Writing materials

‘Trigger warning’ on Shakespeare’s writing? The Elite Russell group wants more than 1,000 texts removed

To protect students from “difficult” literature, universities added trigger warnings to more than 1,000 titles and began removing others from reading lists. According to a study, ten universities, including three from the prestigious Russell Group, removed or created optional texts in case they hurt undergraduates.

Affected texts include August Strindberg’s timeless play Miss Julie and Colson Whitehead’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Underground Railroad. Trigger warnings have been placed on the writings of authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare , Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie.

The Times made more than 300 freedom of information requests to 140 UK institutions over trigger warnings and the removal of text due to content issues.

A reading list for a course at the University of Essex has been “permanently removed” from The Underground Railroad due to its “graphic depiction of the violence and abuse of slavery”. However, a spokesperson stressed that the book was still accessible through the library and will continue to appear on future listings.

Additionally, Miss Julie was ‘permanently removed’ from an undergraduate literature course at the University of Sussex over her discussion of suicide. This decision was made in response to student complaints about the material’s possible “psychological” and “emotional” effects.

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The investigation found 1,081 cases of trip warnings on courses across the UK, including members of the Russell Group Warwick, Exeter and Glasgow.

Students studying 18th and early 19th century literature may choose not to read The Story of Mary Prince because it involves “racism, slavery and extreme violence”, according to the FOI response from the University of Exeter. A spokeswoman said they were “encouraged to contact the organizer to discuss alternatives”, but no one had yet.

(with agency contributions)