Challenging conversations are essential for learning. They can push students to reconsider the appropriateness and accuracy of prior knowledge and assumptions and help construct new knowledge. It's thus important to carefully plan how to conduct these conversations and how to react when discomfort becomes hostile or dangerous.
Surface and seek to understand my limits and biases
Create a community to go to for reflection, feedback, and comfort
Establish solid relationships with people who are different from me
Learn about current social problems and their impacts on others
Self Assessment:Do I feel ill-prepared to talk about racism, ableism, heterosexism, or…? If so, commit to learning more about the issues by studying history, following current events, and the perspectives of the oppressed group.Do I reroute classroom discussions when I sense discomfort in the room? If so, commit to riding out the discussion next time.Do I feel isolated in my teaching about oppression? If so, commit to identifying a colleague with whom I can co-teach, plan or debrief.Do I worry about my ability to answer students’ questions about particular forms of oppression? If so, commit to accepting that I don’t have all the answers and embrace the opportunity to learn with my students.
State my commitment for challenging, worthwhile discussions on my syllabus
Provide a framework or a set of priorities for discussions
When we discuss social problems and concerns, we will seek to understand the social and historical roots of a situation, use an intersectional lens to see multiple dynamics at play, and highlight the distinct vulnerabilities of particular people.
Create community agreements or discussion norms with students
Discuss microaggressions and how they will be handled
Consider presenting a case or posing a real-world problem that demands a socially just response
Prepare and ask pointed questions that challenge dominant assumptions and biases
Intervene if a microaggression has occurred – note that the impact of a student’s statement insulted the integrity of another
Seek regular, anonymous feedback on the class climate
After an eruption, ask for anonymous responses for that specific day:
Summarize student feedback and discuss a high-level summary with students
Landis, K. (2008) Start Talking: A handbook for engaging difficult dialogues in higher education. The University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University.
Murray-Johnson, K. (2019) (En)gauging Self Toward a Practical Framework for Race Talk Adult Learning 30(1)
Sue, D W (2015) Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom from the Derek Bok Center