On October 24th, Martin Davidson and Kim Whitler hosted a professional developments session for faculty focused on navigating political tensions in the classroom. Below are notes from the session on best practices and take-aways generated from faculty.
Thoughts on How to Address In-Class Voice
1) Because of the challenge of the topic (e.g., arrive at Darden with established beliefs, conversations happen outside of the classroom, etc.), it was suggested that we need to go above and beyond (“over index”) to encourage and cultivate diversity of views / opinions / etc.
2) Ask students to separate value statements from efficiency (i.e., theory / class content) statements
3) Add perspective (e.g., historical) to surface diverse positions
4) Establish a format / structure to the discussion to ensure all sides are given airtime, explicitly invite contradicting points of view
5) Assign role play – that may be opposite of their preferred position
6) Being silent (e.g., after inviting a countervailing / non-normative view)
7) Asking questions that can invite discussion:
* What are we not talking about but should,
* The tide of the conversation is in one direction, what are others we should consider,
* What should we be talking about now?
8) Overtly invite the opposite view
9) Include a reading that is counter to the premise of the course or class (e.g., why diversity is bad)
10) Provide intellectual content that enables students to chew on multiple views / sides
11) Begin the course by setting a tone / expectations (e.g., reinforcing the virtue of civility at the beginning of class
12) Finding mechanism to highlight that we are more alike than we may think – highlight our shared humanity (e.g., red / blue stickers that identify your political leaning and then go talk with one another about why you chose the color, what about your past informs your choice, identify three things you agree on)
13) Faculty member practicing vulnerability – we take the interpersonal risk
14) Heightening awareness of and attending to “forgotten views” in the discussion
Thoughts on How to Address the Challenge in a More Programmatic / Structural Manner
1) At the right points in the “student journey,” (e.g., orientation / Q1 / Q2) engage in discussions around psychological safety/high performance, etc., creating educational, training, skill development opportunities
*Inconsistent reinforcement of the high performance standard and accompanying interpersonal risk / vulnerability dynamic can be more harmful than not shaping the environment at all
Additional Comments/ Food for Thought
1) Program structure (exec vs residential vs part –time) and composition matter when thinking about how it affects the classroom overall
2) Also important to think about how students are differentially supported outside of the classroom vs inside of the classroom, and how it creates fear of cancellation for everyone.
3) The cultural norms that pervade this institution (i.e. reticence to talk about politics even among faculty) colors and pervades the environment. How can we interrogate and transform that dynamic?
4) Time constraints are very real for students, and so have to consider that it takes time to build to the level of comfort that allows for robust discussion on difficult topics
5) The concept of Safe Space, which is liberally coded, as opposed to brave or courageous spaces which align with work/ research that our faculty engage in.