Student Handbook

APPENDIX F: PRINCIPLES FOR MANAGING DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS AND CLASSROOM DIALOGUE

Adapted from Materials developed by the University of Memphis

In our graduate and undergraduate courses, we are likely to engage ideas and materials that can be controversial. You may be exposed to arguments and analyses in the readings, lectures, discussions, and class activities with which you disagree and/or find upsetting. You are encouraged to voice your opinions about these issues, but we also expect you to support your arguments with evidence. Together, we need to strive to create and sustain a comfortable learning environment for everyone in the course by sharing ideas, observations, and questions respectfully and honestly. Such an environment is only possible when instructors and students treat each other with mutual respect. 

The following ideas and practices will help us create a constructive and respectful learning environment. 

  • We are all knowledgeable in different ways. We all have something to teach each other and something to learn from each other. Instructors have the additional advantage of knowledge that is based in the research literature and pedagogy.
  • No one is to be blamed for the circumstances of their existence that are beyond their control. We cannot be blamed for repeating misinformation we have learned in our social locations but we can hold each other accountable to not repeat misinformation after we have learned otherwise.
  • Every person in the classroom is responsible for being an active learner and participant. This responsibility includes but is not limited to the need to participate in class discussions. It also includes the responsibility to respectfully challenge ideas and arguments that appear questionable and/or reproduce injurious ideas of inequality and difference.
  • Learn to appreciate different personalities. Try to draw out those who are quieter than others but respect people’s comfort levels and learn to recognize active listening. Those who are more assertive should try to recognize and refrain from dominating the conversation.
  • Everyone is encouraged to rethink the assumptions and knowledge we bring into the classroom. Approach your own learning with an open mind and seriously consider ideas and arguments that challenge or complicate long-held assumptions.
  • Respect each person’s experiences, and never demean or trivialize another’s life experience. Do not tolerate words or actions that result in hostility in the classroom.
  • When confronted with information or ideas that seem questionable, ask for clarification and additional information before drawing conclusions and criticizing others’ statements. Be accountable to the instructor and classmates by raising concerns directly with the individual at hand.
  • Each class is a learning community with a unique dynamic. Faculty welcome thoughtfully considered critical feedback and constructive suggestions for change to enhance the classroom community and learning experience. We encourage students to actively participate in this dialogue and will respect students’ input.
  • Power imbalances, between faculty and students, and among students, inevitably make their way into classroom dynamics. Some hierarchies, such as those between faculty and students, are part of the learning process. But faculty and students should also be mindful of abuses of power. Should such an abuse occurs, individuals are first encouraged to approach the party in question. In the event that an aggrieved party (or parties) feels uncomfortable doing so, there are departmental structures in place, such as ombudspersons, who will hear such complaints.

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