The semester-long Inclusive Pedagogy Series came to a close with workshops on best practices for talking about the election—a contentious topic—and gender identity in the classroom. In total, this fall’s series reached nearly 100 faculty members, staff members, and graduate students through eight workshops. In addition to the main CNDLS facilitators, our collaborators came from across campus, including CMEA, the LGBTQ Resource Center, GSP, Student Financial Services, and the Department of Biology. We were pleased to see the interest and engagement of participants, and thank all of those who made these conversations possible. For a full list of the sessions held throughout the fall semester, please visit our workshop website.
Stay tuned for more information on spring Inclusive Pedagogy offerings! We also invite you to contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) if your department is interested in a customized workshop on a particular topic.
How to Talk about the Election and Other Difficult Discussions
On November 14, Joselyn Schultz Lewis (CNDLS) and James Olsen (CNDLS, Philosophy) facilitated a session on how to handle difficult discussions, framed to focus on the recent U.S. presidential election and resulting tensions. This session offered faculty a space to talk about how to create a classroom atmosphere conducive to fruitful discussion of sensitive topics so the intense and difficult dialogues that inevitably arise can remain constructive. After asking participants to share their experiences discussing (or not) the recent elections with their students, Olsen highlighted a two-pronged approach for difficult discussions in the classroom.
- Lay groundwork: From the beginning of the semester, set the classroom up as a space for productive conversations. This could take the form of setting explicit learning goals, laying out ground rules and participatory expectations, or even weaving in reflective activities throughout the classes. Groundwork and intentionality are crucial for creating a classroom atmosphere from the beginning that allows for difficult dialogues. “How can you begin to talk about race in a classroom when there hasn’t been a space?” Olsen asked. Faculty should consider part of their role to be facilitating a space where all feel comfortable expressing themselves, something they can impact in both explicit and implicit ways.
- Develop strategies and tactics: Faculty should also be prepared with strategies and tactics for handling difficult discussions and situations in the moment, when they arise without warning. In these situations, Lewis and Olsen recommended being aware of one’s own “hot buttons” and potential emotional triggers—and to have a plan such as taking deep breaths or turning to face the chalkboard and taking a few steps away. Another strategy is to “take statements away” from the speaker and to review them objectively as a way to consider alternative perspectives. Faculty should be prepared to encourage (and improve upon) communications from various sides of an issue.
Faculty and staff had an opportunity to share their own experiences and recommendations as well, in small group discussions.
Gender Identity in the Classroom: Strategies for Inclusivity
Michelle Ohnona (CNDLS) and Julian Haas (LGBTQ Resource Center) facilitated the fall’s final IP workshop on gender identity, held on November 29. This session offered faculty and staff a space to discuss how to create an environment in which students’ gender expression doesn’t compromise their learning.
Ohnona, a scholar of sexuality studies, and Haas, an activist and educator, led the discussion, beginning with current terms and perspectives on gender identity. Noting that more than 75% of transgender, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming (TGQN) undergraduate students report experiencing harassment during the course of their studies (according to a 2015 study conducted by the Association of American Universities), Ohnona and Haas stressed that professors are uniquely positioned to impact the well-being of TGQN students by promoting inclusive and respectful classroom environments.
While participants discussed their experiences and strategies that they have tried, Ohnona and Haas shared a few recommendations as well:
- Anticipate how gender identity manifests itself in the classroom. Address gender identity in your syllabus. Outline a policy allowing students to identify what their preferred names and pronouns are and discuss this with students.
- Develop strategies to support an inclusive classroom culture around gender identity. Lay out clear expectations for your students and model behaviors that exemplify respect for the rights of students to self-identify and self-disclose information about their gender identity and preferred pronouns.
- Don’t minimize the issue. Pronouns might not be important to everyone in the room, but they are probably important to at least one person in the room. And it may not be obvious who that person is.
- Develop exercises that reflect a commitment to inclusivity. Think about which voices are represented in your class readings. Encourage students to seek out the perspectives of TGQN scholars in their research.