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Communications

Voiceless: Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces and Freedom of Speech

By Brianna Williams

SOC Voiceless

"I never thought we could find something more complex and complicated. This was the most complicated subject yet, many layers,” said American University (AU) professor Amy Eisman. This semester, Eisman’s Writing and Editing for Convergent Media course explored safe spaces, trigger warnings and freedom of speech as their semester-long immersion project. The students delved into researching the intricacies of these topics, getting to the root of them and seeing how they fit into the student narrative, especially on AU’s campus.

Junior Katelyn Becker, who served as the Survey Chief on the project, said the idea came from the heavy media coverage of the issues. As a class, the students decided that people needed to hear college students' perspective, according to Becker. Some of the topics included: hateful comments on Yik Yak, gender neutral bathrooms, safe spaces for veterans on campus, and so much more.

“We wanted to cover a wide range of issues: free speech trigger warnings and safe spaces,” said AU School of Communication graduate student and Managing Editor of the project, Edward Graham. “In the end, we came up with the idea of VoiceLess. We wanted to play on the idea of voice and less. Who dominates the conversation on campus, who should dominate it — issues of comfortability. These are all issues we explored.”

The course is designed to emulate a real life newsroom where each student has a role and works on stories both separately and together to produce accessible and thought provoking content for a specific community. On Friday, students presented their work with members of the SOC community, including journalism division director, professor John Watson, and associate professor Angie Chuang. The presentation included students sharing the process of the story they produced, highlights of the course, struggles, and what they learned.

“The purpose of this class, overall, each semester is to teach the students to dive deeply into one topic and to all aspects of a working newsroom,” said Eisman. “The secondary purpose, which is just as important, is to take a topic and grapple with it. [To] not just do a one shot interview and then leave.”

The students have put together a home for the content that was created over the course of the semester. Along with Professor Eisman, NBCWashington.com’s Wendy Warren assisted students in shaping their stories and to give professional perspective in terms of professional media. This is the second year that NBC Washington is partnering with Eisman's class. Past partners include, WAMU 88.5 and Gannett.

In terms of the controversial topics of safe spaces, trigger warnings and freedom of speech, students continuously stated throughout the presentation how researching these topics allowed them to learn about what they believe and stand for.

“If I could change something, I would shine a light on why people ask for these things,” said Social Media Editor, Zachary Moore. “I feel like the idea of why people ask for these things is because they don’t want to face certain ideas is a misconception, or a politicized conception. The reality is a lot of people want this because they want to be psychologically healthy. I wish more people understood that.”

Eisman hopes that the experience of this course truly prepares students for the real journalism world.

“In term of the process, I think they learned how difficult it is to do journalism right,” said Eisman. “In terms of the content, they learned how wrong it would be to be superficial with such and important topic. They learned about the depth of the reporting. My goal is that they come out of here deeper journalists with a better understanding of what it’s like to do an in-depth project.”