Posted on May 6, 2020

Oxford University Students Say Reading Lists Should Come with ‘Trigger Warnings’

Camilla Turner et al., Telegraph, May 3, 2020

Oxford University students have voted against “ableist, classist and misogynistic” reading lists, claiming that they should not be forced to engage with any “hateful material”.   Students should not be required to attend any lectures, tutorials or seminars, nor should they have to sit exams, which involve “hate speech” against a particular group, according to a new policy that the university’s student union has adopted.

The policy, called “Protection of Transgender, Non-binary, Disabled, Working Class, and Women Students from Hatred in University Contexts”, also says that academics should include “trigger warnings” at the top of reading lists to give advance notice of potentially distressing material.

The student union called on Oxford to publish guidance to faculties which asks them to consider whether the articles they put on reading lists “amount to hate speech”.

Oxford University’s current policies protect free speech as long as it is within the law. However, the student union passed a motion which argued that this does not go far enough to protect minority groups. The motion, proposed by Alex Illsley, co-chair of Oxford’s LGBTQ+ campaign, states that there are multiple examples of “ableist, transphobic, classist, and misogynistic content” included on reading lists. He cited an article advocating for a moral duty not to have disabled children, which was included on a medical law and ethics reading list, along with an article “advocating for the murder of disabled children after they have been born”.

The motion provoked a backlash among Oxford academics who said it is an attempt to censor free speech.

Richard Dawkins, the renowned evolutionary biologist and emeritus professor at Oxford, said  that students who do not understand what university is for should leave.  “So history students can’t read up on women’s suffrage, or the rise of Nazism or Apartheid, theology students can’t read Bible or Quran, philosophy students mustn’t read much of moral philosophy literature?” he wrote on Twitter.