College Prof: Sexual Assault Offends Too Many Students To Teach About It

by Blake Neff

A professor at Ithaca College in New York says she no longer teaches about sexual assault during an otherwise-relevant course because too many students were triggered by it.

Rebecca Plante is a professor in the school’s sociology department, and teaches a class titled Sociology of Sexualities. Sexual violence seems like it would be a major topic in a course about sex, but Plante told The Ithican it eventually became too fraught a topic to include.

“I had no way of knowing who in my class maybe had survived rape, had been subjected to some kind of sexual assault, who maybe had been subjected to something they had forgotten about,” she said.

Initially, Plante offered oral trigger warnings for the sexual assault portions of the class, but she was eventually overwhelmed by the number of students who requested exemption from their coursework on the grounds that it would prove too traumatic for them. Five years ago, she says she stopped covering sexual violence entirely because it was “almost impossible” to accommodate all the requests she was receiving.

Tiffani Ziemann, Ithaca’s Title IX coordinator, argued that trigger warnings are nevertheless a good thing for the school.

“I think when they are used well, it actually creates the opportunity for people to be more engaged and conversationed [sic] and feel more comfortable, because they know what they’re getting into,” she told The Ithican.

Plante’s experience is similar to that of some law professors. In 2014, Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk complained that professors were feeling pressured to avoid the subject of rape law because so many students complained it was triggering.

In a recent NPR survey, about half of all professors surveyed said they have used some kind of trigger warning in their classrooms.

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