Policies for Online-by-Design Courses: Sensitive Material

This blog post is part of a series to help you build an online course quickly. It is for people who are preparing to launch their third trimester in course that they thought would be F2F but will begin instead as an online course, those looking ahead to intensive May terms, and those who had planned to teach in person in the summer or fall but now find their F2F classes will be online. To follow along, begin by framing your course, selecting your materials, and choosing your assignments. We now shift to writing the policies for your syllabus? Why–given that writing your assignments is actually more important? Because, in a worst-case scenario, you can start a course without the assignments written, but you need to have your syllabus available to students BEFORE the first day of class so they see if it’s a good fit for them.

Below I’ve included the policy that I recommend for handling sensitive material. Feel free to use it if it is helpful.

College classes often include course content that is distressing to students. I believe that our distress is a signal to us that we care about a topic–which is appropriate. However, sometimes that distress can interfere with our ability to learn, so we need to manage it.

While I cannot predict everything that might distress every student, I have included notes alerting you to texts that include references to sexual violence, interpersonal violence and family violence, pornography, death and dying, child abuse, addiction, body dysmorphia, racism, homophobia, ableism, and war. [You will need to create your own list of areas of concern that are specific to your class.] I encourage you to refer to an online movie review site such as Common Sense media if you are concerned about encountering foul language, violence, or nudity in a film. Throughout, I have included rating information about the films we watch and indicated if I think it is inappropriate to view with children or teens.

If you anticipate that you are unable to engage these texts without distress that inhibits your learning, you may wish to consider enrolling in a different course. If, as we continue in the course, you discover that you are distressed more than you anticipated regarding the following films, you may choose to read the book listed below, which you will be responsible for locating, as an alternative and complete an alternative assignment based on that reading. Contact me prior to the due date to select the option as requests made after the assignment due date will not be granted. For all other assigned texts, you may choose not to read/watch and not to complete the related work but will be awarded a 0 for assignments related to it.

If you decide not to watch…       You may read…

The Masks You Live In                Boys will be Boys: Power, Patriarchy, and Toxic Masculinity

13th                                                The New Jim Crow

At times, your classmates may have strong responses to the texts we read. As they attend to their own emotions, be patient and kind with them, even if you don’t understand the source of their strong reaction.

Above, Weeping Woman by Picasso (1937). This woman appeared in his mural Guernica, a commentary on the Nazi bombing of that Spanish town in support of General Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Picasso later painted several paintings of her, and this is the final one.


If this post is helpful, you might like Content Alerts and Trigger Warnings in the Sociology of Sex.

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