Throughout the Anglo-American world universities have drawn up protocols warning of exposing students to “sensitive subjects”. Astonishingly, the university is now subject to practices that demand levels of conformism historically associated with narrow-minded, illiberal institutions. The terms “sensitive subject” or “challenging subject” are used by administrators to designate a class of topics portrayed as a risk to students’ wellbeing.
Take the statement on the use of sensitive material produced by the University of Newcastle’s school of English literature, language and linguistics. It assumes that since topics that depict “distressing life events and situations” require special handling, teachers should help students “prepare themselves to study challenging material”.