The decision of the University of Northampton to slap a trigger warning on George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984, has been met with widespread derision.
The University said that it decided to brand the book as containing sections with “explicit material” because of concerns students could find it “offensive and upsetting”.
The move has reignited discussion about the perceived ‘fragility’ of students: adults at third level universities who require protection from being “upset” or “offended” instead of being encouraged to discuss ideas in robust debate.
Many commentators saw an irony in the decision to target Orwell’s dystopian novel given that it examines how truth and facts can be manipulated and distorted to control the population under authoritarian rule.
A Freedom of Information request from the Mail on Sunday discovered that the English department at the University of Northampton had warned students taking the module ‘Identity Under Construction’ about Orwell’s anti-totalitarianism novel as it might be upsetting or “offensive”.
The University’s website says that the ‘Identity Under Construction’ module is includes the study of literature and poetry through a lens of “feminism, postmodernism and postcolonialism”, with a “primary focus” on the “constructions of identity, around issues such as race, class, gender and sexuality”.
It was also revealed that the acclaimed ‘The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-Time’ which broke new ground in creating awareness and understanding around children with autism, has been given a “death of an animal, ableism and disability and offensive language” trigger warning by Northampton’s English department.
GB News commented that the whole thing seemed a bit “woke gone mad”.
'It's all a bit woke gone mad.'
'If you’re studying literature do you really need that?'
Anne & Stephen react to a university issuing a trigger warning on George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
📺 Freeview 236, Sky 515, Virgin 626
📻 DAB+ pic.twitter.com/KeDz3PfXhh
— GB News (@GBNEWS) January 23, 2022
One commentator quoted a dictum reportedly attributed to Orwell: “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them”.
Ranked 90th out of 130 universities #woke @UniNorthants tells students that George Orwell's 1984 contains "explicit material” they may find “offensive and upsetting”. As Orwell himself said “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them”.https://t.co/Vxx9CjFDTg
— WokeyLeaks (@thewokeyleaks) January 24, 2022
“Academia is throwing itself in the bin,” another noted.
"A university has slapped a trigger warning on George Orwell's 1984 as it contains 'explicit material' which some students may find 'offensive and upsetting'."
Academia is throwing itself in the bin.
— Dr John Simpson PhD MBE (RGJ) (@JohnSim19408099) January 23, 2022
It was summed up as “wokery beyond parody”.
"Wokery beyond parody because university slaps a TRIGGER warning on George Orwell's 1984 as it contains 'explicit material' which some students may find 'offensive and upsetting'." https://t.co/Yuys7Az6NL
— Niklas Holming (@NHolming) January 24, 2022
Breitbart reports that:
“The University of Northampton is not the first British institution to attempt to censor George Orwell’s work. In 2020 the British Library placed Orwell on a “shame” list because one of his great-grandfathers owned slaves in the Caribbean, despite the fact that Orwell was an avid anti-imperialist who repeatedly called out totalitarianism in his works.
“The British Library apparently attempted to tarnish Orwell’s work by labelling it as “associated with wealth obtained from enslaved people or through colonial violence”. Yet, Orwell did not own any slaves himself, nor have any association with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which was outlawed in 1807, almost a hundred years before the British novelist was born.”
But the move was defended by a spokesman for the university who said: “While it is not university policy, we may warn students of content in relation to violence, sexual violence, domestic abuse and suicide. In these circumstances, we explain to applicants as part of the recruitment process that their course will include some challenging texts. This is reinforced by tutors as they progress through their programme of studies.
“We are aware some texts might be challenging for some students and have accounted for this when developing our courses.”