The exploration of sensitive topics in higher education


  • Jade Thomson Liverpool John Moores University, Faculty of Arts, Professional & Social Studies



Through my research, 35.5% of students surveyed felt unsafe whilst exploring sexual violence in theatre and whilst some of the stories that have come to light are positive, many are about distress, pressure, mental health issues, and students being put in very vulnerable positions. This research has implications for other areas of HE practice, where sexual violence, and other potentially distressing topics, are an important part of student exploration through their studies. Many students who study the topic do so out of a need to challenge self, educate others or raise awareness. It is our job as educators to allow them to explore topics such as these in a safe environment.

The research has been led by the application of the student voice through the collection of data from drama students across the UK to enhance student experiences in better understanding their experience of learning and educational material covering sexual violence. Interviews and surveys have been carried out to understand the perspective of students who have explored through their practically taught sessions sexual violence, up to and including rape, whilst at in higher education. This data, alongside interviews with intimacy coordinators and tutors from other institutions, has been analysed to understand the key aspects of teaching sensitive topics such as sexual violence.

My presentation will give a short overview of the themes that have emerged through thematic analysis of data collected. From this analysis I will then present several thoughts on how to mitigate distress and enhance safety when exploring sensitive topics within the humanities. This will include the use of content warnings, communication with students and the creation of safe spaces. I will then close by discussing the implications beyond theatre to other areas of HE practice to develop and enhance good practice.

The exploration of sensitive topics in higher education, PowerPoint. Only LJMU staff and students have access to this resource.