At the Sheridan Center, we anticipate that many instructors are wondering about what to do in their classes after the U.S. election. Below, we offer several possibilities for addressing the topic or acknowledging the level of emotion that many members of the Brown community may be facing at this time. Generally, research suggests that students find helpful instructors' efforts to acknowledge issues of deep campus concern, whether using a small amount of class time (like a brief acknowledgement) or more extended portion of the course (like a planful discussion) (Huston & DiPietro, 2007).
Acknowledging your concern for students
A brief non-partisan acknowledgement of your concern for students' well-being during difficult emotional times can signal your care for students while also addressing the need to focus class time on key course objectives. Instructors can also invite students to write briefly using a minute paper, with prompts such as inviting them to reaffirm their own key values or to link observed dynamics to course content. One study of instructional responses after large-scale emotional events found that the vast majority of students found it helpful when an instructor noted that the class would proceed, but if students were too distressed to process the material, the class would offer other opportunities for review in the future (Huston & DiPietro, 2007)
Holding a planful discussion soon
Depending on the learning objectives of your class, a discussion of the election can benefit student learning, engagement and well-being -- and help you address course material in a highly relevant way. However, thinking planfully about a controversial discussion is important to avoid some common pitfalls, which psychologist Derald Sue (2013) summarizes as silencing, abruptly cutting off dialogue, and allowing the discussion to develop in unproductive and potentially harmful ways. If you choose to have a discussion during class, planning the contours of the discussion and anticipating hot moments are important considerations.
Sheridan resources for planning the discussion include:
- Facilitating discussions about hot topics
- Fostering equitable classroom participation
- Facilitating effective group discussions
Although a heated verbal exchange is the most popular image of a controversial discussion, silence is another common outcome (Sue, 2013). For silent or superficial discussions, Helen Fox (2009) recommends having students write on an index card, "One thing I've been reluctant to say....," which serves as a prompt for follow-up discussion.
Staging a discussion for later
A third possibility is to combine both of the approaches above by engaging in a brief acknowledgement in the immediate week but postponing decisions about a discussion until later. This approach may be preferable if you are processing your own emotional response, if you want more time to think through an approach, or if students raise the topic in ways that you had not anticipated. In the latter case, instructors can recognize the importance of the topic, indicate that more time would be helpful to think about it, and, if applicable, that they may plan to revisit it in later class sessions.
Other resources that may be useful include Returning to the Classroom After the Election and Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom. The Sheridan Center is also available to plan or debrief post-election classroom discussions: [email protected].
Fox, H. (2004). "When race breaks out": Conversations about race and racism in college classrooms. New York: Peter Lang.
Huston, T.A., & DiPietro, M. (2007). In the eye of a storm. To Improve the Academy, 25: 207-224.
Sue, D .W. (2013, November). Race talk: The psychology of racial dialogues. American Psychologist: 663-672.