The University of Chester has placed a content warning label on J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, advising students reading the novel for a literature module that it could prompt “difficult conversations about gender, race, sexuality, class, and identity.”
The university’s English Department issued the warning to first-year students attempting the mandatory ‘Approaches to Literature’ module last autumn. The reading list for the course features Young Adult works like ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ alongside ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Northern Lights’.
The short warning, seen by the Daily Mail, says that the topics raised by the book “will be treated objectively, critically, and most crucially, with respect.” It advises students to raise concerns with the module convenor if they have “any issues” with the content.
The paper also noted that the warning is not included on any other reading lists it accessed. An unnamed university spokesperson claimed that the “example paragraph” was “generic – rather than specific to the three texts,” but did not elaborate on why it did not feature on other lists.
Rowling, one of the most successful contemporary authors, has been accused of transphobia from some quarters for her views on gender identity discourse and trans rights. The condemnation stemmed largely from her objection to a June 2020 article that used the phrase “people who menstruate” to refer to “women.”
The ensuing backlash has seen celebrities, including the main cast of the Harry Potter film franchise, and schools distance themselves from her. While the University of Chester did not specify its reasons for the warning, its spokesperson told the Daily Mail that the institution “promote(s) rather than avoid(s) discussion” on the “issues, challenges and complexity of humankind.”
However, Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told the paper that universities were seeking to “rob [students] of [their] resilience with ridiculous trigger warnings.” In a later tweet, he accused universities of “creating [a dystopian world] for our students.”