Teaching Book Award Winner Nancy Rabinowitz Visits Idaho State University to Share Knowledge About “Trigger Warnings”
Idaho State University Teaching Book Award winner Dr. Nancy Rabinowitz visited ISU on Sept. 7 to share more about her award-winning book, “From Abortion to Pederasty: Addressing Difficult Topics in the Humanities Classroom and Beyond” with faculty, staff and teachers in surrounding areas. The Teaching Literature Book Award is an international juried prize created by Dr. Jessica Winston, professor of English and chair of the History department.
The award is given for the best book-length work on the teaching of literature published in the previous two years. Sixteen books were nominated in 2015 for the inaugural award from presses, publishers and authors from around the globe. An expert panel from around the country, including faculty from University of South Carolina, Hunter College, City University of New York and Calvin College, unamimously chose Rabinowitz’s book.
The book talks about strategies that teachers might use when raising difficult topics that may cause distress to students, such as when a lesson focuses on representations of death and dying when some of their students may have recently lost loved ones. The book also demonstrates the benefits of dealing with disturbing content of many ancient texts and gives teachers strategies to use when speaking about these difficult topics. Teachers often avoid teaching these topics because of their unsettling nature but the book helps to explain why students need to be taught these topics so that they can handle these subject matters in a supported way.
During her presentation she discussed a timely issue, namely whether or not to include “trigger warnings,” indications of potentially disturbing course content, on syllabi. This issue recently made national news when University of Chicago issued a letter to all incoming students stating that it did not condone trigger warnings.
More than 60 people attended Rabinowitz’s lecture including faculty and staff from Idaho State University, teachers in the surrounding areas and staff from BYU-Idaho. “Her talk was eye- opening,” Winston said. “The audience for the talk was teachers. Many said that the talk helped them to understand the complexity of the trigger warning issue, but they also felt that the talk helped them to formulate a better sense of how they might approach the issue in their own classrooms.”
“Rabinowitz helped me to understand the issues at stake and how different teachers have responded,” said Laura Joy Griffith, a master’s student and teaching assistant in the Department of English and Philosophy. “I feel better prepared to make decisions regarding course content and student requests and complaints since hearing the talk.”
The event was sponsored by the Idaho Humanities Council, the Department of English and Philosophy, the College of Education, The Diversity Resource Center, the Cultural Events Committee and the English Graduate Students Association of Idaho State University.
“The Department is excited to have had such a successful launch of the inaugural award,” Winston said. “We are now entering the second biennial competition. We are very grateful for our funders.” The English graduate program recently started an endowment campaign to raise $70,000, which will allow the English department to continue the award and the speaker visit in perpetuity. The award helps raise the profile of English degree programs at the national level and helps further teacher education and professional development at ISU and the surrounding communities.
Rabinowitz is a professor of comparative literature at Hamilton College in New York. Her specialization is in Greek tragedy focused on gender and sexuality in ancient texts. She is also the author of other books and articles.
Written by Nicholas Tarbet, College of Arts and Letters Intern