Academic Quality Procedures Handbook

3. Programmes of Study

3.9 Sensitive Content Guidelines

Loughborough University is committed to providing an environment in which students can study effectively and safely. The University is also committed to freedom of speech and academic freedom. This means that, on occasion, modules will necessarily cover sensitive, difficult and challenging topics. These guidelines are intended to support discussion around such difficult topics and to enable students to make informed decisions around module choices in order to support their self-management. 

Sensitive content refers to any content which a student may find to be difficult, sensitive or challenging. The scope of topics that are potentially sensitive will vary according to the nature of the subject and the students taking that subject. 

If the following guidelines are followed, staff should feel confident to teach and assess topics and material that might be deemed sensitive. 


Content alerts: 

  • For modules containing potentially sensitive materials which can be identified in advance there should be a ‘content alert’ on the module specification so that students are aware of this when making their module choices. This not only gives students the opportunity to ‘opt-out’ but also to prepare themselves for modules with content they may find more difficult. 
  • Content alerts should also be included in module handbooks. 
  • The content alert should consist of a ‘tick-list’ which allows the module organiser to identify the nature of the sensitive content prior to modules choices being made. The following list of sensitive topics must be identified if they are due to feature in lectures or other teaching material. 
  • Sexual Violence and Assault
  • Emotional and financial abuse (including emotional manipulation and neglect)
  • Mental illness (including eating disorders and self-harm)
  • Warfare
  • Traumatic life experiences
  • Extreme violence
  • Death (including suicide) and bereavement
  • Serious physical illness
  • Drug and substance misuse
  • Potentially offensive and taboo language and visual performance material (including time-specific or cultural homophobia, racism, misogyny & ableism)
  • Potentially sacrilegious or blasphemous content
  • Other- to be specified 

The above list is not exhaustive and staff should consider and, if necessary, identify other material that could be sensitive. 

  • If the content of a module changes to include sensitive content following module choices being made, students should be made aware of this as soon as possible. 
  • The ‘content alert’ could also be included alongside Learn materials. 
  • Students could be reminded of the ‘content alert’ at the start of the lecture containing the sensitive material. 

Delivering sensitive content: 

  • Sensitive content could be discussed with students during the introduction to the module. 
  • When introducing sensitive content the Tutor could inform the students that whilst steps have been taken to alert students to content that may be sensitive; 
  • The material is there for quality/pedagogical reasons
  • Some material not highlighted in the content alert might be perceived as sensitive by some individuals
  • Personal experience (of sensitive material or specific events) can enhance a student’s understanding and subsequent assessed performance - sensitive situations are not always detrimental
  • Descriptions of any disorders/experiences etc. are generalisations and should not be seen as an accurate depiction of any individual’s personal experience of a disorder or as a means of self-diagnosis
  • Tutors delivering the material are academics, not counsellors or clinicians, and that students affected by any course content should seek support through the appropriate support services
  • Strict ethical guidelines prevent Tutors from offering counselling or advice beyond their own professional competence. 
  • Students could be allowed to leave a lecture containing sensitive material without attention being drawn to them. 
  • Where possible and in situations where sensitive content only features in a limited part of a lecture/module students could be given the freedom to disengage with the material e.g. by not participating in class discussion or activity. 
  • Where possible, opportunities for students to leave could be created and content placed strategically e.g. after a break so that students can choose to sit-out of part of a lecture without missing all of the content. 

Offering opportunities to discuss sensitive content: 

  • Students could be given the opportunity to raise concerns about the nature of any sensitive content and the way this may affect them either with the Tutor or another identified member of staff prior to delivery of the content. 
  • Students could also be given the opportunity to speak to the Tutor or another identified member of staff following delivery of sensitive content if this has affected them personally and may impact on the rest of the module or associated coursework. 

Access to sensitive content: 

  • Sensitive content could be made accessible by Lecture Capture where possible. 
  • In modules containing sensitive content students could be encouraged to read the secondary materials first to encourage looking at the content more objectively. 

Students opting to work on sensitive content that personally affects them 

(this applies to situations where a student is able to choose the topic/theme for their work) 

  • Students could be encouraged to inform their Tutor in advance if they are choosing to produce work containing sensitive content that relates to them personally. 
  • Students could be informed of the below when deciding whether to choose a sensitive topic that relates to them personally for their work: 
  • Producing work on sensitive topics can be productive and students’ personal experiences can be really valuable to the work they produce, however, producing work about personal experiences to an imposed deadline may cause psychological pressure which the student may not need at that particular time.
  • The marker will be identifying ‘areas for improvement’ and offering critique. The student may want to consider whether they are ready for their personal experiences to be assessed according to the marking criteria.
  • More than one marker may see their work and offer critique on this. 
  • There may be opportunities in the future for the student to produce work on a sensitive topic, rather than at a time when it may not be in the best interests of their mental health/ wellbeing. 

Supervision of final year projects/dissertations 

  • Students considering and opting for projects that include qualitative methods or interaction with vulnerable populations should be made aware of the potential for exposure to sensitive information as well as appropriate support mechanisms and what to do if inappropriate material is disclosed to them. 

Signposting to support services 

  • Where sensitive content has been identified within course materials, details of relevant support services should be given alongside Learn materials, in the module handbook and at the end of the lecture. 
  • If a student chooses to produce work based on sensitive content that personally affects them they could be contacted by the Tutor/ Marker with details of relevant support services. 
  • Students affected by sensitive content should be encouraged to seek support from relevant support services rather than the Tutor teaching the content. 

Assessment of sensitive material 

  • The assessment of sensitive material should be carefully considered, especially for compulsory modules or modules where all lectures contain sensitive material. 
  • Students should be made aware at the start of a module that sensitive topics might be assessed. 
  • Where practicable module leaders could consider including sufficient choices of questions so that a question on a sensitive topic could be avoided. 
  • It may be appropriate to consider alternative assessments for students who are personally affected by sensitive material. This should be done in consultation with the student and relevant support services. 
  • Feedback on assessments involving sensitive content should be carefully considered, in particular if personal experience is incorporated. Feedback may need to draw attention to the purpose of academic assessment. 

Other recommendations: 

  • Group discussions should be managed in a sensitive way e.g. ground rules/working rules could be set so that if sensitive subjects are raised during group discussions this is done so with consideration to individuals who may be adversely affected. 

Examples of the types of ground rules which could be introduced are:

  1. Students do not have to offer comment if they feel uncomfortable about doing so 
  2. Students are free to leave the seminar/tutorial/lecture if necessary 
  3. Students should frame their comments in a constructive manner, refraining from shutting down another person, and listening to what they have to say before replying 
  4. Students should keep everything discussed confidential within the group 
  • In some instances it may be appropriate to change, delay or cancel a lecture or seminar due to content mirroring or relating to recent adverse events whether within the student community or externally e.g. the death of a student or staff member, a terror attack or incident of serious violence. 
  • Students should be encouraged to read the module specifications carefully and identify if a module contains sensitive material which might be challenging to them personally. They should be encouraged to discuss this with the module leader and consider whether the module is the right choice for them. 
  • Students opting to take placements (especially those within a in clinical setting) need to be made aware that they might be exposed to sensitive situations or materials unexpectedly. 
  • Module feedback could include a questionregarding sensitive content e.g. “If there was any content on this module that you found distressing, did you feel this was handled in a sensitive, appropriate manner?” 

Support for Tutors teaching sensitive content 

  • Tutors should feel safe and supported when delivering potentially sensitive material. If a Tutor feels they are affected by the topics they teach they can refer to the support available to staff which is detailed here  



June 2019