For archaeology students, the opportunity to dig up important historical remains is an enticing prospect. But astonishingly, students at one of Britain’s leading universities have been given permission to walk out of classes if they find dealing with the past too traumatic. The move at University College London (UCL) is the latest example of controversial ‘trigger warnings’, where academics caution students about some potentially disturbing material.
The alerts are common at universities in the United States and are now growing in the UK, but critics have condemned them as ‘madness’. Students at UCL taking the archaeologies of modern conflict course have been told that they will encounter ‘historical events that may be disturbing, even traumatising’.
If they feel stressed, they can ‘step outside’ for the rest of the class ‘without penalty’, though they should catch up by copying the notes of another student. Lecturer Gabriel Moshenska, who co-ordinates the UCL course on how archaeology can help unearth the truth about 20th and 21st century conflicts, said some students had been in the Armed Forces and may have suffered psychological trauma.
He admitted no one had ever complained that they found one of his talks upsetting and said the alert was ‘precautionary’. In another example of trigger warnings, classics lecturer Elizabeth Gloyn alerted students at Royal Holloway, University of London, before a lecture on Roman poet Ovid, saying some of his works described ‘domestic violence and other nasty things’.
Former Government adviser Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign For Real Education, said: ‘This is, in a sense, health and safety going mad again. We are back to an overprotective nanny state. ‘If you sign up for a course on the archaeology of battlefields or the poems of Ovid, you should know what you are going to get.’