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

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By Katie King on

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.”

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

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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