Glasgow archaeology students told to skip lectures if they’re triggered by the sight of bones

We all know about academic “trigger warnings”: advance advice to students that they may encounter things in a lecture or course that disturb them. I’m not opposed to such warnings in toto (I’d tell students, for example, if I were going to show gruesome photos or videos in class), but I don’t think that these warnings should allow students to avoid necessary course material, for exposure to a distressing but common situations is the way to get over it. Proper warnings allow students to prepare for things that they find disturbing.

Now, though, those triggering issues are said to include “bones”. As the Oct. 25 issue of The Times (UK) reports:

You may think that it comes with the territory, but archaeology students have been given permission to walk out of lectures if they feel they may be traumatised by the sight of skeletons.

Tony Pollard, a professor of conflict history at the University of Glasgow who co-presents the BBC TV series Two Men in a Trench, said that he issues “trigger warnings” before displaying images of human remains in lectures.

He dismissed suggestions that students were being mollycoddled and insisted that it would be irresponsible not to give individuals the chance to opt out of seeing graphic images.

. . . Writing in The Conversation journal, Professor Pollard said: “Some of the material I refer to in my classes is disturbing, with images of the dead appearing regularly.

“Students are a diverse group and some of them might have suffered domestic abuse, violent attack or trauma in war. In these cases, such exposure might trigger flashbacks or aggravate recently suppressed trauma.

“It is only common sense to provide these individuals, and those who just can’t stomach images of dead bodies in shallow graves, with the option to walk out of the classroom.”

Professor Pollard added that as a student he had been disturbed by graphic images from the First World War. “I think back to the mass graves of Australian soldiers buried by the Germans at Fromelles in 1916. Although the remains were skeletal they were still upsetting, with many of them exhibiting the trauma caused by a machinegun burst or grenade blast,” he said.

“This doesn’t make me or my students a wuss or mean they need to man up. It makes me a human being and one sensitive enough to deal with the remains of the dead in a professional and respectful manner.”

It looks as if the Times’ assertion that it’s the “sight of skeletons” that is the stimulus may not be correct, for the images from World War I may include dead bodies, not just bones (see the Times’s headline below).  And I agree with Professor Pollard on one count: it’s fine to give advance warnings that bodies (although perhaps not bones) will be shown. I dissent, however, on issues like “eating and drinking”, as “triggering” subjects have expanded to include nearly everything. And I disagree that students should be allowed to walk out. If they’re warned in advance, and have an aversion to the sight, they should be given independent counseling to deal with the issue. But on no account should they be able to walk out of an entire lecture that includes the disturbing images. If that’s the case, they should be told in the first class so they can drop the course.


A misleading headline? It may be more than bones that is worrying students.

h/t: Gregory


  1. Tom
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Damn, I didn’t realise that seeing bones and bodies was part of the job, I thought being an Archaeologist just meant that I could wear a battered old hat and carry a bullwhip. What am I to do now, I spent a fortune buying Indiana Jones blu ray DVD’s?

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      😏 Exactly.

    • Dominic
      Posted December 7, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      … I didn’t realize there would be a jolly roger when I became a Pirate!

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Indiana Jones didn’t need trigger warnings.

      Except about snakes.

    • eric
      Posted December 8, 2016 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Not just archaeologists take archaeology classes. Its entirely possible some or many of the students in that class don’t plan to interact with human remains as part of their future careers.

      Why such people would take this class, however, would be a good question.

      I maintain the syllabus is the correct document/media to discuss ‘trigger warning’ type caveats. Describe the class in sufficient detail that the students considering it understand if it includes exposure to disturbing material, and what sort of disturbing material that may be. But once you’ve done that, caveat emptor.

      • GBJames
        Posted December 8, 2016 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        “Not just archaeologists take archaeology classes.”

        This is irrelevant. Not just doctors take anatomy. Not just historians take history classes. The fact that anatomy includes sex bits or that magazines from the 1980s sometimes have photos of nekked people doesn’t need to be called out as a trigger warning, either in class or in the syllabus. The syllabus should describe the class content reasonably and accurately. Period. Students are adults and need to take responsibility for knowing that sex bits are party of a body.

        • eric
          Posted December 8, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

          I do not think we are too far apart. I agree the syllabus should describe the course reasonably and accurately. If a unit of the class is focused on analyzing human remains, it should say “this unit is focused on analyzing human remains.” Likewise, if a class is going to include the dissection of a human eye, I don’t think its unreasonable to have the syllabus say “in this class, we will dissect a human eye.”

          • GBJames
            Posted December 8, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

            “In this class, we will dissect a human eye.” is perfectly appropriate.

            “Students who are triggered by dissections of a human eye should be aware that we will dissect a human eye.” would be completely wrong, IMO.

            When we are talking about trigger warnings we are not talking about some substitute for good course descriptions. The latter are a requirement if you want to run a decent school. The latter are unwise and unnecessary if you want to run a decent school.

            • eric
              Posted December 8, 2016 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

              Well now I think you’re nitpicking. Both descriptions provide the student with basically the same information. You and I don’t like the second phrasing. But I don’t really think the professor has somehow gone from ‘providing good information’ to ‘completely wrong’ and ‘unwise’ by choosing that phrasing.

              • GBJames
                Posted December 8, 2016 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

                You see, we do disagree. The first professor is doing his job. The second one is taking on an additional role, the trigger-master. When he does trigger-mastering he legitimizes the whole trigger-warning project. That’s why he’s unwise and completely wrong. (I’ll grant that I should be more clear…. “completely wrong in the warning activities” would be better. “Dissecting a human eye” is fine. The rest isn’t.)

                This matters because the whole trigger-warning project should be undone. It assumes that students are delicate little things that need to be protected from reality. Even if the professor does it in a limited way he’s endorsing the project.

  2. Dominic
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Is someone ever going to tell them they will one day be dead? Do they give trigger warnings to radiologists that they may see bones in x-rays???

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Medical schools generally believe that the best education is one filled with abuse and humiliation, so I doubt they give trigger warnings now and I can assure you that they didn’t 15-20 years ago.

      • Posted December 7, 2016 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        When I saw the title of this post, my first thought was, “Next, they’ll give similar privileges to snowflakes studying medicine!”

  3. Posted December 7, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Naaaaaaw. This is some kind of satire, gotta be. Why would any sane person sign up to be an archeologist who can’t stand the sight of bones? That’s like deciding to be a surgeon but you don’t want to see blood, I mean give us all a break, right? 🙄

    • cherrybombsim
      Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      In my own experience,there are a surprising number of geology students who “don’t like field work.”

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        I don’t blame them. That’s why if I went on to do my MA in Classics I was switching to languages and history. 🙂

      • Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        But in geology, you could make a happy living analyzing samples gathered by others, even in private employment (e.g. the petroleum industry, as my uncle did).

        This is more like a geology student saying: I don’t like rocks, sand, or pebbles. In my opinion.

      • chris moffatt
        Posted December 7, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        I always found fieldwork the best part – seeing the real stuff not just diagrams in a classroom. It’s one thing to learn the theory but something else to see what it actually is. And banging rocks apart of course. My first instructor didn’t use one of those “geologists’ hammers”; he always brought a five-pound sledge hammer – works way better for rock smashing.

        • nicky
          Posted December 8, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          Not just that, but you’re out in the open, often beautiful areas, often camping, many actually pay for the privilege to do that!
          And then a scientific interest to top it.
          I think no work would beat field work.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Well, you probably could do a perfectly good career in archaeology without ever needing to come across a bone – human or otherwise. Epigraphy (old writing, particularly inscriptions), pottery by the bucket load, even environmental archaeology (pollen and bugs).
      But like the geology student who doesn’t like fieldwork, if you don’t know (by the process of doing the job) where your data comes from and how it is obtained, and what it’s possible biases and errors are, then you’re going to, at some point, have a serious face-plant from bad data.
      I remember one of those field-work free geologists getting all wobble-lipped and rather upset because they’d put nearly 3 years work into prospective seismic studies of an exploration prospect, and us nasty rig workers went around not caring about the 3 years of effort and slaying all the beautiful hypotheses with ugly facts. Well, that ground-truthing was part of my job.

  4. Posted December 7, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Soon medical students refuse to perform surgery, because they might get traumatized by the sight of blood.

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      Ever watch Doc Martin?

      • Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        I remember Quincy’s title sequence: ‘Gentlemen, welcome to the world of forensic medicine!’

        Followed by the sight of fainting students as Quincy pulls back the sheet from a cadaver.

        • Wunold
          Posted December 8, 2016 at 12:28 am | Permalink

          I remember one scene where Quincy is in a hurry, but has to hold an autopsy lesson. He deliberately made it hard to watch. To summarize it, he got away in time. 😀

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

          Stuff the world of forensic medicine. I want my first-aiders to not throw up while they’re treating the patient. And if the patient throws up into your mouth, spit it out and get on with doing your job. (Passing your first aid ticket is an essential part of workplace safety training, IMHO.)

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      I would love to see what happens to that student. When I was in med school, if someone tried that, they would fail and probably end up expelled for failing. And I wasn’t in med school that long ago. If someone got queasy in anatomy lab (in which we cut open and tore apart actual dead humans), there were no excuses. He/She was expected to come back at another time and learn the material.

      The hardest part for most students was cutting open peoples’ hands. Even worse than faces, genitals, etc. For some reason, cutting open hands and fingers was incredibly uncomfortable.

      • barn owl
        Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        I’ve noticed the reluctance to dissect hands, especially if the cadaver still has nail polish. The other area that seems to bother some (a small percentage, really) students is the eye. I’m a PhD anatomy and neuroscience instructor, not an MD, and was recently surprised by my ability to sit unperturbed through a lecture on eye diseases (complete with loads of gory photos) while blithely eating yogurt and a breakfast bar. We also have lunchtime seminars in collaboration with the surgery department, so it’s not uncommon to eat sandwiches or pasta while looking at slides of abdominal hernia repair or whatever.

        Once during a bathroom break from gross anatomy lab, I overheard a student from my class having a meltdown about dissecting the eyes, lamenting “they’re the windows of the soooouuulllll!” There was a surgeon washing her hands at the sinks in the restroom at the same time, and she told the student to suck it up, because there were much worse things in store. I didn’t disagree with that, but unfortunately upon emerging from the stall, I was left to deal with student, who was pretty much dissolving in despair at that point.

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted December 7, 2016 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

          This is fascinating.

        • steve
          Posted December 8, 2016 at 5:02 am | Permalink

          “”gross” anatomy” Teehee 🙂

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        There is a well-reported progression of consumption in crisis cannibalism. You won’t be surprised to learn that hands are pretty low on the chow series.

  5. Posted December 7, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I want to be a standup comedian, but I get all ptsd when I hear laughter!!!!😜

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      I want to be a physicists but math scares me. Can I still be a physicist but skip the math work?

      • chris moffatt
        Posted December 7, 2016 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        Yes but you have to use a lot (I mean a lot) of very long words that are sometimes actually harder than the math to understand – and use lots of complicated diagrams…Very time consuming.

      • steve
        Posted December 8, 2016 at 5:05 am | Permalink

        “I want to be a physicist but differential equations scare me.—- I know I’ll be a chemist — ratios don’t scare me!!”

  6. Posted December 7, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    And many of these students will spend hours at video games, doing horrendous violence to other “people”. WTF!

    • barn owl
      Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Not to mention the popularity of zombie-themed TV shows, movies, and games.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

        I have never for one second understood (or felt) the appeal of these things. It gets an even blanker incomprehension than music.

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      How are series like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead breaking records for cable audiences when much of their target audience respond to ‘triggering’ material like cartoon elephants react to mice?

      • barn owl
        Posted December 7, 2016 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

        In an apparently related phenomenon, when I visit my friends in the SF Bay Area, it seems that the best baguettes and other delicious varieties of traditional bread at their local bakery sell out very quickly every day. How can this be, when so many are gluten intolerant, gluten sensitive, and glutenphobic these days?

        It’s a mystery.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted December 7, 2016 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

          I ask for extra gluten, just to make up for the bullshit.

          • barn owl
            Posted December 7, 2016 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

            I should say that it’s a mystery until you make the mistake of buying “bread” at the nearby gluten-free bakery, and realize that the main ingredient is sand. Just like in the Portlandia episode.

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted December 7, 2016 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

              My favorite soy sauce, Tamari, is now advertised as gluten-free. That puts me off, but I still buy it. How much gluten can be in soy sauce?

          • Posted December 8, 2016 at 11:36 am | Permalink

            At some east Asian groceries you’d be able to buy (shaped) gluten by itself or in sauce or the like. I get it from time to time as a replacement for tofu.

            Freaks some people out when I tell them what I’ve done, but …

            • GBJames
              Posted December 8, 2016 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

              Mock Duck, which is pressed mock gluten that looks kind of like duck flesh, is a staple at our house at the holidays. Prepared with shiitake mushrooms and a good sauce it is great with wild rice and cranberry sauce. We have been eating it at Thanksgiving and Christmas for decades.

              • GBJames
                Posted December 8, 2016 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

                Erf… It is pressed gluten, not pressed mock gluten.

              • Posted December 9, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

                Ah, mock duck! I had an online friend years ago who loved the stuff – less fattening than the real thing, or so he said.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

          What astonishes me is how men can stand the obvious imagery of biting into a lovely fresh baguette … and for that matter I’m equally surprised that I don’t hear much complaint from women.
          Slice it lengthwise – or better rip it open along the seam, pack it out with warm runny, smelly Brie then take a big mouthful …
          What was Carol Bayer Sager’s boyfriend up to ? “The grocer told me what you do with bread”

          • barn owl
            Posted December 9, 2016 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

            Years ago, I was walking in Grenoble with my then-BF (who is German – this will be relevant in just a sec), and carrying bread that we’d just bought. BF was becoming somewhat agitated, and I asked him what was wrong. He said “Aren’t you going to start eating that? I thought you wanted to be more European – you can’t carry fresh bread around without breaking into it!”

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

              Well, you might be able to carry fresh bread around without breaking into it, but I really struggle.
              At Junior school (7-11 y.o.) I would walk home past a bakery – one of those houses with the living room converted into the shop and oven – who would do an afternoon bake just about as I was walking past. Sadists!

              • merilee
                Posted December 10, 2016 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

                I rarely make it home with a fresh baguette intact. I worked as an au pair in Orléans, France, for about a month when I was 19. I had to walk the little buggers (that’s why I only lasted a month, rather than the prospective 6 mo.) to and from school twice a day, right past an incredibly good bakery. I succumbed more often than not, adding a bit of chocolat thereto. That said, I am totally indifferent to packaged sandwich bread.

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted December 11, 2016 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

                I succumbed


      • Jonathan Wallace
        Posted December 8, 2016 at 6:06 am | Permalink

        I do agree that the trigger warning demands in academia have got out of hand but it is pretty clear that the target audience for Game of Thrones does NOT include people who are triggered by images of sexual violence or torture. I very much doubt that anyone has reliable statistics on the matter but I strongly suspect that the set of people who demand trigger warnings about references to sexual violence in lectures AND who enjoy watching Game of Thrones has very few members.

        • eric
          Posted December 8, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

          Every parent has stories about their kid refusing to eat their healthy dinner. “I’m full! Dad, I can’t possibly have any more!” But then you offer them a cookie and they suddenly have room. My guess is the same sort of phenomenon occurs with college students when it comes to class assignments vs. TV shows and video games. They only have an appetite for the things they want.

          In their defense, seeing a difference between the two probably means they have a good handle on ‘real’ vs. ‘fake’ violence/gore, and what they’re objecting to is the emotional impact they get from considering/being exposed to real violence/death. If CGI dragons burning people doesn’t cause the anxiety that real burned bodies cause, that’s probably, psychologically, a good thing.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted December 8, 2016 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

            That’s a good point. There is a qualitative difference between violence-known-to-be-fantasy and the real thing.

            There is also – and it’s highly relevant – the fact that the kids are watching TV voluntarily, they can turn it off at any time – they’re in control.
            In a lecture, they are not in control. That feeling makes an immense difference, as any behavioural psychologist will (I’m sure) confirm.


  7. Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    I think that Pollard undermines his own argument when he recalls seeing “the mass graves of Australian soldiers buried by the Germans at Fromelles in 1916. Although the remains were skeletal they were still upsetting”. Upsetting, yes, but also extremely effective at communicating the horrors of war. If he had been allowed to duck out of exposure to such realities, how good of an appreciation would he have developed for their bleakness? He remembers those images clearly; surely, that is worth something.

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Good point.

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      Exactly what I came here to say.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 8, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Worth avoiding, if you’re ever subject to (say) depression. Not *everyone* is absolutely mentally stable and thick-skinned.

      There are very many people who suffer from mental disorders* who probably should avoid depressing/disturbing images. They could still certainly have an entirely valid career in archaeology happily digging up pots and occasional dry bones in a desert somewhere and never be ‘triggered’ by the sort of ghastliness that very recent history throws up.

      (* Not including special-snowflakism, obviously).

      • GBJames
        Posted December 8, 2016 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        Very few archaeological sites involve ghastliness of any sort. Other than the questions of miscellaneous passers-by…

        “Find any gold”?

        “Find any dinosaurs?”

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 8, 2016 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

          Well, that’s kinda my point.

          If Pollard’s lecture happens to include unusually disturbing pics of bones or bodies, the fact that some students may not be able to tolerate them absolutely does not preclude their suitability for an archaeology career in general.


          • GBJames
            Posted December 8, 2016 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

            Showing bones in archaeology class simply doesn’t qualify as “ghastly”. Presuming that students need warnings about such things.

            “This class examines lithic debris. It is possible that someone will be cut by a flake and blood will appear. Students who find blood distressing will be excused from class.”

            There’s no end to the stupidity of the Warning Project.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted December 8, 2016 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

              Thing is, it wasn’t just ‘bones’. If I read it aright, it included ‘human remains’ and ‘dead bodies in shallow graves’.


              • GBJames
                Posted December 8, 2016 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

                Did you read the Times story? This is the same guy.

                Before a class on the Falklands War, Professor Pollard also warned students about reading copies of the Daily Star from the 1980s because they may have contained images of topless women. “Determined not to offend my students or prompt a complaint, my first inclination was to remove the pages, but I did not want to censor content. I settled for a trigger warning,” he said.

                This is a class on conflict. But no matter. The problem is the Warning Culture that infantilizes students and is premised on the idea that if something is disturbing then you don’t need to be exposed to it. This is a guy who is more concerned about not offending sensitive students than he is on exposing students to reality pertinent to the course.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted December 8, 2016 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

                That’s changing the subject a bit.

                But I agree, the ‘topless’ warning is a bit daft.

                I’d suggest part of the motivation, though, is not so much to mollycoddle special snowflakes, as defensive, i.e. not to give them any grounds for a complaint. There’s an equally obnoxious side to the Warning Culture which is the current fear of being scapegoated, and ‘safety’ is its battlecry. Hence the stupid warnings on plastic bags, “Do not place over head”. (“unless you can’t read”, I mentally add).


              • GBJames
                Posted December 9, 2016 at 7:02 am | Permalink

                Well, yes. (“not to give them any grounds for a complaint”)

                It is important to stand against the entire project because it is essentially a project of intimidation. The project tries to institutionalize the status of snowflake and police universities on that basis.

  8. J.Baldwin
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I once had a student in a film class object to my showing of the film, “American Beauty,” on account of his addiction to pornography. His counselor had advised him, he said, not to watch R-rated films. Of course all of the films planned for the semester were listed in the syllabus, so he was forewarned…which is likely why he didn’t make his objection known to me until the end of the class period in which the movie was shown, i.e. after he’d watched the whole thing. I’m not sure an additional trigger warning would have helped, since I got the impression that he wanted his cake and to eat it too.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      Does your class include a showing of “Triumph des Willens”? It was real entertaining seeing the reaction of the more Nazi of my classmates to that one, once the Film Studies teacher had got police permission to get a print and show it.

  9. Phil_Torres
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    “for exposure to a distressing but common situations is the way to get over it.”

    Not necessarily at all. Sometimes exposure to psychologically troublesome stimuli can make the reaction WORSE. A woman who was raped, for example, isn’t going to get better by hanging out with her rapist.

    Some nuance is lacking in these discussions, and it’s frustrating.

    • madscientist
      Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      I suspect there’s also the case that some people just can’t get used to what they see (for example about 30% or so of soldiers who have been in combat). Everyone reacts differently to things.

    • Alpha Neil
      Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      The key word is “common”. Rape is not common so the analogy doesn’t work.

      • Michelle Beissel
        Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

        “Many surveys have been conducted to determine the prevalence and incidence of rape and sexual assault. The differences in findings across these various surveys are related to how rape and sexual assault are defined, characteristics of the sample selected for the study, screening questions, interviewer training and techniques, and other methodological and procedural issues. However, in virtually every victimization survey conducted, the number of unreported rapes and sexual assaults far exceeds those that are reported to authorities.”

      • pablo
        Posted December 8, 2016 at 5:38 am | Permalink

        Don’t you read Rolling Stone? We live in a rape culture. By the time you finish reading this comment, 6 out of 5 college students will have been raped.*

        *One of them gets raped twice.

        • Jonathan Wallace
          Posted December 8, 2016 at 6:15 am | Permalink

          Whatever your views on the need or not for trigger warnings to be issued in class, rape is not funny as you appear to think. Rape is a vicious and obnoxious crime and there is plenty of evidence to show that it occurs far too commonly.

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      What I meant (and said) was that therapists trying to help people overcome their aversions to common and often unavoidable situations do that by a process of exposing students to the situations.

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      I doubt, however, that lifelong avoidance of sex is a good idea.

    • Wunold
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 12:29 am | Permalink

      I think you’re unfairly arguing with an extreme example and picking one sentence out of its context. Jerry talked about common situations in lectures where disturbing imagery is to be expected and often an integral part of that field of study.

      To pick up your example nonetheless, a woman who was raped should think twice before beginning an exposure therapy. A prospective archaeologist who is frightened by bones may have chosen the wrong area of expertise.

  10. madscientist
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    I guess some potential archaeologists are just a bit too soft. Fortunately for them they probably don’t have to do comparative vertebrate anatomy and human anatomy. I can understand some students having some difficulty with images of emergency scenes or crime scenes, but if someone’s put off by the sight of bones then they should probably go study something else.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, bones were the only dead things I was really willing to look at. I liked the idea of forensics but yuck! I didn’t want to deal with stinky, gross people parts.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

        I would feel the same way.

        In fact, the prof’s comment *did* relate to ‘people parts’ and not just ‘bones’ as the headline writer suggested.


      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        It’s the people-fluids that do it for me – in terms of making me feel sick – not the body parts and certainly not bones.
        I was watching New Years Morning sunrise over the Caspian Sea one morning, as one does. As the light grew, I realised that the crunchy texture of the ground wasn’t just due to ice, but was due to the mud volcano I was on having been a graveyard for a very long time. It was finding and identifying the cheekbone-nasal-orbit junction on a bone plate that convinced me what was underfoot.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 9, 2016 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

          That is the stuff of horror movies. 😦

          But I agree – dry bones, generally no problem. (Dry *anything* is rarely a problem in the yuck department). Slimy gooey creepy bits – I get the screaming horrors.


    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      The one good thing about going to Catholic school is I got used to the horrific imagery since crucifixes were plastered on every wall.

      The Catholic Church positively embraces horror. Body parts of alleged saints are venerated and their tortures are recounted with the relish of a Penny Dreadful.

      And then there’s that whole ritual cannibalism thing.

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear. I know I sound old but when I was a first year Physical Anthropology student in 1989, my TA brought us into the lab where there were pickled monkeys in jars. One of the students stopped to get a hot dog on the way and he encouraged her to come up front to look really close at the pickled monkey while she ate her hot dog. Hilarious! She didn’t care and just chowed down while looking at the pickled primate. Oh how times have changed.

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      I watched while the doctor cleaned and sutured a big laceration on the side of my knee. I had lidocaine in that area, so there was no pain. Didn’t bother me a bit.

      I think I’m “out there” a bit though. (Way out in the tail of distribution for being grossed out by things. I like to eat things like Gamalost and Pultost, for instance.)

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        Yeah I think I weird out the technicians when I get blood drawn because I look at it every time. I can’t help it – it really shoots out of there (I have a big vein). I also have watched stitches get done but once when I was a kid it hurt because they didn’t have enough freezing for it. I was a little upset by that.

        • Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          When I was about 11, I had a bad infection that got out of hand in my right hand (no pun intended, I am right-hand dominant).

          In the end, it had to be lanced open. An incision about 6-8cm long crossing from the palm to the back of the hand between two fingers. Then a drain tube was inserted deep into the wound. (Then came all the antibiotic shots in the butt, pills orally, etc.)

          Here’s the kicker: The (sadist creep of a) doctor did it with no anesthesia, local or general. He made my Mom leave the room before doing it. I am a little proud that I did not yell or cry. Hurt like hell.

          Maybe that reset my gauges?

          The worst pain, ever, by miles, however, was having a bolus of steriod injected into an already highly inflamed nerve adjacent to my bulging disc at the L4-L5 opening. I needed epinephrine after that one. Put all pain, before and since, in the shade is a big way.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 8, 2016 at 5:50 am | Permalink

        I find, if it’s my own bits, I’m not nearly so grossed out by them as by other peoples’ bits. Though I may be afraid that the pain is going to ‘hit’ me, but that’s quite a different reaction from the ‘yuck’ instinct.


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      I do sometimes regret not having taken up any of my medic friends offers of a tour of “The Drains” (Anatomy Department’s dissection lab) while I was a student. Would have been interesting.

  12. Heather Hastie
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure the Times is reporting this fairly. Pollard says they can walk out of a particular lecture if they get too upset; the Times says they can “skip lectures.” That’s not the same thing.

    If you sign on to an archaeology class, you’re going to see bones. The professor should warn students before potentially upsetting images etc are shown. There will be some situations that are more upsetting than others. At some times in your life you’re also more susceptible to emotional upset. A professor should understand this imo.

    I don’t believe this is a free pass to get out of lectures about bones as it’s being portrayed in the media. I think Pollard is just being a responsible professor and it’s been blown up because he’s well known on TV and there’s an understandable backlash against stuff like this because of the regressive left.

    • chris moffatt
      Posted December 7, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      “If you sign on to an archaeology class, you’re going to see bones.” That’s precisely it. When I was in high school – a very long time ago now it seems – they actually tried to give us ideas about what we might like to study, what careers we might like to pursue and what those careers would involve. Thus none of my classmates who went into archaeology would have been surprised to find bones at a dig. If bones weren’t their thing they didn’t go into archaeology. I wasn’t surprised that there were maths presented in my maths classes or, later, old documents to study in history.

      So what is not happening now in schools that the young are so woefully unprepared for the most mundane of sights and sounds? They have not been done a favour. The rest of the world is singularly unconcerned with their feelings of distaste, shock or horror, their need for a safe place and a puppy. It must be difficult to remain in extended childhood for eighteen tears and suddenly be pitched into quasi-adulthood. It would be better if some of the growing up occurred during childhood and adolescence. Perhaps some theorists of education should investigate this.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted December 7, 2016 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

        Yeah – that’s a thing that bugs me a lot about this new phenomenon. A lot of this stuff sounds like delayed emotional development – as if kids are taking longer to mature now. In recent generations, kids have been maturing before their parents did when it comes to information. Are they going backwards again?

      • steve
        Posted December 8, 2016 at 5:12 am | Permalink

        Freudian typo: “eighteen tears” 🙂

      • nicky
        Posted December 8, 2016 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        Wonder if it is not just a kind of posing, attracting attention.
        Archaeology students ‘triggered’ by bones? Now come on! Either attention seeking or just a joke.
        Guess they never eat a chop or chicken either?q

  13. Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Well, if you don’t like bones, why are you going into archaeology? Choose a different line of work.

    Don’t like blood? Don’t go into surgery.

    I went to the doctor and complained that every time I drank cocoa, I got this terrible pain in my eye. He said: “Remove the spoon from the cup before drinking.”

  14. TJR
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Nothing wrong with something along the lines of “if you don’t want to know the scores then look away now”, or in this case “if you don’t want to see the yucky pictures on the next few slides then look away now”.

    “Warning: Planet Earth 2 contains scenes of hot predator on prey action”.

  15. Jenny Haniver
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Make no bones about it, the very idea of archaeology students afraid of bones is consummately absurd.

    By happy coincidence, I’d just finished reading Isaac Disraeli’s essay, “History of the Skeleton of Death,” in “Curiosities of Literature. Hope it’s not too crass an act of cultural appropriation to say that I try to do my “Disreli portion” and read something from “Curiosities of Literature,” not weekly but daily (at least every two or three days) in the morning, as his strange and wonderful prose strangely and wonderfully invigorates the language areas of my brain (including, I’m sure, the brain stem).

    In the essay he goes into the origin of the skeleton of death, then goes on to show how it had been transformed from an object of horror into an object of humor and satire, re-animated metaphorically, so to speak. Here’s his take on the development of, for those who might be interested. The quote is lengthy, but replete with his novel insights and inimitable turns of phrase.
    “Whence, then, originated that stalking skeleton, suggesting so many false and sepulchral ideas, and which for us has so long served as the image of death?
    When the Christian religion spread over Europe, the world changed! the certainty of a future state of existence, by the artifices of wicked worldly men, terrified instead of consoling human nature; and in the resurrection the ignorant multitude seemed rather to have dreaded retribution, than to have hoped for remuneration. The Founder of Christianity everywhere breathes the blessedness of social feelings. It is “Our Father!” whom he addresses. The horrors with which Christianity was afterwards disguised arose in the corruptions of Christianity among those insane ascetics who, misinterpreting “the Word of Life,” trampled on nature; and imagined that to secure an existence in the other world it was necessary not to exist in the one in which God had placed them. The dominion of mankind fell into the usurping hands of those imperious monks whose artifices trafficed with the terrors of ignorant and hypochondriac “Kaisers and kings.” The scene was darkened by penances and by pilgrimages, by midnight vigils, by miraculous shrines, and bloody flagellations; spectres started up amidst their ténèbres; millions of masses increased their supernatural influence. Amidst this general gloom of Europe, their troubled imaginations were frequently predicting the end of the world. It was at this period that they first beheld the grave yawn, and Death, in the Gothic form of a gaunt anatomy, parading through the universe! The people were frightened as they viewed, everywhere hung before their eyes, in the twilight of their cathedrals, and their “pale cloisters,” the most revolting emblems of death. They startled the traveller on the bridge; they stared on the sinner in the carvings of his table and chair; the spectre moved in the hangings of the apartment; it stood in the niche, and was the picture of their sitting-room; it was worn in their rings, while the illuminator shaded the bony phantom in the margins of their “Horæ,” their primers, and their breviaries. Their barbarous taste perceived no absurdity in giving action to a heap of dry bones, which could only keep together in a state of immovability and repose; nor that it was burlesquing the awful idea of the resurrection, by exhibiting the incorruptible spirit under the unnatural and ludicrous figure of mortality drawn out of the corruption of the grave.”

    He goes on to say, “After they had successfully terrified the people with their charnel-house figure, a reaction in the public feelings occurred, for the skeleton was now employed as a medium to convey the most facetious, satirical, and burlesque notions of human life. Death, which had so long harassed their imaginations, suddenly changed into a theme fertile in coarse humour.”

    Disraeli expresses his perplexity at all of this; but the archaeology students afraid of bones would do well to learn to appreciate “the most facetious, satirical, and burlesque notions of human life,” though they would surely castigate that notion as obnoxiously anti-PC “irreverent” of “the sanctity” of life, as well as the sanctity of their feeeeelings.

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      The ultimate domestication of the Death figure is Terry Pratchett’s sympathetic plortrayal in Mort and The Hogfather

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 8, 2016 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

        Most of the Discworld series, in fact, though I wouldn’t call Death ‘domesticated’. Not in his hearing, anyway.


  16. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Wonder if any snowflakes get triggered listening to the old Negro spiritual “Dem Dry Bones.”

    • Phil_Torres
      Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      For special snowflakes, look to the political right. Start with Milo Yiannopoulos.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, the alt-right has its own form of snowflake-ism. They want to be racist assholes without being made to feel racist … or asshole-ish.

        Not Milo, though; he relishes in his asshole-ishness.

        • Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

          I just finished reading Wolf Hall and Milo reminds me a lot of a medieval fool. At one point, the King’s (or Cardinal’s, I don’t remember) fool says something terribly blasphemous. It’s pointed out to him that he shouldn’t say such things, and he replies that, “Fools can say anything!”

          Milo is the alt-Right’s fool.

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      They would be triggered by your use of the word, “Negro.”

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 7, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        Only because they wouldn’t recognize “Negro spiritual” as a term of art.

        If you wanted to drive one really nuts, I suppose you could ask them to write a check to the United Negro College Fund.

        Sometimes all it takes is use of the word “niggardly.”

        • Posted December 7, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

          Don’t forget the NAACP. Don’t they know it should be changed to the NAAPOC? That “niggardly” situation was too ridiculous for words.

        • Posted December 8, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

          The English teacher I mentioned in the “banned books” thread from a few days ago also assigned “word fondling” exercises, as he called them. The idea was to become intimately acquainted with a word and so on. That was one he assigned once. (Again, deliberately being provocative twice.)

  17. Sastra
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    And I disagree that students should be allowed to walk out. If they’re warned in advance, and have an aversion to the sight, they should be given independent counseling to deal with the issue. But on no account should they be able to walk out of an entire lecture that includes the disturbing images.

    I’m not sure I see this as a non-negotiable issue, especially in light of Professor Pollard’s explanation. Let’s say you warn your class at the beginning of the hour that they will be seeing photographs of Auschwitz. When it looks like things are getting close, one of your students quietly gets up and leaves. As it happens, they lived through a spell of genocide in their own country and know they can’t handle it. But you don’t know why they left. Could be a case of the runs. Could be they suddenly need coffee.

    What does “on no account should they be able to walk out of an entire lecture” mean? You stop talking, point your finger, and yell “YOU! In your seat — now!”? You automatically dock them for missing the lecture, without giving them an opportunity to explain or make it up? You expect them to hover around outside peeking in now and then so they can pop back when the lecture veers into stolen artworks?

    Maybe I’m missing the obvious, but I’m confused.

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      Of course, some student will always be in need to leave the class for some reason, but it is quite different when you tell students beforehand that they have full right to leave whenever they feel snowflake-y.

    • steve
      Posted December 8, 2016 at 5:19 am | Permalink

      Also — here in Ontario, Canada at least, lectures are optional in a way. There is no attendance taken. Some students just read the textbook, or watch lectures on line if the prof has them up. It is not a big deal as far as I know.

      Some students do BETTER by not wasting their time with a horrible presenter/prof/teaching assistant, and just learn the course contents on their own.

      • eric
        Posted December 8, 2016 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        That is sometimes the case in US universities too. However, before the ‘trigger warning era’, skipping still meant learning the skipped course material and doing the same graded assignments as the non-skippers. Maybe its just me, but with ‘trigger warnings’ I get the feeling that the ‘victims’ are demanding that they not be required to ever learn the stuff that triggers them, and not be tested on it. That, IMO, goes too far.

    • eric
      Posted December 8, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      A good comparison. Another problem is that some students may give it their best try but find that they can’t handle it. IIRC most holocaust museums have counselors on site specifically because this happens from time to time. That sort of person should get our support, not our recrimination, because they tried their best.

      I don’t think we should be unreasonably requiring attendance. At the same time, though, the student is still required for learning the class material and doing the assignments, IMO. Don’t attend the lecture if it really bothers you that much. But be prepared to discuss lessons of the holocaust or human remains in the archaeological dig (or whatever) on the final exam, just like everyone else.

  18. J
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Johns Hopkins Medical School

    All students that are upset by the sight of blood are free to skip class.

  19. Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Tony Pollard, a professor of conflict history at the University of Glasgow who co-presents the BBC TV series Two Men in a Trench, said that he issues “trigger warnings” before displaying images of human remains in lectures.

    Trigger warnings are risible enough when they are in subjects like English Literature but why the hell do students need them in conflict history? Isn’t the title of the course a clue to the content?

    It’s as bad with Law. If you want the glamour and the money associated with the legal profession you better prepare for some degree of discomfort because a lawyer unfamiliar with Miranda rights is no bloody good to anyone.

  20. GBJames
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I shared this with an old archaeological colleague of mine who is now a medical doctor. His reaction was great… “Same thing when I was a student; they let me skip anatomy class”.

    I later sent him a separate email bewailing the design of the human prostate, since that bit of design brilliance has recently been causing me trouble. He got back to me again… “Wouldn’t know. Skipped anatomy”.

    At least I got my minimum daily requirement of belly laughs satisfied!

    • Posted December 7, 2016 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      This is why I wish there to be a public database of doctors, displaying information how they got into medical school in the first place, and then the exam grades. I think patients have the right to know if their doctor has e.g. skipped anatomy.

      • GBJames
        Posted December 7, 2016 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

        He was JOKING, Maya!!!

        (I thought it was obvious, but on the Internet….)

        • Posted December 8, 2016 at 1:05 am | Permalink

          Guilty! Indeed, on the Internet the context is lost… and these days there are so many strange news that I seem to have become quite gullible.

  21. Merilee
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink


  22. Stephen Barnard
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Bones — no big deal for me. Rotting corpses are disturbing. Movies of maggots eating rotting corpses — more disturbing. Vultures plucking eyes from recently deceased corpses — even more disturbing. Zombie apocalypse movies — no problem.

  23. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like a fairly reasonable ‘trigger warning’ being sensationalised by the press, again.

    I think we need a trigger warning: “Newspaper headline follows. Beware of exaggeration.”


  24. Posted December 7, 2016 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    The full article was behind paywall, but I’m still not convinced there is even a problem that needs a solution. How many students suffer from PTDS of exactly a type that can be triggered by exactly a type of material that comes up in their chosen area?

    I suspect there’s now a pre-emptive attempt to be accommodating, even though such cases seem exceedingly rare that individual solutions would do the trick. In the past, students would simply disobey and walk out, or tell their professor beforehand that a condition exists. You don’t need a rulebook for everything, and I don’t believe students are totally caught off guard anyway.

    Not every special snowflake condition, identity, habits, or whatever need official recognition. Punk is now officially dead, especially when this comes from an (alleged) left. This well-adjusted attitude of having society accept, cheer, care about is anything but left. What’s more, it seems to come from the fact that US universities are expensive and they must treat their students like posh customers in a luxury hotel.

    But it matches the costume police who also wants to bring everything slightly unpredictable under control, which to me is about fear. Fear exists in the unknown, that something might happen. Nobody fears a charging bear. It’s very notable that this faction is completely surrounded by the language and concept of fear, such that a kind of Lakoffian conceptual metaphor seems to structure their worldviews: see “safe spaces”, “risks” from inviting the wrong speakers (who should be deplatformed) and in this case a fear of triggering content, or a meta-fear that the situation might come up.

  25. eric
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    “I think back to the mass graves of Australian soldiers buried by the Germans at Fromelles in 1916. Although the remains were skeletal they were still upsetting, with many of them exhibiting the trauma caused by a machinegun burst or grenade blast,” he said.

    Of course they’re upsetting. They’re supposed to be upsetting. The whole reason we think it’s important for people to see these sorts of images is that they understand the very upsetting costs of war (or in other cases, the upsetting evil being perpetrated). Its far too easy to think bombing and killing are wonderful, noble things if you don’t ever see the bombed and killed. We view the bombed and killed specifically to ‘upset’ ourselves. To push ourselves out of what would otherwise be a tacit, willingly-blind acceptance of policies that have a very real human cost.

    “This doesn’t make me or my students a wuss or mean they need to man up. It makes me a human being and one sensitive enough to deal with the remains of the dead in a professional and respectful manner.”

    Being upset doesn’t make you a wuss, and it does mean you’re just a normal person; all that is true. However, refusing to look is a different thing. If one of his students thought they could handle it and then couldn’t and had to leave, I would be sympathetic. I’m a bit less sympathetic to the students who don’t even want to try.

  26. Posted December 8, 2016 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I sometimes think this is all like what happened to Socrates. “Trigger warning” on Socrates’ discussions, no doubt.

    So far it hasn’t ended as badly for any of our contemporaries …

  27. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    One wonders how much these ‘trigger warnings’ in general are just mollycoddling precious snowflakes (okay, AND considerate of people who for genuine reasons would be disturbed by the subject matter); and how much they’re self-defence for the lecturer against charges that they ‘traumatised’ the class. “Well, I warned them, they weren’t forced to look”.

    In these litigious days when ‘safety’ is censorious and rampant, maybe a ‘trigger warning’ is the least disruptive manifestation.


  28. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    … and of course, there’s a huge disparity between just a ‘bone’ as implied by the Times, and really disturbing pics of bones.

    This is the first sort – I don’t think it needs a trigger warning:

    For the other sort – well just go to – trigger warning: DON’T!!!

    Or, more relevantly, sometimes the half-preserved bodies found in bogs are not a pretty sight.

    My point is, it’s NOT the subject that’s potentially disturbing, as the Times would suggest, it’s the details.

    P.S. Why, when I Google ‘bones’, does my screen fill up with actors from a damn stupid TV show? Talk about search engine pollution…

  29. jeffery
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    What’s next? Medical students studying to be surgeons excused from class because they’re “triggered” by the sight of blood?

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