French course ‘may be upsetting’, students told in trigger warning

·2 min read
The warning is included in a course guide for a module called Qualified French Language - Joakim Leroy/Getty Images Contributor
The warning is included in a course guide for a module called Qualified French Language - Joakim Leroy/Getty Images Contributor

French history and culture have been given a trigger warning in a university module because they “may be upsetting to some students”.

University of Aberdeen documents state that the warning is included in a course guide for a module called Qualified French Language, part of the French course.

“Potentially challenging topics” on the syllabus include language skills, literature, film, the Second World War, France’s colonial history and modern societal changes relating to migration and feminism.

Students are also told to expect discussion of the Francophonie, the near equivalent of the Commonwealth for French-speaking nations.

The “content warning” says: “Some of the course content (for instance the climate crisis, responses to terrorism, family relationships, post-colonial patterns which the themes of Francophonie and the diversity of France and French might bring up, homophobia…) may be upsetting to some students.”

‘Potentially challenging topics’

Undergraduates are told that “tutors have been briefed to approach potentially challenging topics sensitively, and you are encouraged to contact your tutor or course coordinator if you anticipate any difficulties during the oral class, or in connection to any task across this course”.

One module covered by the content warning covers “gender, sexuality and love and marginalisation in contemporary France”, along with shifts in French culture from the 18th century onwards.

The university documents add that “potentially challenging topics are engaged with across the course, from the texts to be understood or translated to the topics discussed in oral classes and videos studied”.

The French trigger warning is one of a number of cautionary notes issued by the university, and comes as part of a growing trend of providing advisories in order to safeguard students’ feelings.

Across academia, warnings have been issued for mediaeval Christian miracles and Dark Age epics such as Beowulf.

Enlightenment philosophers who have had a foundational influence on Western thought have also been reviewed and given content advisories related to their views on race.

‘It becomes almost like a quarantine’

There is growing concern among some academics about the widespread use of warnings, with Prof Frank Furedi, of the University of Kent, saying: “It is troubling that a line is drawn around things which arise in course material.

“It becomes almost like a quarantine, isolating phenomena like wars and conflict, and all those things which go into creating history and culture, because they are deemed a threat to the health of young people.

“The risk is that subjects become so anesthetised that they are about as interesting as a phonebook. Young people should be going to university to be challenged.”

The University of Aberdeen has been contacted for comment.