Warning – trauma could result from this failure to warn

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Warning – the following blog post may upset you and cause you mental pain and a host of other issues….

There’s a new kid in town and he is coming to a classroom near you soon.  Most of us have heard of the failure-to-warn doctrine as they relate to negligence and strict liability claims and that’s typically where the conversation stops.  Today, the Daily Breeze reported on the University of California, Santa Barbara’s take on a new class of failure-to-warn; the trauma warning.

Trauma warnings have long been the rage on graphic, pornographic and even abusive web content.  You have probably seen hundreds of them without realizing what you were really looking at was a form of defense against failure-to-warn claims.  The concept is straight forward – make sure that your web users know what they are getting themselves into when they click that button.  Who would have thought that ivory towers across the United States would need to warn students before going over touchy subjects – well the U.C. Santa Barbara’s student government did.

Recently, the U.C. Santa Barbara student government endorsed a policy (Resolution to Mandate Warnings for Triggering Content in Academic Settings” to provide trauma warnings to students either verbally or in writing  prior to a professor showing or talking about content that may trigger an emotional response.  The resolution is designed to protect students who may have just gone thru serious life issues such as, rape, loss of a loved one, cancer and the like.  Many professors are calling this trigger warning ridiculous and even “silly.”  While it may be difficult to administer and implement, the bottom line is that a little bit of sensitivity may go a very long way.  Just as America’s joke tellers have learned to deal with offense jokes by asking those around them if they want to hear it first, we will also come to realize that people deal with horrific life experiences on a daily basis and saying something to the effect of “now, I am going to show you some graphic content, if you would rather not see it you may step outside” is not all that bad.

The bigger issue is knowing the content that you are going to use in the classroom.  Schools and colleges should review the content that they utilize in their classrooms and if something is a little too graphic, then ask yourself, could this trigger a painful moment for one of my students  – if so, consider giving a trauma warning.

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