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Survey: How should law academics teach rape, war crimes and other ‘hard subjects’?

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Value of trigger warnings and ‘cold calling’ under spotlight

As we move into what one Harvard law professor has termed “the age of trauma”, the methods law academics use to teach so-called hard subjects such as rape, discrimination, insanity and war crimes have been thrust into the spotlight.

We explored this at length in a recent Legal Cheek feature, which sparked a flurry of comments about the value of amending teaching style when dealing with more emotionally-challenging subjects. Now we’d like to hear from you in a survey that has been embedded below and that can also be completed by clicking this link.

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Amending one’s teaching style could, perhaps most obviously, involve giving a trigger warning before potentially offensive or upsetting content is taught. Or, it could involve teachers toning down what’s known as a Socratic style of teaching, which is just a fancy way of saying ‘picking on students for answers even if they don’t have their hands up’.

On the former, regular commenter Not Amused said that while trigger warnings were born out of good intentions, they’d been “hijacked by the narcissistic left”. Another said: “[R]eal life has no trigger warnings.”

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Others were more open to the concept. One anonymous commenter thought:

“A trigger warning needs to be no more than a list of the lecture topics. A student can then know what is being taught, in advance, and either prepare themselves for it or choose not to attend and, if needed, seek the support they need.”

As for the Socratic point, comments were similarly mixed. Though one said that “law is no place for snowflakes”, another urged tutors to be “sensitive” about this so-called ‘cold calling’ style of teaching. They continued:

“I fairly recently saw a guest lecturer pick on a female student and press her on a question despite her obvious, painful discomfort and increasing attempts by her companions to turn the question onto themselves. Lecturer persisted, student broke down and said that she’d been raped at 17 and had had to give evidence in court.”

Ultimately, and in the words of another commenter, this topic is a minefield of “a huge number of really difficult questions” — which we’d like you to have your say on. Should law tutors and lecturers use trigger warnings when teaching hard subjects? And: Should law tutors and lecturers cold call students when teaching hard subjects? Use the survey embed above to share your thoughts with you. If you are viewing this article on a mobile, you can take the survey here.

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8 Comments

Jones Day Partner

My lecturers gave demonstrations. I turned out ok.

Just Anonymous

If a student has a genuine, diagnosed mental health condition, then let them speak to their lecturer/supervisor in private. Good sense should prevail and reasonable adjustments should be made.

And if said adjustments aren’t made, then they probably have a legitimate complaint.

However, I agree with NA. This issue has been hijacked by narcissists who wish to exert control over what is taught in the classroom. My response is simple: no!

Anonymous

Again with the ‘picking on’. Students are selected to answer questions, not ‘picked on’. If a student thinks they are being ‘picked on’, then they either have a legitimate complaint against the lecturer, or they are in the wrong place.

Anonymous

‘Trigger warning’ oh my god, this snowflake generation really makes me wonder whether the human race needs a reset button

Anonymous

Someone who wishes to prepare before being reminded of a traumatic rape is a snowflake?

Anonymous

I agree that trigger warnings are superfluous. I imagine that simply making the list of topics available will allow those with concerns as to content to assess for themselves what to do (be it missing that session or seeking alternative academic assistance for that topic (e.g. rape) in a private setting.
“Trigger warning” almost heightens the sense of drama and could be counter productive. If you knew your lecture was on sexual offences im not sure what a red exclamation mark next to the words would really add. It would be better to simply have blanket advice given at the outset of the Course that anyone who wishes to privately ask for reasonable adjustment or support can do so.

Are you a snowflake if you are a victim of rape and you dont wish to sit and listen to various scenarios about rape? No! “Its law – get over it” is not an answer.

In relation to the socratic method – I do say get over it. It might be less appropriate for, say, rape/crime lectures but anything else there is no reason why you cant participate.

Anonymous

Where do you draw the line? I was glassed on a night out, ABH cannot be taught in a lecture without a trigger warning? A worm was in an apple I got from Tescos, Donoghue V Stephenson cannot be caught without a trigger warning?

Anonymous

For all those rallying against the ‘trigger warning’ requirement, I’m guessing they have nothing to be triggered about.

A trigger warning is a harmless requirement that allows traumatised individuals – refugees, rape victims, etc. – to mentally prepare themselves before being reminded of their potentially devastating past. Not to mention it takes a total of four seconds to say: ‘Trigger warning here: we will be discussing [insert topic].’

Stop being so insensitive. Someone who was raped or escaped a genocidal regime is not a snowflake.

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