Contentious Classroom Comments

Contentious moments in a classroom, such as when someone makes a politically charged or racially insensitive comment, can be uncomfortable. These comments can also completely derail a lecture and compromise the learning environment. Sometimes our instinct is to quickly redirect the conversation to avoid addressing the comment. A more effective approach, however, is to role-model to students how to manage the situation through discussion. The ideas presented on Chico State’s Our Democracy page include resources to navigate situations like this. For example, the suggested L.E.A.R.N. approach is to…

L – Listen to what students are saying

E – Empathize with their position

A – Assess what to do (take a moment to compose yourself)

R – Respond directly

N – Negotiate how to move forward

It might be helpful for you to have a mental script ready for times like this. For example, you could say something like “Diverse perspectives are welcome in this classroom and I sense some disagreement about this topic. Let’s take a minute to process this idea including writing down your thoughts. Would anyone like to share what came to mind as we seek to better understand each other’s points of view?”

You can always revisit the conversation at the next class after everyone, including yourself, has had time to process it. Ignoring the comment altogether or ending class early is a last resort unless you feel that someone’s safety might be at risk.