Student newspapers join “trigger warning” trend

Some Canadian student papers are using content warning to advise readers of graphic content

Whether to preface stories with “trigger warnings” is an editorial decision some student papers are making, but there is no consensus.

The debate about “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” at post-secondary institutions was revived Thursday when Carleton University student paper The Charlatan reported the athletic department removed scales from the gym, and student newspapers are not immune from this discussion. At the time of publication, Langara College’s The Voice and The University of Victoria’s The Martlet do not use content warnings, but UBC’s The Ubyssey does.

The Charlatan editor Nadine Yousif said while her paper does not have a policy on content warnings, they use them on a case-by-case basis. The paper’s story about “sugar babies” published last month is one example.

“We had a student that spoke anonymously about their encounter with sexual assault and they spoke in some detail,” Yousif said. “If someone were to read that it may trigger something that has happened to them.”

According to editor Tristan Jonston, Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s The Runner also uses content warnings.

“At the Runner, we understand that we need to report on serious issues such as these, even though they can be very distressing for some readers. In the same sense that television news will warn viewers of graphic imagery, we choose to do the same with text,” Johnston said in an email.

But UBC sociology professor Neil Guppy said he thinks post-secondary education should prepare students to deal with difficult scenarios, not shield them from them.

“Universities ought to be making people safe for debate, as opposed to making students feel safe,” Guppy said. “We want to be able to allow people to engage in and grapple with sensitive, difficult topics, and prepare them for all kinds of debates that re going to have to happen.”

Guppy added, however, that he would like to see more awareness about issues others face that the general public is not familiar with.

“We want to be able to get people sensitive to the issues that might trigger other people,” he said. “It’s a sense of using that diversity in a positive way to give everybody sensitive and aware to the fact that everybody isn’t like us, and we have to be aware and alert to those other issues.”