A University of Connecticut student is attempting to get the university’s professors to implement trigger warnings prior to lessons or videos that may be hard for some students to be a part of.
Monique Mazaika, a seventh-semester dietetics major, wrote a letter to the UConn Academic Board this Sept., requesting the advancement of trigger warnings in lectures.
Mazaika said her goal with this idea is to enhance UConn’s mental health services for students.
“UConn has publicly promoted mental health through statements from past presidents and by offering a variety of services,” Mazaika wrote in her letter, “I have identified an additional opportunity to further support the mental health of all students and faculty that I know you will appreciate: it’s a policy for trigger warnings.”
Mazaika was persuaded to write the letter when she herself was affected in a lecture by the abruptness of sensitive topics being discussed.
“I knew I had to write this letter when I was sitting in a lecture and my professor brought up six sensitive topics, many of which were triggering to me, without warning in just one class period. I was shocked. So shocked, in fact, that I couldn’t pay attention to the rest of the lecture,” Mazaika said.
Mazaika made it clear that the intention behind trigger warnings is not to prevent certain topics from being discussed in classes.
“My intention is not to ban certain topics from being discussed, but to enhance the safety of the learning environment for each individual student by notifying him, her or them in advance of potentially triggering topics that may be discussed in a course,” Mazaika wrote.
In order to gain support and attention from other students, Mazaika sent a message to UConn’s Active Minds Club GroupMe, asking for help from anyone who was interested in supporting her idea.
Ryan Stansberry, a first-semester business undecided major, helped Mazaika do research to include in her letter.
“I have struggled with mental health in the past and present. I also have an interest in writing, so I thought I would be able to provide quality information to the letter,” Stansberry said. “From personal experience, bringing up past traumas can make class time miserable. It is remarkably easy to zone out and miss an entire lecture, and sometimes it feels as if you might completely lose control of your emotions.”
Stansberry felt passionate that trigger warnings could positively affect enough students to make a difference in how students enjoy their classes.
“Trigger warnings can help vulnerable students with their healing and recovery processes by making them as smooth as humanly possible,” Stansberry said.
While Mazaika and her fellow supporters have tried to remain hopeful in creating permanent change at UConn, some doubt has arisen as they wait for a response.
“I’m half-expecting the admin to send me an email saying they’ll look into it and never hear about it ever again. At the same time, they have expressed interest in improving the student experience before. I’m hoping the endorsements from student organizations will get their attention and inspire change,” Mazaika said.
Students have positively reacted to the trigger warning letter and the intentions behind it.
Abbey Engler, a fifth-semester student double majoring in business management and philosophy, is part of UConn’s Diversability Club and noticed a positive response from its members regarding the letter.
“Diversability had a discussion about it at our meeting yesterday evening, and the letter received our unanimous support. Students shared stories about how this policy could have helped them in their classes,” Engler said. “There were even a few students that cared so deeply about it that they wanted to help Monique and I to further push for the policy’s implementation. This is something that is important to UConn students and takes very little time, money and effort on behalf of our faculty and administration.
With the letter, the students involved hope to create change for UConn students. The main goal of the letter is to get enough attention and support to create changes at the administrative level.
As Mazaika said, the goal of the letter is to help UConn students feel safer in classes and on the university’s campus.
“If we create this policy, we send the message that UConn is an institution that supports free and safe discourse that is inclusive of students with mental illnesses and trauma,” Engler said. “What better way is there to have discussions about triggering topics such as genocide, suicide, discrimination and abuse than to include those most affected by it? It just makes sense.”