Yesterday, California’s Crafton Hills College (CHC) chose to support academic freedom in deciding not to include a trigger warning on an English class syllabus. FIRE hopes CHC’s quick and forthright response to criticism from FIRE and a coalition of groups including the National Coalition Against Censorship sets an example for other schools considering the use of similar disclaimers.
The resolution comes after student Tara Shultz complained that material used in Professor Ryan Bartlett’s English course on graphic novels—including Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll’s House—was “garbage” and sought to have it censored for containing profanity, violence, and sex. Bartlett originally agreed to include the warning, but as CHC informs FIRE, he has since reconsidered.
In a letter to FIRE yesterday, President Cheryl A. Marshall agreed trigger warnings pose a serious threat to free expression on campus and vowed the school would not include disclaimers in its courses:
Upon further reflection, we have all agreed that including a disclaimer on any course syllabus is not a solution. As you stated, it sets an unhealthy precedent and does not encourage free expression of views and speech, particularly in an educational institution. We strive to equip our students with the critical thinking skills to reason through difficult issues that challenge their values and beliefs. I’m proud of our faculty for creating an open learning environment that supports freedom of inquiry and expression.
Marshall told the Redlands Daily Facts that CHC encourages students “to learn, grow, and share their views with others who are [there] to be academically challenged,” and that trigger warnings are inconsistent with that mission.
With our more than 15 years fighting for free speech and academic freedom, we can tell you from experience how rare it is to see a college so forthrightly change course like CHC has done. We commend the college for its handling of this controversy, and for using it as an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to academic freedom.