Campus Free Speech

Campus Crime Alerts Now Come with Trigger Warnings

Preventing offense is more important than promoting safety.



If the purpose of a campus crime alert is to warn students about a dangerous person or situation, and the purpose of a trigger warning is to deter students from consuming information that might bother them—well, aren't the two things in conflict?

And yet, the University of Iowa saw fit to add a trigger warning to a campus-wide email about a sexual deviant on the loose. Do administrators want to protect students' bodies or their feelings?

According to The Daily Iowan, a man was spotted trying to videotape a female student while she took a shower in a dormitory bathroom. A police officer fought the man, but he escaped. The university's public safety department then sent out an alert prefaced by the following disclaimer, according to The College Fix:

Trigger Warning: This warning addresses a report of sexual misconduct. Resources are available on and off campus to provide assistance. Contact RVAP for 24/7 support at (319) 335-6000 or at

What followed was a description of the incident and instructions to students to contact the authorities if they had any information about the perpetrator. But if officials actually wanted students—victims of sexual misconduct, in particular—to be aware of the potential threat, they shouldn't have warned them not to read it. As The Tab's Matt McDonald wrote:

If there was a miscreant with an iPhone skulking around my campus trying to perve on unsuspecting freshmen, I'd want to know about it. I'd want to know my campus police force are working to keep me physically safe – not warning me off important information for fear of offending me.

If an email about an active investigation is important enough to send to a whole college, don't send it wrapped in cotton wool. If people need to know, tell them.

Quite right. Do administrators want safe spaces for their students, or do they want them to actually be safe?