Diversity is a common topic being discussed in settings ranging from the corporate companies to educational institutions. While diversity incorporates multiple dimensions, including but not limited to gender, race, and ability, there are a number of nonvisible dimensions that are often overlooked (Hickman, 2016). These dimensions may also be considered social identities which refers to “the nature or content of a particular identity” and are often used to categorize oneself or others (Ellemers et al., 2002, p. 164). This essay will use the case study “Race and Respect” to discuss the role of social identities in the context of this case study, social identity theory, and offer suggestions for managing classroom conflict (Hanum et al., 2010).
This case study presents a scenario in which two participants with different social identities confront each other in a university classroom. Social identity theory is a useful way to analyze the case study because it refers to “how people think about themselves as members of social groups as well as how they behave in intergroup contexts” (Hannum et al., 2010, p. 75). Mark’s comments indicate that he strongly identifies with identities of class and most likely race and gender. The same can be said for Maria in her interpretations of Mark’s statements. The case study also explores issues of ingroup identities through the description of the remaining Black student’s behavior and their uncertainty as to how to react to the classroom conflict. Hannum et al. (2010) states that these “identities are laden with culturally construed meanings that confer on their members degrees of status and access to power and influence” (p. 148). Mark’s social status and proximity to power resulted in no consequences for his comments whereas Maria’s distance from power resulted in her being fired. The remaining students in the class were left to deal with their thoughts, feelings, and emotions on their own.
Conflict in the classroom can be difficult no matter the topic, but it is especially difficult when social identities are central to the conflict. In the case study, the events quickly became the focal point of discussion among the remaining students. Addressing highly emotional topics in a classroom setting can be uncomfortable. In this case, the instructor tried to divert the conversations back to the course topic but was unsuccessful. While it is my belief that classroom leaders should create safe spaces for students to discuss topics that are relevant to their lives, I also believe that those who do not know how to facilitate such discussion may do more harm than good. Teachers need tools and strategies to address sensitive topics that may come up in the classroom. Specific to this case study, one suggestion would have been to acknowledge that the situation left a lot to unpack and ask students to take a moment to participate in a free write for a specified amount of time. This approach gives students an opportunity to process their initial feelings without doing further emotional damage. The writings could be anonymous but should be turned in to the teacher for review. It also gives the instructors insight into their students’ mindset regarding certain issues. It also allows for time for the instructor to consult with trained staff who could provide suggestions for how to handle the situation. Beyond the classroom, this university would benefit from third party facilitated support to navigate the existing tensions between faculty and staff which may be resulting in the lack of empathy among the students.
Ellemers, N., Spears, R., & Doosje, B. (2002). Self and social identity. Annual review of psychology, 53(1), 161-186.
Hannum, K., McFeeters, B. B., & Booysen, L. (2010). Leading across differences: Casebook (Vol. 1). John Wiley & Sons.
Hickman, G. R. (Ed.) (2016). Leading organizations: Perspectives for a new era (2rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.