No matter what classes one is in, it’s common to hear sensitive topics discussed and subjects that may be triggering brought up. This is completely normal, and it’s beneficial for students to become better educated about the issues that affect ourselves and the people around us.
Sometimes tough topics can be lectured about in class, a video demonstration is shown, or a guest speaker is brought in to present. All of these ways of presentation are typically well-intended—the issue lies not in difficult subjects being covered, but in them being brought up without warning.
If a complex topic like domestic abuse, eating disorders or suicide is discussed in depth within a course, the students deserve to know ahead of time that the topic is being covered.
Professors often address the fact that a topic can be difficult, but it’s not enough to say this the same day in class that a student can leave if they are having a hard time or feel uncomfortable.
If anything, this would make a student feel even more uncomfortable and less likely to leave the class. Instead, professors should give students a warning the class in advance and give them reasonable alternative ways to earn credit if they are triggered or made uncomfortable by certain topics.
A large part of this is because professors don’t know what students are struggling with, or what their families and friends are struggling with personally. Even if a student is not suffering from the topic being brought up, there is a good chance that one of their loved ones has, which can also be difficult to deal with. Dark topics like mental health issues or assault can even be triggering for students not related in any way to these topics.
Students who are triggered by certain topics often aren’t opposed to learning more about them, they just feel uncomfortable in a public setting surrounded by other students. The provision of alternative ways to receive credit could help students that are triggered by certain material.
Additionally, dark topics, when discussed in classes, should be taken seriously. Although it is well-intentioned, it’s common for professors to share a funny video or story during a lecture about something serious to lighten the mood, but moments like this can cause students to believe the topic isn’t as big a deal as it really is, and that the professor doesn’t take it seriously. When a tough topic is discussed, it doesn’t need to be dramatized or exaggerated, but the facts and information pertaining to it should be stated directly and clearly.
The issue is not the lecturing on or discussion of difficult subjects—these are often part of course material and should be brought up for students to be informed. The issue is that when these subjects are brought up without warning, students can be triggered and made to feel uncomfortable. Discussing sensitive topics empathetically and with caution is the key for students to be educated without being caught off guard.