Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




H.N. Hirsch


Trigger warnings, First Amendment rights, Trauma in higher education, Free speech


This paper considers the constitutional questions posed by trigger warnings in higher education. Specifically, I look at the relationship between trigger warnings and First Amendment rights. I show that trigger warnings, a hot button issue in academia and the cultural discourse today, are neither exempt from constitutional concerns nor do they automatically violate First Amendment rights.

The Court often interprets the First Amendment’s central goal as promoting the pursuit of truth through the uninhibited free flow of ideas. The Court defines institutes of higher education as crucial spaces to forward this pursuit. Do trigger warnings aide or hinder the pursuit of truth in the college classroom? I explore two legal frameworks to consider this question. The first considers trigger warnings as a prior restraint on a professor’s academic freedom, which is protected under the First Amendment. The second considers trigger warnings as a constitutionally permissible form of accommodation for women in higher education.

This paper concludes with suggestions of how trigger warnings can be effectively and legally used in higher education. Trigger warnings can risk infringing on a professor’s First Amendment rights; trigger warnings can also be benign and, sometimes, considerate teaching tools. A balance is possible between the two.