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.

2 thoughts on “Contentious Classroom Comments

  1. Great guidance here. I have a statement in my syllabus, and I remind students periodically, that we’re here to be educated, so if you hear something that you find offensive, tell us why, so we can better understand. (In other words, educate us rather than reacting or accusing). I’d apply that to this situation as well. It’s a teachable moment, if you can keep your cool and respond with the goal of increasing everyone’s understanding.

  2. I love this! I am really glad that this was the tip for this week. I have seen conversations being shut down prematurely, and even professors engaging in subtle sarcasm that would discourage diverse opinions from being expressed. This doesn’t help anything. I love what Susan said in her comment too.

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