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Elizabeth Burger, a junior, displays the Nov. 1 campus safety alert email that distressed several members of UA community who have survived sexual assault. Burger was disappointed but not surprised that UA officials failed to include a trigger warning on the email that used explicit language describing a sexual assault.

UA officials agreed Nov. 2 to add trigger warnings to future campus safety emails, after one sent the day before distressed some students because of its explicit language about sexual assault.

The email, which described a reported assault that occurred on campus Oct. 28, included the word ‘rape’ in the second sentence, allowing little time for students who might have experienced sexual trauma to stop reading. A Campus Safety Authority reported the incident to the UA Police Department Nov. 1, the same day the email was sent.

Following the safety alert’s issuance, several students voiced concern on social media about the impact that a lack of a trigger warning can have on their mental health.

Associated Student Government President Coleman Warren read some of his peers’ concerns in the UA Young Democrats GroupMe chat the day of the alert, and he immediately contacted university officials to discuss adding trigger warnings to future safety warning emails, he said.

Trigger warnings protect students’ mental health and the wellness of survivors without preventing important campus safety information from being disseminated, Warren said.

“What we’re stressing is that these incidents affect not only the survivors of the incident, but also the survivors of our entire campus when a notification like that is received,” Warren said. “It is very triggering and it can trigger some serious trauma that leads to anxiety and other mental health-related issues.”

Sophomore Jordyn Releford, the president of UA Young Democrats, was the first student to express concern about the email in the GroupMe chat.

When Releford received the email, it scared her “half to death” and sent her into a panic, because her route home from campus includes the area where the assault happened, she said. As a sexual assault survivor, reading a trigger warning in the email’s subject line could have helped her consider the content of the email and decide whether to continue reading, Releford said.

Additionally, Releford thinks UA officials need to make campus a safer place by fixing broken emergency light poles and lighting the area around Old Main more brightly at night, she said.

“If I'm paying thousands of dollars to this institution, I want at least, like, some of the money to go toward my safety,” Releford said.

Elizabeth Burger, a junior, helped organize an April 30 protest on Old Main Lawn during which students told personal stories of being sexually assaulted on the UA campus.

Burger was furious when she first read the email, she said. She felt silly for being angry until she saw other students on social media voicing similar reactions.

“Even if you haven’t been a victim of sexual assault, but you’re just a minority or (a) woman on campus, there’s nothing scarier than opening an email from the University of Arkansas and seeing that someone has been attacked or hurt,” Burger said.

The first step to improving survivor support and preventing attacks on a college campus is to have conversations with students, Burger said.

”It's another thing that adds up to this big picture of feeling unsafe, knowing that my peers feel unsafe and knowing that the university isn’t doing anything to actively support us or change the thing that we have been screaming about for years now,” Burger said.

John Thomas, manager of university communications, wants the UA community to know that the health and safety of students is a top priority for UA officials, he said.

“Campus leaders from UAPD, the Pat Walker Health Center, ASG, Title IX and the Dean of Students are discussing options for language in safety alerts that best serve our campus,” Thomas said.

Shortly after Warren began discussions with university officials, they agreed to add trigger warnings to future safety warning emails. Warren was delighted by the outcome and to see the university stand on the side of survivors, he said.

“I’m just glad that we’re finally really taking (sexual assault) seriously and taking action that is going to last in the long term and actually have an impact rather than just raising awareness,” Warren said. “But there’s still so much work to be done and this is just a part.”

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