I’m passionate about this. Whether we’re talking about race, gender identity, politics, religion, or anything else, I never want a student to feel that he/she cannot bring up a discussion point or offer a perspective for fear of being ridiculed, isolated, or shunned. I thought about this plenty, especially during the election season. I saw a lot of open hostility between both sides of the political parties, even on this campus. I heard a lot of what I call “absolute rhetoric”–my way is the only way, and everyone who thinks differently is wrong and evil. I saw people who could have been great friends hating each other because of their opposing political beliefs. I still do. It’s terribly heartbreaking.
College can be a time of growth for undergraduates. I truly believe that it is a time to re-examine beliefs and to be open to hearing other viewpoints on many subjects–but really, any time is good for doing that, right? But for undergraduates, I would never want them to think that I “hate” them because they might believe something not as popular or something that they think I don’t personally believe myself. I’ve always appreciated professors who didn’t openly criticize religions or political beliefs in class because it truly made me feel like they understood the definition of tolerance and did not want anyone to feel isolated, stupid, or irrelevant. This has become important to me as an educator. And I truly appreciate the inclusive strategy that Dr. Labuski utilizes in in order to make students feel safe in suggesting a particular perspective that may or may not be their own.
This can also be tricky to navigate because I would never want the words of one student to wound the heart of another. I make clear in my syllabus that everyone must be respectful to each other. Delivery, I think, is key when expressing opinions. The English department requires some kind of argument paper as the final paper of the semester. My students will be picking a topic (I’m not sure how narrowly I’m limiting the topics yet) and writing a paper expressing their argument. I will be going over gracefulness in class because it’s something that I maintain is a necessary virtue when explaining one’s opinion. It’s important to remember that when we come across people who believe starkly different things, this is a time for open discussion. Listening and explaining. Sometimes, we forget to listen. We start forming responses before the other person in the conversation is even finished speaking. Often, we aim to win, not to learn. I’m guilty of this myself sometimes, but I truly want to work on being intentional about understanding why and how a person believes the things he/she does. I think the way we can even hope to encourage people to consider changing a perspective begins with making them believe that we genuinely care about understanding what they have to say. Then we follow this by explaining our viewpoints with grace.