difficult discussions

At CRLT, we have been hearing from many instructors seeking guidance on how to talk with their students in the days following the election. Depending on many factors, you may or may not choose to engage students in conversation about the election results. In either case, we hope the following thoughts will be helpful. 
If you do choose to engage students on this topic, it will be important to acknowledge the range of perspectives and intense emotions that are likely present in your classroom. These guidelines on discussing difficult topics may be helpful for framing a conversation where students with diverse experiences and points of view can engage productively with one another. 
If you do not choose to address the topic of the election substantively but still want to acknowledge it, you can do the following:
  • You can begin by recognizing that it was a long night, everyone is likely very tired, different people have strong emotions from a variety of perspectives, and it may be hard to focus.  
  • You can give your students a brief chance to write for a minute or two -- to process their thoughts and feelings and/or identify people they want to reach out to later today, for whatever sorts of connection and processing would be beneficial to them. And then move on to your plan for the day. 
  • You could note the difficulty of focusing and of controlling strong emotions and let students know they can feel free to step out of class if they need a minute to refocus.

If a student raises the election as a topic when you hadn't planned to discuss it, these resources may be helpful if you want to engage everyone in conversation. If you do not feel prepared to do so, you can recognize why the student might want to have the conversation, but explain that you want to think further about whether and how to engage it as a class because it is important to do so carefully given the intense emotions and divergent perspectives around this election.  Read more »

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Ann Arbor Campus

The recent incident of hate speech that occurred at U-M is part of a disturbing national trend. A recent article in Inside Higher Education referred to “an epidemic of racist incidents at campuses across the country.” These upsetting events in combination with the heightened rhetoric of the election campaign have the potential to increase the stress levels experienced by members of the campus community, especially those from groups targeted by hate speech. It is useful to keep in mind that such incidents may still be on students’ minds when they enter your classroom, and that such incidents take a toll on faculty and GSIs as well.  What can instructors do?

  • Acknowledge the incidents: Research conducted in the wake of national tragedies, such as 9-11 or Hurricane Katrina, indicates that students find it helpful when their instructors simply acknowledge traumatic events, recognize that students might be experiencing distress, and show extra support (Huston & DiPietro, 2007).
  • Prepare to engage with the incident proactively or in response to student concerns: CRLT has developed a web page with guidelines for discussing incidents of hate, bias, and discrimination that can help you prepare. The site offers strategies for planned discussions, as well as suggestions for responding to challenging conversations when they arise spontaneously. For example, we provide sample discussion guidelines instructors have found helpful in both planned and spontaneous discussions of difficult issues.
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As we end the fall term and look forward to winter, students and faculty are confronting significant turmoil around the world, as well as protests and passionate discussions within academia. Whether it’s the horrible incidents of violence in this country or elsewhere across the globe, or incidents of racial bias that have led to protests and heightened rhetorical exchanges on a number of campuses, distressing events far from home and close to it are likely to be on students’ minds.

At this point in the term, the disturbing events of recent weeks have the potential to make an already stressful time of the year even more difficult for many students. What can instructors do?

  • Acknowledge the incidents: Research conducted in the wake of national tragedies, such as 9-11 or Hurricane Katrina, indicates that students find it helpful when their instructors simply acknowledge traumatic events, recognize that students might be experiencing distress, and show extra support, such as offering to grant extensions for students who request them. (Huston & DiPietro, 2007)
     
  • Refer students to campus resources: Offices include Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS ), Depression Center, Psychological Clinic. CRLT’s blogpost on Supporting Students in Distress offers an overview of resources and advice on this topic, including this web page from the Mental Health Workgroup which offers resources for instructors who encounter students in need of mental health support.

When planning for courses next term, it is useful to keep in mind that the turmoil of recent weeks may still be on students’ minds—and therefore enter your classrooms, whether you anticipate it or not. Because these issues in so many ways relate to differences in social identity and power—and because so many of our students have personal or family connections to places experiencing crisis—events in the news may also influence ongoing conversations about the campus climate here in Ann Arbor.

Over many years, CRLT has developed guidelines for discussing difficult topics to support teachers in facilitating such conversations in classrooms across the curriculum. If you want to raise topics from the news in your classes in order to explore connections between course material and contemporary events, you can find strategies for planned discussions of high-stakes topics. Other resources offer you ways to prepare for and respond to challenging conversations that emerge when you haven’t planned for them.

Read more »

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The unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri, are unquestionably on many students' minds--as they are on faculty's--as they go about their daily lives on campus. The civil unrest in Ferguson is a topic, like many other current events, about which people hold widely divergent and deeply-felt perspectives, often connected in powerful ways to their own identities. Even if you don't teach content related to such issues, unfolding current events are affecting your students' experiences of learning and being on campus. Given how polarizing such topics can be, how can you foster engaged dialogue among students that are meaningful and productive of learning? 

CRLT's website features guidelines for discussing difficult topics to support teachers in facilitating such conversations in classrooms across the curriculum. If you want to raise such topics in your classroom in order to explore connections between course material and contemporary events, here are some strategies for planned discussions of high-stakes topics (other sites around the web provide ideas for teaching about Ferguson specifically). Other CRLT resources offer you ways to prepare for and respond to challenging conversations that emerge when you haven’t planned for them

Some strategies highlighted on these pages--useful for either planned or spontaneous discussions--include: 

  • Create a framework for the discussion, using specific questions to guide student contributions.
  • Allow everyone a chance to contribute, but don't force students to participate in the discussion. Consider letting students write briefly about the topic to gather their thoughts individually before sharing or to provide a way to contribute ideas anonymously. 
  • Consider supportive ways to open and close such a discussion. You might begin by explaining the goals and relevance of the discussion to your class and explicitly welcoming a range of perspectives. To close a discussion, you can thank students for their contributions and indicate ways they can continue to explore the topics. 
  • Where possible, discuss links to the content of your course or discipline. Even in settings where you immediately see a connection to your topics, this is likely to be affecting your students and their ability to focus on your class. Acknowledging this can be a powerful way to facilitate their learning.
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Students and faculty return to campus this fall amidst significant turmoil around the world. Whether it’s protests against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, or the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, distressing events far from home and close to it are likely to be on students’ minds—and therefore to enter your classrooms, whether you anticipate them or not. Because these issues in so many ways relate to differences in social identity and power—and because so many of our students have personal or family connections to places experiencing crisis—these events may also influence ongoing conversations about the campus climate here in Ann Arbor. 

None of these are simple or easy topics to talk about. Over many years, CRLT has developed guidelines for discussing difficult topics to support teachers in facilitating such conversations in classrooms across the curriculum. If you want to raise such topics in your classes in order to explore connections between course material and contemporary events, you can find strategies for planned discussions of high-stakes topics. Other resources offer you ways to prepare for and respond to challenging conversations that emerge when you haven’t planned for them.

Some strategies highlighted on these pages--useful for either planned or spontaneous discussions--include:  Read more »

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