Writing Content Notices for Sensitive Content

What Is a Content Notice, and Why Use One?

A content notice is a cautionary statement, spoken or printed, that alerts students to the sensitive nature of the material about to be seen, read, or discussed in class.

Individuals do not have control over what triggers them, but many have personal strategies they use to cope with triggers when they must be encountered. These strategies generally work best when the trigger is expected and can be prepared for. Content notices give people the forewarning necessary for them to make use of the strategies that will decrease the harmfulness of encountering triggering material. Content notices are not intended to permit students to skip class or censor your material.

Types of Material Needing Content Notices

Content notices may be applied to graphic descriptions, visual depictions, or in-depth live discussion of sensitive material, such as:

  • Violence, death
  • War
  • Abuse (torture, sexual abuse, child abuse, animal abuse)
  • Medical issues (medical procedures, blood, bodily waste)
  • Self-harming behavior (suicide, self-inflicted injuries)
  • Eating-disordered behavior or body shaming
  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Sexual activity (including consensual sexual activity), pornographic content
  • Hate speech or strong abusive language
  • Discrimination (sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia)
  • Stereotypes (about gender, race, national origin, age, or other status characteristics)

Look for Triggering Content

Carefully review language within cases and other course materials you will be using in your course. Look for descriptions of cultures, case protagonists, and consumer behavior or market segmentation and ask questions such as:

Cultural, Ethnic, Racial, Religious, and Sexual Orientation Groups

How are different groups or cultures described? Are there generalized or sweeping statements about the members of these groups?

Gender Roles

How are women and men described? Are there stereotypical masculine or feminine descriptions?

Consumer Characterizations

How are customers described? Are there stereotypical descriptions to describe consumer needs or behaviors? Does the language used disclude any groups?

Graphic Descriptions or Visual Depictions of Sensitive Content

Are there any sensitive topics or images in the content that might be triggering to someone who experienced trauma or an abusive situation? Is the language supportive or dismissive of potentially affected audiences?

The guidelines above are adapted from the HBR article, The Stereotypes in MBA Case Studies, by Sarah A. Soule, Davina Drabkin, and Lori Nishiura Mackenzie. The article includes their analysis of stereotypes and inclusive language in the 249 case studies taught in Stanford’s MBA core curriculum from 2015-2017 as well as additional tips on identifying stereotypes used to describe people and situations in educational content.

Write Content Notices

You may not be able—or want—to completely avoid cases with problematic language, but if you’re aware that it exists, you can help students learn from it. Use the template below to craft your content notice. Note that the key components of a content notice on educational material are:

  1. A flag of the challenging material and what might be challenging about it (so that students know what to expect).
  2. The rationale for why it’s used in the course.

A simple formula for writing a content notice is:

This [material/case/video/set of images/class session] contains [description/depiction/live discussion] of [violence/death/abuse/self-harming behavior/hate speech/discrimination/other]. I’m including this content in order to [rationale for why the material is used].

Examples in GSB Courses

Data and Decisions

Content Notice: This week’s online module contains content about presidential election polling for the 2016 election. This content was developed in 2016, and I want to flag it since it might be challenging to engage with it now, in the context of the divisive 2020 election, Trump’s actions as a political leader, and threats to our democratic processes. The content is used in the course to provide a real-world example for applying what you’ve learned about sampling error, binomials, and central limit theorem. I want to do my best to make any conversations we have about this content in class feel safe for you. If you have thoughts to share with me about this, please do send me a note.

Data and Decisions content notice within the assignment in Canvas.

Data and Decisions content notice within the assignment in Canvas.

Operation Bramble Bush Case

Content Notice: Descriptions of war/violence. This case is about a training accident that occurred 30 years ago in the final rehearsal for a military operation that never took place: the assassination of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by Israel’s vaunted Sayeret Matkal special operations unit. The accident led to the tragic death of six troops from friendly fire, and an eventual cancellation of the mission. The accident was simple and complicated at the same time. Our discussion will focus on why the accident happened, and how it could have happened to such an experienced group of operatives. The discussion will be supplemented with clips from a documentary in which the protagonists in the case are interviewed. The case is neither meant as an endorsement nor as a criticism of the operation or its intentions. I’ve selected this content because it offers a rich illustration of how context can influence decision-making, even of experts.

Further Resources