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Woman wearing a shirt that says no homophobia, no violence, no racism, no sexism, yes kindness, yes peace, yes love

Minoritised students

As well as students with mental health conditions, we believe that content notes can play a crucial role in helping to level the playing field for minoritised students of all kinds, as part of the University's commitment to inclusivity in teaching. This is supported by the data from our survey of disabled students at the University, as a minority of students without mental health conditions nonetheless reported that they would or might benefit from content notes.

One possible reason is that students who have experienced violence - individual or structural - benefit from the opportunity to prepare to discuss, read or hear about similar violence, even if that experience is not clinically traumatic for them. Students approach particular topics from a diversity of standpoints and experiences. A text detailing graphic misogynistic violence or violent racism, for example, is likely to be more taxing to engage with for female students or for students of colour respectively.

It is of course essential to engage with these kinds of difficult topics in a wide variety of academic contexts, and so content notes can aid in providing a more equally accessible education for students who face discrimination of all kinds.


Inclusive learning environments

In our interviews with students, where content notes were provided, they reported feeling respected and recognised as adults with diverse histories and experiences.

One student noted that providing a content note for a discussion about sexual harassment in schools served as explicit recognition that individuals taking part may themselves have similar experiences. This not only prepared those individuals for the discussion and made their experiences feel recognised, it reminded those without such experiences that this is a real-life issue which may have affected the people they know and study with. This effect helps to avoid serious discussions being treated as purely theoretical or 'academic' in ways that divorce them from their material impacts on real people.

When content notes were used, I felt a lot more engaged and could practice controlled recall of the related incidents/memories, and actually they then converted to 'lived experience' and became very useful in discussion.

The traumatic incidents weren't a barrier, but became opportunities for insight. Content notes allow people to find strength in what they've been through and be respected as learners who exist in the real world, not just in abstract.

Student inverviewee, Education

Finally, content notes may be useful to students with recent or ongoing experiences that pose a challenge to their ability to discuss certain subjects, such as losing a family member or friend to cancer or suicide. Advance notice can help them to prepare to engage academically.

Generally speaking, content notes also provide a validation for a given topic: we respect that addressing this may bring you trauma, understandably so, and we are trying to avoid this happening so you can bring it productively to the table if you choose.

Student interviewee, Education


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