Sheffield University students told they can now skip exam questions they find too distressing 

Students at Sheffield University have been told they can avoid writing essays or answering exam questions that make them feel uncomfortable. 

The University has issued guidance to lecturers on how to handle discussion topics that some students may find sensitive or controversial  in order to ‘create a safe and positive learning environment’. 

The University of Sheffield, Firth Court

The University of Sheffield, Firth Court

Topics that have been identified as potentially sensitive include race, sexuality, domestic violence, gender identity, disability and politics. 

Lecturers have been warned that students may feel so uncomfortable about the opinions raised during these discussions that they are unable to participate. 

They have also been told not to include these distressing topics as part of the assessment or exams in compulsory modules and that ‘alternative questions on a different topic’ should be offered. 

Students also should not have to ‘explain their back story’ as to why they are concerned about the topics due to be discussed. 

The guidance comes after students at the university said they felt ‘anxious and distressed’ when their English literature course covered sensitive topics. 

According to the Sunday Times, a letter written by the students’ union mental health society raised concerns about the discussion of sexual abuse in a module on Restoration literature

The society said that students should not have to “put their own mental health at risk to receive an education”.

In a separate email, it was claimed that “one girl was left crying and later had a panic attack” after discussing sensitive material covered in a lecture. 

Sheffield University told Sun Online: "The University provides guidance to staff on teaching sensitive topics and departmental tutors advise students of potentially distressing subject matter as and when appropriate."