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19 Fulton Street, Suite 407

New York, NY 10038

Joan E. Bertin
Executive Director

tel: (212) 807-6222

fax: (212) 807-6245

Actors Equity Association
American Association of
School Administrators
American Association of
University Professors
American Association of
University Women
American Booksellers
for Free Expression


American Civil Liberties Union

American Ethical Union
American Federation of Teachers

June 29, 2015

President Cheryl A. Marshall

Crafton Hills College
Office of the President
11711 Sand Canyon Road
Yucaipa, California 92399

By electronic mail:

Dear President Marshall,

We are aware of the complaint from one of your students, 20-year-old Tara Shultz,
who sought the removal of four books[1] assigned in a course on graphic novels.
While we applaud your decision to retain the books, we are troubled by reports that
the college is considering Shultzs other demand: That this course, and perhaps
others, carry some kind of warning about the content she finds objectionable.

Shultz objected specifically to violent and sexual content, saying that she expected
Batman and Robin, not pornography. She reportedly felt that her tuition money was
being wasted on something that is pornographic and contains pedophilia and
contains rape jokes and murder and absolutely horrible, graphic violence.

These are highly acclaimed works of indisputable educational value. Indeed, the
college would be remiss in failing to include some or all of these works in such a
course. Their selection does credit to the college and the instructor.

While we are not aware of the precise language of any proposed warning (referred to
in press reports as a disclaimer), we are concerned about all such warnings because
we believe they pose a significant threat to the methods and goals of higher

The American Association of University Professors Committee A on Academic

Freedom and Tenure has considered the issue of trigger warnings at some length and
concluded that they are inimical to the academic setting. (The full statement, issued
in August 2014, can be accessed at

American Jewish Committee

American Library Association
American Literary Translators
American Orthopsychiatric Association
American Society of Journalists
& Authors
Americans United for Separation of
Church & State
Association of American Publishers
Authors Guild
Catholics for Choice
Childrens Literature Association
College Art Association
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
The Creative Coalition
Directors Guild of America
Dramatists Guild of America
Dramatists Legal Defense Fund
Educational Book & Media Association
First Amendment Lawyers Association
International Reading Association
Lambda Legal
Modern Language Association
National Center for Science Education
National Communication Association
National Council for the Social Studies
National Council of Churches
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of Teachers of English
National Education Association
National Youth Rights Association
The Newspaper Guild/CWA
PEN American Center
People For the American Way
Planned Parenthood Federation
of America
Project Censored
Sexuality Information & Education
Council of the U.S.
Society of Childrens Book Writers
& Illustrators
Student Press Law Center
Union for Reform Judaism
Union of Democratic Intellectuals
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ
Office of Communication
United Methodist Church
United Methodist Communications
Womens American ORT

[1] The books targeted are Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Dolls House by Neil
Gaiman, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1 by Brian Vaughan.

Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance

Writers Guild of America, East
Writers Guild of America, West

Trigger warnings threaten not just academic freedom, but also the quality of education students

- A great deal of valuable educational material contains content that students might
find upsetting or objectionable. For example, a now-tabled proposal at Oberlin College
identified racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more as
potentially triggering content, and used Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart, a critically
acclaimed novel about colonialism set in Nigeria read by students around the world, as an
example of the kind of book that should be removed from curricula if it does not contribute
directly to the course learning goals.

- Trigger warnings take content out of context and focus attention on certain select
elements of a text. The result leads to a distorted reading of texts. For example, as the
Statement notes, if The House of Mirth or Anna Kareninacarried a warning about suicide,
students might overlook the other questions about wealth, love, deception, and existential
anxiety that are what those books are actually about.

- Fear of causing offense or distress will inhibit not only the choice of material assigned
by instructors books like Things Fall Apart but will also chill classroom discussion by
students, who may fear to raise questions that might make others uncomfortable.

- Suppressing, avoiding, or discouraging engagement with sensitive content is contrary

to the core mission of higher education, which is supposed to challenge students beliefs,
make them question preconceptions and received wisdom, and teach intellectual rigor. By
definition it requires students to tolerate some discomfort; any effort to avoid that will
inevitably come at the expense of their education.[2]

Even a voluntary warning issued in response to this complaint would be ill-advised. Acceding to one
students request for warnings will invariably invite other objections to the same content in other
courses, or to other kinds of content, as well as create an expectation that the college will also accede to
their requests. What may appear as a voluntary accommodation by one instructor to address the
demands of one student could quickly become the expected norm for many other courses.

Many instructors describe their classes in significant detail, so that students have a clear idea of the
course of study and specific assignments. This is simply good pedagogy. Any student who has
questions or concerns about course content, or who objects to or disputes the value of assigned texts,
can always raise issues with the instructor. In our experience, most instructors are willing, even eager,
to address concerns of individual students in order to enhance the students educational experience.

There is no question that students who have a diagnosed medical or psychiatric condition should be
accommodated appropriately, and schools should have procedures in place for this purpose. In
contrast, students who seek exemptions and exceptions to course requirements for other reasons are
normally required to bring their requests directly to the professor, who has the discretion to grant or
deny them. These are necessarily handled on an individual basis a student who is chronically late
turning in required work may not be granted an extension, while one who has just experienced a
death in the family would. This provides a useful guideline for dealing with requests like Tara

We strongly urge the college not to set a dangerous precedent by adopting a general warning or
[2] The concerns expressed in the AAUP statement have been echoed by many professors who believe that trigger
warnings negatively affect academic freedom and classroom dynamics.

disclaimer for this or any other course, but to leave the question of students sensitivities and preferences
to be addressed on a case by case basis in discussions between individual students and faculty. This
approach would defer to the professional judgment of the faculty with regard to the selection of
educational materials, recognize the collective interest of the entire community in academic freedom, and
respect the agency of adult students who are, after all, getting an education to help prepare for life in a
world that doesnt come with warnings.


Joan BertinHenry Reichman

Executive DirectorFirst Vice-President
National Coalition Against CensorshipChair, Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure
American Association of University Professors

Charles BrownsteinMillie Davis

Executive DirectorSenior Developer
Comic Book Legal Defense FundAffiliate Groups and Public Outreach
National Council of Teachers of English

Chris FinanKarin Deutsch Karlekar, Ph.D.

PresidentDirector, Free Expression Programs
American Booksellers for Free Expression PEN American Center

Judy Platt
Free Expression Advocacy
Association of American Publishers