In Assistant Professor Emily Knox's information policy course (IS 590IP), one of the assignments involves reading about workers in developing countries whose job is to censor objectionable photos posted on social media. The article includes graphic descriptions of some of the photos. Is a trigger warning warranted before assigning the reading to the class?
The use of trigger warnings in college and university classrooms has been a subject of heated debate in recent years. The question of whether an instructor should alert his or her students to the fact that a piece of material they will be reading or viewing in class could be potentially distressing is complex.
Knox takes a comprehensive look at trigger warnings in her edited book, Trigger Warnings: History, Theory, Context, which was recently published by Rowman & Littlefield. The book provides the historical context and theory behind trigger warnings as well as case studies from instructors and students describing when trigger warnings were and were not used.
"Trigger Warnings is a nuanced look at the background and practice of the hot academic intellectual freedom topic of the day," said James LaRue (MS '81), director of the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom. "The contributors don't always agree with each other, but they do provide a thoughtful introduction to the concerns—and the classroom reality—of a shift to a more student-centered and consciously inclusive educational style."
"Controversies over trigger warnings have been percolating in academia for quite some time, but there has not been a comprehensive, scholarly overview of their history and use in the classroom," explained Knox. "My goal was to present a wide range of analyses and cases studies in the book, and my research in intellectual freedom and contemporary reading practices helped me approach the topic with a nuanced point of view. Ultimately I believe that trigger warnings are about relationships, and I do give a 'heads up' before the Wired article mentioned above because I think it is a good practice and helps to maintain a caring and respectful classroom atmosphere with my students."
Knox joined the iSchool faculty in 2012. Her research interests include intellectual freedom and censorship, the intersection of print culture and reading practices, and information ethics and policy. Her book, Book Banning in 21st-Century America, which addresses challenges to materials in public libraries and schools, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2015. In 2016 she was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Knox received her PhD from the doctoral program at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, and she earned her master's in library and information science from the iSchool at Illinois.