I have really struggled with what to write this week. Coming up with the thing to say after the election is something a lot of us are struggling with. Then I realized I was asking the wrong question. As faculty we often default to the perspective that we have wisdom the world needs. What I, and I think all of us should be asking is, what do other people have to say?
Listen to your students who have been harassed on and off campus with an open mind. Listen to your students in class as they complain that everyone is talking about the election, when they want to learn about what they came here to study. Listen to your students who were thrilled at the election results, but are afraid about voicing their enthusiasm on campus. These may be office hour conversations, they may occupy class time, they may be email exchanges or comments as you walk across campus. The form of the conversation is not particularly important and do not worry about how you will respond or not having the right answer, just start with listening. You will find yourself listening to things you disagree with and do not understand. You will find yourself surprised at the things your students and colleagues think and experience. You may find your own views on expression changing, but it has to start with listening, even if it takes us outside our comfort zones. Sometimes listening is what helps us make a change, sometimes listening is all that is required. My background is in communication and one fascinating truth from that field of study is that we hear all the time, but listening is an active choice requiring work. If you want to take this a step further toward discussion you should read about what Villanova is doing after the election.
No one ever looks back on a decision and says to themselves “I wish I would have understood people less before proceeding.” So ask students how they are doing, let them know your office hours are open to them, and listen.
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There have been a lot of stories about race on college campuses in the past few weeks. Protests that reached the football field rocked Missouri; students, faculty, and administrators clashed at Yale resulting in varied responses; protests at Dartmouthhave become a flashpoint for administrators and politicized news. Anyone on our campus who was not aware of these broader trends became so before break through a timely email from President Zingg. His email was the topic of choice on anonymous social network Yik Yak immediately afterwards and I can promise you—students were and are talking. Lost track of what these protests are about and how they impact education? The Chronicle has a good briefing to get you caught up although each summary becomes outdated in short order.
Beyond the campus and in the international spotlight, terrorist attacks in France have lots of people talking about limiting immigration based on racial, national, or religious tests.
Regardless of your area of expertise or the topic of your class, you are walking into a classroom where students are asking questions about race and diversity on campus and off. If you are affiliated with Multicultural and Gender Studies, you are more likely to be ready for this conversation. But what happens when you walk into your Physics classroom and several students are in a heated argument about a slur someone used in the dorms? What happens when a student in your hybrid Business class asks “are black students safe on campus?” in the chatroom in the middle of a class session? How can we best serve our students and community in this changing environment?
- Educate yourself. No one expects everyone on campus to be an expert on all current higher education news and all topics related to diversity on and off campus, but these issues are only becoming more prominent in higher education. AAC&U has some great resources to get started.
- Odds are good, someone will be unhappy with how you proceed. Cut off discussion and students may feel you are dismissing legitimate concerns. Engage the topics some students are deeply concerned with and you may do so in the wrong way or let a conversation take over a course students are paying to attend to learn critical material. Be okay with the prospect that things may not go as planned and maybe check with your chair to find out if there is any advice from the program or college that may help you out, even when things don’t go well.
Most of the easy problems have already been solved. Only the hard ones are left.
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