But my experience at Harvard over the past couple of years tells me that the environment for teaching rape law and other subjects involving gender and violence is changing. Students seem more anxious about classroom discussion, and about approaching the law of sexual violence in particular, than they have ever been in my eight years as a law professor. Student organizations representing women’s interests now routinely advise students that they should not feel pressured to attend or participate in class sessions that focus on the law of sexual violence, and which might therefore be traumatic. These organizations also ask criminal-law teachers to warn their classes that the rape-law unit might “trigger” traumatic memories. Individual students often ask teachers not to include the law of rape on exams for fear that the material would cause them to perform less well. One teacher I know was recently asked by a student not to use the word “violate” in class—as in “Does this conduct violate the law?”—because the word was triggering. Some students have even suggested that rape law should not be taught because of its potential to cause distress.I wonder what will happen to my course on the Early Middle Ages when I have to stop talking about potentially traumatic stuff. I would have to leave out Roman treason trials, Barbarian conquests, human sacrifice, self-mortifying monks, Viking raids, epidemic disease, the rape of Boudicca's daughters, and drinking cups made from human skulls, just for starters. There won't be much left.
Monday, December 22, 2014
Fragile Law Students
Harvard Law professor Jeannie Suk reports that the young generation's fear of hearing unpleasant things is having an impact on how we teach law: