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Teaching in Response to the Election

Posted by on Thursday, November 10, 2016 in Resource.

Nashvilleby Joe Bandy, CFT Assistant Director

Before and certainly after Tuesday’s election, there has been much discussion in higher education about the incivilities and conflicts of this electoral season, and the potential impacts they are having on our students, particularly those students who are least represented on our campuses and most vulnerable to trauma.  Many students are now experiencing multiple intense emotions such as fear, sadness, and anger, and these will likely shape both their learning and campus life for some time to come.  The Chronicle for Higher Education has captured some student reactions to the election results here, and has kept track of post-election campus incidents here.  As educators we have a number of responsibilities to our students in times such as these.  The Center for Teaching has a variety of resources that may prove useful to you as you grapple with the many challenges this moment presents for you in your teaching.

  1. If we are to be effective in our teaching and if we are to model coping and wellness for our students, we need to practice self-care ourselves in the face of the stresses this election has placed on our role as educators. Some of the strategies instructors use to ensure they are practicing the self-care they need to be fully present and responsive to student needs are captured in this article, also in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  1. It is important to help students feel supported and understood by opening space for reflection and empathy, and by providing channels for valuable support services when necessary. We have more specific suggestions for helping students through difficult moments in our teaching guide, “Teaching in Times of Crisis,” which we hope will be useful.  That guide was written for a different sort of crisis, one in which communities are united in grief or trauma.  That’s not the case for this election, which has produced a wide variety of reactions in different communities, but the advice in the guide is still helpful.
  1. It is important to help students find learning spaces in which they may have critical – if sometimes intensely conflicting – dialogue about these issues in a way that is civil, respectful, and educational. Modeling civility while supporting open dialogue across conflicting views is one of the most difficult challenges for teachers, one that can be unpredictable, severely test our abilities, and have highly consequential outcomes for students. For these times, we hope you will consult our guide on “Difficult Dialogues.”  There are other similar and useful guides on difficult moments from our counterparts at the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.
  1. It is imperative that these dialogues be inclusive of multiple perspectives, if they are to be well-informed and transformative for students. Having inclusive dialogue, however, can be easier said than done, and that is why we created a guide for “Increasing Inclusivity in the Classroom.”
  1. Students need to be informed if they are to develop their intellectual and personal capacities to become empowered citizens. The lessons of this election cycle across the disciplines are countless, paradigm shifting, and will likely be confounding for many years to come.  Therefore it is impossible to summarize such lessons here or provide an exhaustive bibliography of potentially useful sources.  We simply urge all instructors to become as informed as possible about those impacts of the election that are likely to resonate with your course topics and the discussions your students may want to have.  Then we ask that you consult with your departmental colleagues, your disciplines’ professional societies, relevant interdisciplinary associations, your libraries, and other sources so as to ensure you and your students can understand the issues fully through the most relevant and recent scholarship.

If you need any assistance to meet these or other challenges you face in your teaching, please call the Center for Teaching at 615-322-7290 to schedule a consult with our staff.  We would be happy to assist you.

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