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Political Correctness gone Normal

REBECCA BEET discusses the controversy surrounding content warnings on University of Chester reading lists

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 7 days, then it’s more than likely that you will have heard the controversy surrounding University of Chester lecturers providing a duty of care for their students.

What happened?

News broke recently that the English Department at Chester opted to include content warnings on their Level 4 (first year) reading lists, including the first instalment of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

A spokesperson defended the department’s actions, explaining that they provided content warnings because the books read on the module could result in “difficult conversations about gender, race, sexuality, class, and identity”.

What does this mean?

A Daily Mail report was quick to emphasise Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as a “children’s book”.

According to the Daily Mail, Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen claims that the university is “seeking to rob [children] of that resilience with ridiculous trigger warnings”. Seemingly, Bridgen is arguing that warning students of a potential for harm, whether emotional or otherwise, is preventing them from being able to build resilience.

Do content warnings actually prevent students – and other readers – from experiencing the book to its full potential? Students are still reading, discussing, and analysing the books in a great level of detail, which is where potential for discussion about triggering topics like race and sexuality may arise. Is providing a content warning in a professional setting much different from content warnings at the beginning of films alerting viewers to the presence of graphic violence, flashing images, and sexual scenes?

Public response

One commenter boldly claimed that “[t]his is a University not Kindergarten. If you can’t take having your ideas challenged, what are you doing here?” Is it true that providing content warnings prevents in-depth discussion and debate? It seems that one reason for providing content warnings is because there is precisely that, an opportunity to discuss topics like gender, race, and sexuality in a professional academic setting.

This Morning host Alison Hammond claimed “[y]ou do have to watch what you say to these teenagers now. They are on it like a car bonnet!”

Twitter users also jumped on the bandwagon, with one person claiming that “[i]f students can’t handle reading a book – any book – then they are not ready to be an adult”.

It seems that the main cause of tension amongst Tweeters and commenters is the misinterpretation that the English Department are claiming students should be weary when reading the content of the Young Adult book. It should be emphasised, however, that the content warning stems more from the issues that may be discussed when analysing the novels in an academic and systematic way.

Do you agree with the department that content warnings are important in academic settings? If you have any opinions on the topic, leave a comment below or tweet us at @CELLMATES3.


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