, antiracism, and climate change. We need to continually find ways to support our colleagues in other fields.
How can CAA members get involved?
We welcome new arts-affiliated adjuncts, TAs, and professors into our organization and dialogue—the more voices represented, the better. Members will have access to group documents and files, as well as The Story Collection Project, which shares and archives testimonials and stories about what is happening in different corners of our campuses and in classrooms across the country. Meanwhile, the Art Profs America website, offering news, links, and resources, is live and available to anyone online. Please feel free to share with other colleagues as well. You can visit us, or join at http://artprofsamerica.com.
To request to join the discussion, please visit https://groups.google.com/d/forum/art-profs-america. You may also follow APA on Twitter.
posted by michelle — June 13, 2016
Art History Teaching Resources (AHTR), in partnership with the Office of Library Services at the City University of New York (CUNY), is excited to announce the launch of Art History Pedagogy and Practice (AHPP) on Academic Works’ Digital Commons platform. Published by AHTR, a practitioner-led, open-educational resource for educators who address art history, visual culture, and material culture, AHPP is the first academic journal dedicated to the scholarship of teaching and learning in art history (SoTL-AH). The result of a two-year initiative, AHPP responds to a long-standing need to advance, collect, disseminate, and demonstrate pedagogical research specific to the discipline. The call for papers for the inaugural issue, forthcoming in fall 2016, is available on the AHTR website.
SoTL in Art History
AHPP results from a two-year initiative that sought to examine the ways in which art historians devote time, effort, and energy to classroom teaching, curriculum development, and student engagement. Generously funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, AHTR began preliminary research in 2015, which included a field-wide survey conducted by Randi Korn and Associates and a literature review assessing existing pedagogical scholarship in art history. These findings were synthesized in a white paper that demonstrated the need for SoTL-AH to be acknowledged as a legitimate area of intellectual inquiry by the institutions and communities encompassing academic art history. As a peer-reviewed journal devoted to SoTL-AH, AHPP will facilitate this process by providing scholars a forum to share research on pedagogical topics and by encouraging further academic investigation and discourse around teaching and learning in art history.
Art History Teaching Resources
AHPP builds on the success of AHTR as a platform to exchange ideas related to pedagogy in art history. Founded on dual goals to raise the value of the academic labor of teaching and to provide peer support across ranks of tenured, tenure-track, and contingent instructors, AHTR began as a collaboration between Michelle Millar Fisher at the Graduate Center and Karen Shelby at Baruch College in 2011. Fisher, then a graduate teaching fellow with a background in museum education, and Shelby, then assistant professor of art history, organized meetings where colleagues shared teaching materials and experiences. These gatherings suggested potential for a digital forum to connect a wider community of practitioners and gave rise to the arthistoryteachingresources.org website, which launched publicly in 2013.
Since that time, the site has had more than 400,000 hits from over 91,000 educators in K-12, postsecondary institutions, and art museums, and from academic support staff including reference librarians and curriculum designers. AHTR’s administration has similarly expanded to a leadership collective of art historians, ranging in experience from early career scholars to those well established in the field, and an advisory network, assembled for expertise and leadership in art history, museum education, and digital humanities and united by their interest in advancing pedagogical research. The unique relationship between AHPP and AHTR will give scholars access to diverse resources about teaching and learning—including lesson plans and the AHTR Weekly on the OER—as well as peer-reviewed articles published in the journal.
AHPP in Digital Commons
In choosing the Digital Commons platform, AHPP is enthusiastic to extend the relationship with CUNY that was first established when AHTR was born in the Graduate Center’s New Media Lab with support from Baruch Learning and Technology Grants. In keeping with the site’s origins, AHTR also contracted CHIPS, a New York web-development studio known for innovative work with cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History and 82nd and Fifth. CHIPS also redesigned the AHTR website in 2014 and created the AHPP logo.
The editors, editorial collective, and advisory board of AHPP are excited to join CUNY’s Office of Library Services in the broader open-access movement and look forward to the ways in which journal contributions will be used in the fields of SoTL, art history, and beyond. AHPP worked closely with librarians at the Office of Library Services to develop editorial policies and guidelines that are transparent to authors and readers.
AHTR and CAA
Members of the AHTR advisory board have recently collaborated with CAA’s Education Committee. At the 2016 Annual Conference in Washington, DC, Renee McGarry spoke on “Crowdsourcing the Art History Survey: How Communities and Conversations Might Help Shape the Global Survey 3.0” in a session cochaired by Anne R. Norcross, an Education Committee member. In addition, AHTR advisory-board member Kelly Donahue Wallace has been collaborating with the committee’s Denise Baxter, including leading a workshop on SoTL initiatives at next year’s conference in New York.
In 2015, the College Art Association published a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts that established policies on the fair use of copyrighted materials for professionals in the visual arts field. The Code outlines the principles and limitations for applying the doctrine of fair use in five areas: critical writing, teaching, making art, museum uses, and online access to archives and special collections. It is available online, along with supplementary information, at the Fair Use web page.
With the input of our members, CAA is now developing curriculum materials to help teachers educate their students about fair use so that people entering the field will start out with a basic understanding of this important doctrine. Please help us develop useful materials by completing the following short survey, which is being administered by American University, CAA’s partner on the fair use initiative.
Please complete no later than May 20.
There are only six questions that should take less than five minutes to complete.
Thank you for your help!
This past spring the National Coalition Against Censorship worked with the Modern Language Association and CAA to produce an online survey of their members regarding trigger warnings and the pressures on instructors. While the survey was not scientific, the over eight hundred responses received offer a bird’s eye view of the debate. Here are some responses to the survey results:
Catherine Rampell, “Young Fogies: Modern Illiberalism Is Led by Students,” Washington Post, November 30, 2015.
Colleen Flaherty, “Trigger Warning Skepticism,” Inside Higher Ed, December 2, 2015.
Robby Soave, “How Trigger Warnings Protect Religious Dogma in the Classroom,” Reason, December 1, 2015.
Tyler Kingkade, “The Prevailing Narrative on Trigger Warnings Is Just Plain Wrong,” Huffington Post, December 1, 2015.
Benjamin Wermund, “Do ‘Trigger Warnings’ Harm Academic Freedom? Most Educators Think So,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 1, 2015.
College Fix Staff, “Three in Five Professors Say Trigger Warnings Pose a Threat to Academic Freedom,” College Fix, December 1, 2015.
Leah Libresco, “Most Professors Fear, But Don’t Face, Trigger Warnings,” Five Thirty Eight, December 10, 2015.
Jesse Singal, “Is There Any Evidence Trigger Warnings Are Actually a Big Deal?,” Science of Us, December 6, 2015.
Survey reveals a complex picture: threats to academic freedom are not just about “political correctness.”
If the headlines are correct, college students everywhere are demanding professors provide so-called “trigger warnings” to flag material that might make them feel uncomfortable, and in some cases to allow students to avoid the material. If this is happening widely, the free speech implications are enormous: A broad range of works, from a documentary about sexual assault to an historical account of slavery, could be considered “triggering,” along with the possibility that many professors would steer clear of potentially controversial work.
But how prevalent are these demands? Is a resurgent tide of political correctness threatening higher education, or are the media jumping to conclusions?
To shed some light, NCAC worked with the Modern Language Association and the College Art Association this spring on an online survey of their members. While the survey is not scientific, the over 800 responses we received offer a birds’ eye view of the debate over trigger warnings, and the pressures on instructors.
The survey finds that formal university trigger policies are extremely rare: Less than one percent of respondents say their schools have them. But there is abundant anecdotal evidence suggesting that something is going on. It appears to be a bottom-up phenomenon: Students make complaints to individual professors or administrators, and instructors—many of whom are reasonably nervous about job security. As one survey respondent put it, “After teaching a course for the first time, a student complained in the anonymous evaluation. Ever since, I verbally include a trigger warning at the start of each semester.”
Fifteen percent of respondents reported that students had requested trigger warnings in their courses, while over half reported that they had voluntarily provided warnings for course materials, with 23 percent saying they have offered them “several times” or “regularly.”
So who is doing the complaining? In much of the media commentary, the focus is on left-leaning students using trigger warnings to chill speech they find offensive. One widely-read essay on the subject was titled, “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me.” While this is certainly happening, and many respondents reported sensitivities to content depicting rape and sexual assault, the survey paints a more complex picture. Contrary to conventional thinking, warnings are sought by both conservative and liberal students. “I used trigger warnings to warn about foul or sexual language, sexual content, or violence in order to allow our very conservative students to feel more in control of the material,” wrote one instructor. Another teacher was aware of “religious objections to nude models in studio courses” and “homoerotic content in art history.” Another teacher noted the use of trigger warnings “because some students were upset by the realization that certain artists were homosexuals.”
Another common theme is that it is impossible “to be able to predict which topics will be problematic for students, or will ‘trigger’ a response.” “I’ve had students want pretty detailed and specific trigger warnings for, well, everything…,” including violent imagery in a horror film class. Reported complaints concern spiders, indigenous artifacts, “fatphobia,” and more.
Many respondents draw a distinction between “trigger warnings” and course or content descriptions. The latter are widely accepted as ways to convey information about the scope, substance and requirements of a given course. As many instructors have pointed out, offering students information about course materials does not necessarily flag content as disturbing or offensive, or offer students an opportunity to avoid it, but simply provides an explanation about what material will be taught.
The strongest findings in the survey are that instructors believe that trigger warnings, if widely used, would threaten academic freedom and inquiry. Nearly half of respondents (45 percent) think trigger warnings have or will have a negative effect on classroom dynamics; on the broader question of academic freedom, 62 percent see a possible negative effect.
Those who oppose warnings say they reinforce taboos, infantilize students, “tend to impede conversation,” “stifle meaningful discussion,” and send a message to students “about what it’s ok for them to get upset about.” In contrast, supporters say they build trust and “create a positive classroom environment,” show respect for the “individual needs of students,” create “a positive and safe space for dialogue,” prepare students “to engage with the material in meaningful ways,” and prevent them from feeling “blindsided.”
The survey revealed that many instructors are deeply concerned about their students’ wellbeing, and how best to fulfill the mission of higher education. And the demand for trigger warnings may reflect a desire by students to be more engaged in their education and their communities, which has positive aspects. However, the trick is to ensure that such an interest is not expressed in ways that preclude discussion, debate, and even disagreement.
Reprinted from Censorship News, No. 123 (Fall 2015), National Coalition Against Censorship www.ncac.org.
posted by Christopher Howard — July 02, 2015
ArtHistoryTeachingResources.org recently received a grant from The Kress Foundation to conduct preliminary research for an e-journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) in Art History that will launch in 2016.
We are writing to ask for your help with this initiative by completing a ten-minute survey before July 17.
AHTR is a peer-populated website, committed to experimentation, participation, and fostering community around teaching and learning in art history. The new e-journal Art History Pedagogy and Practice will build on this foundation to engage anyone interested in rigorous scholarship and quality content around pedagogical issues in art history.
This survey aims to identify stakeholders in this project and to make sure the e-journal responds to their needs. The survey will also help clarify the e-journal’s place within the existing landscape of SoTL, art history, and pedagogical research/practice, and help us better understand how a discipline-specific SoTL in art history might provide greater support for research around teaching and learning in the field.
We are distributing the survey to members of the art history and museum communities, but also seek input from university administrators, libraries, teaching/learning centers, academic technologists, and others involved in art history education. Please forward the survey to anyone you think would be willing to offer their feedback. We’re grateful for your time and theirs in helping shape what we hope will be a resource for many. We apologize for any cross-postings you may receive, but know the project will be strengthened by the broadest participation.
Click here to access the on-line survey.
(Survey participants will be eligible to win one of four $50 Amazon gift cards)
If you have questions or want more information about the e-journal initiative, we are in the process of creating an Art History Pedagogy and Practice page on the AHTR website. Immediate inquiries should be sent to email@example.com.
Virginia B. Spivey, Parme Giuntini, Renee McGarry
Project Leaders, Art History Pedagogy and Practice Initiative
Michelle Millar Fisher, Co-Founder and Dean, AHTR
Karen Shelby, Co-Founder and Dean, AHTR
Kathleen Wentrack, Contributing Editor, AHTR
DeWitt Godfrey, professor of art and art history at Colgate University and president of the CAA Board of Directors, delivered the following presentation during a panel on trigger warnings at the one hundredth anniversary conference of the American Association of University Professors in Washington, DC, on Friday, June 12, 2015. In addition, Linda Downs, CAA executive director, has written a response to the panel.
Trigger Warning Presentation AAUP
First I would like to thank Joan Bertin and Shaden Tageldin for the invitation to the College Art Association to participate in this panel. I would also like to thank CAA’s executive director Linda Downs, Nia Page, Director of Memebership and Michael Goodman, Director of IT for their support. Special thanks to Angela Gibson, Associate Managing Editor of Book Publications at MLA who created and analyzed the survey results.
I feel it’s just safer, teaching in the state of Texas, to put a clear statement on my syllabus at the beginning of the term. That way, I can point to it and say that the individual had been warned.
This is all new to me, but it’s made me think twice about each and every assignment that contains material that might make one student uncomfortable, but that is necessary for me to deliver the course as I believe it should be taught.
Self censorship is the worst form of censorship.
My concern is for the insidious ways that things like trigger warnings induce doubt, fear and intimidation.
During CAA’s Mellon Foundation supported Fair Use project, we learned shocking fact that 50% of scholars and 30% of artists had abandoned projects due to fear and misunderstanding of copyright. The chilling effects of this restrictive culture of permissions on cultural production and production of knowledge cannot be overstated; how many articles, books, exhibitions and dissertations have been lost to a culture that overemphasizes ownership and unfairly removes works from study and distribution?
I would like to place trigger warnings in the context of other ideological assaults on intellectual freedom, the ways that this brings well meaning persons from the left—often feminist left—into an uneasy (and I hope unintended) alliance with an anti-intellectual conservative right; each marshal oppressive forces of fear to stifle debate.
We are in a moment that requires academics, in my opinion, to reenage with the world, and regrettably the debates around education are currently on terms that are no longer our own. There sounds a steady drumbeat of demands that we justify the value and place of the arts and humanities in our institutions and culture; there are moves to shift already eroding funding and support towards alledgedly more practical, more instrumental areas of education and study with more quantitative deliverables of jobs and careers. And the old arguments that the humanities and arts are “good” for you or even the overwhelming evidence that arts and creative communities deliver measuable economic benefits are no longer adequate. These arguments are reactive and reduce what we do to the adjunctive and peripheral, where we cede the terms of the debate.
So what do we do in a context that can only relate to cultural production in terms of the liberal economic model? What are the counter narratives that lead us away from the place of hand wringing and learned helplessness passively awaiting our eventual destruction?
We must reassert the humanities as the space of speculation and imagination that is at the center of human experience and the creation of culture. Art is where cultures and communities work things out, where we come to terms with the unfamiliar and rexamine the familiar; we are the canary in coal mine and we hold our own string, we help define, create and then transgress the boundaries of the normative. We propose frameworks for discernment, we cultivate the value of small and subtle differences, we consider from more than a single perspective, we look closely, we see through ideologies of stark difference. We explore shifting criteria, ideally we teach our students how to construct their own, we help create the capacity for sound judgement, to understand the contingent nature of such judgements, to be comfortable with uncertainty.
A neuroscience colleague at my University put it this way: during a conversation with a group of faculty, one remarked on recent work in his field that seemed to promise, one day, that all of our feelings, emotions and sensations could be reduced to series of well understood electrochemical interactions, the merely mechanical. He replied that in the unlikely event that ever came to pass, we would still have to figure what to do about it, we would still have to decide what it would mean.
Ideological Attempts to proscibe what can and can’t be taught, even those based in good intentions like trigger warnings, put that process in jeopardy.
Very few of us, I suspect, want to deliberately or inadvertantly hurt our students but, as the survey response show, most of us want to challenge them, to provide spaces in which they confront the unfamiliar.
The idea of “safe” space has been transformed so far that the educational mission itself becomes framed as “unsafe.” I write this as a woman who works on difficult material by marginalized groups. I understand discursive inequality and the ways that texts can be experienced as deeply personal. But the “safe” idea has itself become quite dangerous, I think. A student this fall put it best: “I don’t want a safe space to protect me from the world; I want to develop tools to change the world.”
Conceptual art example.
Derived from the context shifting ready-mades of Duchamp, conceptual artists assert that the un-embodied idea alone can be a work of art. As a consequence, anything or nothing can be a work of art. Such realizations can require a wrenching shift in ones entire worldview. One day the cup and saucer on your breakfast table have clear and certain utility and meaning, the next you cannot be so sure, things slide back and forth losing and gaining defining qualities. Imagine your world-view as a completed puzzle, where the many variegated pieces fit neatly into a coherent bounded image. Changing the shape or orientation of one piece, your definition and understanding of what is and isn’t art for example, means that many—maybe even all—the other pieces must be rethought, reshaped and replaced to restore coherence, to reestablish a consistent, workable world-view.
One can understand then where the resistance and rejection of conceptual art’s challenge originates. I do not expect students to necessarily share my reading of art, I do not proselytize, but I do expect that their rejection or acceptance of this mode of art practice be based on an engagement with it, not merely because it doesn’t “fit” their current understanding.
Art often provokes emotional responses ahead of intellectual ones, students—and fellow faulty—are often offended by the challenges presented by the avant-garde, morally outraged.
Conceptual art happened, it cannot be unhappened.
How can we teach such things as war, homophobia, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and violence if we cannot expect students to read such texts or material? How can we educate students about such violence (and thus hope to end such violence) if students refuse to engage with it in the classroom? And what about students who might refuse material that is contrary to other belief systems? For example, might fundamentalist students (of any religion or political philosophy) refuse to read books on sexuality, feminism, or women? In a word, trigger warnings feel like a reasonable issue in terms of supporting student survivors of sexual violence. But what about other kinds of censorship? And painfully, it is the very students who ask for trigger warnings (often open-minded, progressive, well-meaning, feminist students) who dont understand that their feminist request sounds like a conservative one for many progressive teachers.
The appealing dangers of certainty, fanning the conflagration of fear and anxiety.
I have had my share of trauma, but I am not sure if the best way of coping is to have yet another paternalistic/maternalistic authority figure interfering with what may be a trigger or not. Let me be the judge.
I would be very wary of any policy that required instructors to provide trigger warnings, because essentially that would mean the University was regulating certain kinds of speech/imagery and denoting it as deviant or disturbing.
I have colleagues whose experience with students sensitized by such warnings, prepped for PTSD I would say, serves as appalling evidence of the manipulation of young women into self-conscious victim positions and the closing down of discourse. As a life-long feminist and survivor of kidnap and gang-rape myself, who has helped many others cope with the aftermath, I have no evidence that trigger warnings lead to anything but the cultivation of a posture of fear. And the damage to freedom of speech–and simply to education, particularly feminist education—is incalculable.
The shift from Political Correct to Individual Correctness, any one persons trauma is by definition, the greatest of traumas. The right to never be offended.
The “trigger warning”, which forces teachers to change their teaching plans based on calculations about what topics might hurt students’ feelings or make them feel “unsafe”, forces teachers into the work of affirming the narcissism of many privileged students. It also buys into the notion that learning, study and education is a consumer experience, and that the consumers (the students) get to decide whether they like the goods on offer.
How can one predict what experiences students bring so that one can provide the correct warnings? What may seem totally innocent to the faculty member may trigger a reaction from a student. It’s almost as if faculty now have to adapt each course to the number of students enrolled: independent studies would be a more accurate description of a course if accommodations have to be made for everyone.
As someone who teaches predominantly non-white literature that often times critiques white privilege, comments by white students regarding this course material seems to miss the actual point regarding trigger warnings—it refuses to acknowledge (and actually desires to protect) the very privilege that many of the texts critique.
Ideology, like theory, bends and twists all available material into the pursuit of its own agenda, and casts out the rest. Its uses are by definition limited.
We seem to be in a golden age of passive aggression, whereby the speech of others can be controlled or stopped if one feels ‘uncomfortable.’
PTSD is real, accomodations can be made as they already are for other conditions that impact a students participation, performance and evaluation.
I feel that students should assume agency and talk to their professors about any personal needs. To offer blanket trigger warnings sends the message that some triggers are more important than others. I don’t believe it is pedagogically useful to sanitize spaces of learning of anything that could cause discomfort. The “real” world does not come with trigger warnings.
Trigger warnings was the topic addressed on a panel—organized by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), the Modern Language Association (MLA), and CAA—that took place at the one hundredth anniversary conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in Washington, DC, on Friday, June 12, 2015. Joan Bertin, executive director of NCAC, led a group of speakers that included Shaden Tageldin, professor of cultural studies at the University of Minnesota and chair of the MLA’s Women’s Committee, Anita Levy of AAUP, and DeWitt Godfrey, professor of art and art history at Colgate University and CAA president.
Faculty at several universities, including Wellesley College and the University of California, Santa Barbara, have adopted procedures to warn students, on syllabi, of disturbing topics that could trigger posttraumatic stress disorder or other strong reactions to subjects that will be presented in class. Students who may be affected are allowed to miss the class in which the identified work is discussed.
CAA and MLA prepared an informal survey in preparation for this panel and sent it to all members. Bertin summarized the results in her introduction. The survey found that less than 1 percent of the respondents’ institutions have adopted a policy on trigger warnings. However, 23 percent of faculty report that they have voluntarily provided warnings several times or regularly. Student-initiated efforts have instituted trigger warnings represent 7.5 percent. Fifteen percent of faculty indicated that students in their classes have requested warnings in the course they teach. Roughly 12 percent of respondents report that students have complained, either to the instructor or to administrators, about the failure to provide warnings. And 45 percent of respondents who have had first-hand experience with trigger warnings see it as a real threat to academic freedom. Many respondents added comments to the survey regarding their approaches, policies, concerns, and questions about trigger warnings. The panel will be reviewing them and preparing a document that summarizes them to assist other faculty in approaching this issue with their students and administrators.
Godfrey believes that trigger warnings are a form of self-censorship that induces doubt, fear, and intimidation in students as well as faculty. He called on faculty to reassert the humanities as a space of speculation and imagination at the center of human experience and to help students confront the unfamiliar in order to change it. “Art is where cultures and communities work things out,” Godfrey said, “where we come to terms with the unfamiliar and reexamine the familiar.” He sees a shift from the “politically correct” to “individual correctness,” where any one person’s trauma is, by definition, the greatest trauma. The individual now is asserting a right never to be offended or challenged intellectually. This shuts the door on exploration and discussion. There is also a chilling effect on faculty who are increasingly subject to administrative, student, and parental criticism and evaluation. Trigger warnings grew out of the feminist concern for the status of women on campus, but the result is that they find themselves in a place that can be identified as that of the political right. (CAA has published the text of Godfrey’s presentation.)
Tagilden indicated that trigger warnings grew out of the feminist concern for the status of women related to the trauma of rape, and that there should be a clear differentiation between mediated reality and reality in the classroom, so that students can move beyond their own limitations and find outlets and language to deal with traumas instead of normalizing victim appropriation. If students opt out of classes with difficult material, it automatically places the personal on a political plane.
What is the cause of this interest in protecting students from topics that may be difficult or traumatizing to address? Some in the audience saw it as coddling students for fear of criticism being levied on faculty. Some saw it as a question of race and class privilege. Students who have lived protected lives determine the need for treatment of all students. Others see it as a new generation of students isolated and unable to handle personal interaction as described in Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.
The panel will be reviewing all the comments from respondents to the CAA/MLA survey to cull the most useful approaches that were recommended from the field to address the issue of trigger warnings. These recommendations will be posted by NCAC, CAA, and MLA in the near future.