Encouraging Discussion. Emphasizing Gracefulness.

Dr. Labuski writes, “My classrooms are spaces where students are encouraged to hold and express opinions that may not be popular and/or
conventional. I generate intellectual safety by framing discussions around phrases like ‘What do people say about ….’ rather than ‘What do you think about …’ “ (Diggs Scholar Award).

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.


Filed under GEDI F17

5 Responses to Encouraging Discussion. Emphasizing Gracefulness.

  1. Zhanyu (Grace)

    I really liked the line “often, we aim to win, not to learn.” I find a detractor to any healthy debate is when a participant refuses to listen and persists with his/her point of view…aggressively. I would be put off and not want to continue with the seemingly futile debate. I agree that listening is required on the part of all participants, and there’s something to be learned in how we deliver our speech and arguments. What you said about being “graceful” is certainly very memorable.

  2. Jonathan Harding

    Like Grace I like the line “often, we aim to win, not learn.” Personally, I think this is a cultural norm. If you look at the rhetoric is that surrounds debates it’s often violent and militaristic, especially on social media. Head lines such as “2Chainz destroys Nancy Grace” “Nancy Grace Demolished in Pot Debate” “Donald Trump killed Hillary in 2nd debate” are not uncommon sights in my news feed. Even the toned down versions focus on who won and who lost, and who gained an “epic victory.” I think part of opening discussion is to create a culture of, like you said, “listening and explaining” within the classroom. I’m not sure how to facilitate that, but I’m sure it takes practice both on the instructor’s part and the students’.

  3. Carlos F Mantilla P

    Hi, I second Grace and Jonathan, your post reminded me of an “Enterprise Relationships” (probably not the best translation) class I took several years ago. One of the scenarios we covered was that of “negotiating” either a deal with another company, salary with employees, policies, etc… and how important is that all parties enter a negotiation with the “all should win” idea and not “let’s see how I can get the best part”. It might not be exactly the same as discussing critical issues, but what is the same is the disposition that you should have to start the discussion and always be mindful of the moment. Great post.

  4. Amy Hermundstad

    Thank you so much for sharing how you are encouraging perspectives, discussions, and grace in your classroom. I would love to come and sit in on your class when you talk about grace! What a valuable topic to cover!

  5. Nicole Arnold

    Thank you for bringing up the topic of grace. I think it is very relevant when it comes to topics that can be controversial. There tends to be a religious affiliation with this word and yet it can be used universally in many different situations. I actually have the definition of grace posted on my desk bulletin board in my building’s graduate office because I find it to be so important, yet oftentimes difficult to give. During this week I’ve also thought a lot about listening versus talking. While diversity and inclusion are obviously topics for everyone to talk about, there are certain times when I feel there is more value in what I could learn from others rather than what I can provide to the conversation. I feel that I can add to the conversation when it comes to creating inclusiveness in a classroom, however when it comes to feelings of exclusiveness as a student in the classroom – I don’t feel that I can really speak to that like others can. That is just me being blatantly honest about the situation!

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