On Triggering and Being Triggered: Civil Society and Building Brave Spaces in Medical Education

Teach Learn Med. 2021 Oct-Dec;33(5):561-567. doi: 10.1080/10401334.2021.1887740. Epub 2021 Feb 26.


IssueHow educators should respond to student reports of intense emotional reactions to curricular content-i.e., being triggered-invites intense debate. There are claims of insensitivity on one side and calls to "toughen up" on the other. These polemics aside, such instances sometimes represent a true dilemma, particularly within medical education where engaging highly sensitive content is essential to future patient care and where managing one's own emotions is a core competency. Parsing this convoluted and emotional debate into these domains illustrates how medical educators can simultaneously legitimize the lived experiences of students, engage in honest dialogue, and maintain a shared commitment to education. Evidence: While substantial energy has been spent debating the legitimacy of students' emotional reactions, the discourse lacks a clear conceptual framework and we often end up talking past each other. The concept of brave spaces offers an important alternative where sensitive subject matter can be engaged with civility. Implications: This paper offers a model for building brave spaces within medical education by clarifying the rights and responsibilities of both teachers and learners in each of three intersecting domains: intrapersonal, interpersonal, and civic. This model is exemplified in a case where students reported being triggered by course content. By parsing this case across the three domains, we can clarify how responses are multifaceted and we can simultaneously avoid indictment of another's lived experiences while preserving the pedagogical integrity of the curriculum.

Keywords: Trigger warnings; civil society; learning environment; racism.

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical*
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Students
  • Students, Medical*