Leading difficult discussions
Instructors can create a positive climate for intellectual discourse about diversity by setting guidelines for class participation that anticipate difficult discussions, and managing contentious interactions when they arise. Here are a few suggestions.
- Set Guidelines. Provide students with a set of ground rules for class participation, or engage your students in designing them with you. Ground rules about civil behavior, acceptable evidence, and appropriate responses to offensive statements can make your expectations for civil, meaningful discourse clear from the beginning, and facilitate an atmosphere of mutual respect. Encourage all students to participate by assigning roles, or providing multiple avenues for participation (e.g., through writing or discussion).
- Manage Contentious Interactions. When an offensive remark is made, Lee Warren, of the Derek Bok Center at Harvard University encourages us “1) to manage ourselves so as to make them useful, and 2) to find the teaching opportunities to help students learn in and from the moment.” Try to collect yourself and set aside your own personal reactions. Do not allow personal attacks, or avoid addressing a hot moment altogether. Instead, help students step back and think about the issue productively, such as by making it a topic of general discussion or a writing exercise. For more detailed recommendations and specific examples, see Warren’s excellent article on Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom.
- Treat students as individuals, not as representatives of or “experts” for their racial or cultural or other social identity group. Allow students to draw on their own lives and experiences when appropriate.
- 10 Ways to Talk to Students About Sensitive Issues in the News, from the New York Times Learning Network.
- America by the Numbers. In this PBS series, Maria Hinojosa looks at the effects of changing demographics on communities and people around the United States. Includes open and frank discussions about race, ethnicity, and related issues.
- Global learning and making excellence inclusive
- Navigating Courageous Conversations.A video from Lehigh Universitiy that includes vignettes of students acting out insensitive and uncomfortable scenarios about race, ethnicity, religion, and gender.
- Speak Up. A video series related to the Teaching Tolerance program. It offers video clips of 15 to 20 seconds intended to generate discussion about hurtful comments about women, minorities, Mexicans, gays and lesbians, and people with disabilities. The videos, which have an accompanying pocket guide and a handbook are aimed at high school teachers but could easily fit into a college classroom.
- Teaching Matters. An issue of CTE's newsletter devoted to inclusive teaching.
- Teaching Tolerance. A resource from the Southern Poverty Law Center, including a magazine and website. Recent articles, which often includes teacher activity guides, include “Hate in the Hallways,” “An Educator’s Guide to the Immigration Debate,” “Confronting White Privilege,” “Straight Talk about the N-Word,” “Debunking Stereotypes about Muslims and Islam,” and “Sex? Sexual Orientation? Gender Identity? Gender Expression?”