Empathy is the core of Parker Palmer’s “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited.” Empathy is a difficult thing to teach. It is far easier to model. But it is difficult to be explicit about how we approach our students and their emotions, which are as complex as any other human’s. Parker writes, “We must take out students’ emotions as seriously as we take their intellects.” This begins before classes even start.
When we compose our syllabus, we consider our students intelligent enough to wade through and understand the document, giving them an overview of what their intellects will encounter in the course. What we don’t consider, though, is how they’ll feel about the material. This. Is why some professors are including a trigger warning in a syllabus.
The “trigger warning” alerts students to potentially troubling topics the course approaches. It gives the students opportunity to prepare themselves for those situations. The students thus have responsibility to follow the syllabus and prepare themselves in advance.
The author of the above (linked) essay says that the trigger warning does not change the way he teaches the class. I argue that, though he may be right, it certainly changes the ways students receive the class. They now see a professor who is concerned for his students, who cares for the links between intellect and emotion, and who values both.