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YUSU Elections – The Presidential Candidates on Course Content and Student Welfare

The purpose of university – one would, at least, assume – is primarily educational; this is facilitated through academic courses and modules. That being the case, the contents of modules would seem to be a key driving factor behind the success of a person’s time at York. However, what should happen when a conflict is created – through, for example, the use of subject matter or material that is potentially triggering for some students – between the academic and the personal? York Liberty asked the YUSU Presidential candidates, all potential future occupants of the Open-plan-and-slightly-diagonal Office, for their comments.

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Under what circumstances should the contents, or presentation, of courses be changed in the interests of student welfare?

Millie Beach – “One of the reasons that York is continually successful academically is because of the breadth and challenging nature of university courses. Therefore, I believe that the contents of courses should not be reduced to protect student welfare. However, there should be a more developed system in place for allowing students to discuss issues with seminar tutors and lecturers, in order for academic staff to make allowances for them.”

“Despite this, I think the university can always consider ways to develop the breadth and diversity of a course to be more inclusive, and would work to encourage this if I were president.”

Ciaran Morrissey – “I don’t think the contents or presentation of courses should be changed in the interest of student welfare unless the course is compulsory and there is medical evidence that studying it in its current form causes tangible detrimental effects to student mental health. In all other cases, I believe it should be up to the lecturers and lecturers alone. However, I would support efforts to signpost or offer content warnings on module sign-up forms, so that students can make an informed decision as to the modules they will study. This allows students to avoid courses that they know may have particularly triggering elements, while allowing lecturers to maintain full discretion over the modules that they teach. Other than that, student welfare is not enhanced by sheltering or bowdlerisation.”

“University is a place to face and examine the world in its raw, ugly detail, and to take measures to oppose this is to risk compromising academic freedom.”

Habib Nassar – “The academic content of a course should reflect the reality of the scholarly field of that subject, and at times this will inevitably involve some material that can be considered to pose a threat to student welfare. Therefore the priority in protecting the interests of student welfare should be in the presentation of the course. As with debate on campus, there is a place for trigger and content warnings where the content of a course is not explicit in the module title and description already. Also, with regard to the inclusion of views that are offensive, what is important is that these are not falsely presented as the only view. This might mean, for example, including contents of a course to include a greater range of sources.”

JJ Wilson – “When it actively and heinously offends students on the course to the point where the material can be deemed unsuitable.”

Oliver Wilson – “The University has existing rigorous and thorough procedure for vetting and assessing the academic content of courses and modules. It’s important that module convenors and students feel as though they are able to include all the relevant information in a course. I foresee no realistic situation in which the contents of a course could significantly negatively impact student welfare. However, as a representative of students to the University, I’d be happy to resolve any conflict should one arise.”

Ananna Zaman – “If the content of the course is triggering to individuals who might suffer from anxiety or PTSD to the point where they are unable to focus and engage with their studies there should be warnings.”

“It’s courteous of academia to take into account the individual needs of students who pay 27 grand odd to be educated here.”