This week’s readings got me thinking a lot about a workshop I conducted a few years ago. The workshop focused on identity and culture – the idea was to get first-year students to understand their identity and how they can work with other people who may have identities that are different from their own. Discussion was a critical part of the workshop, so we began by setting a few ground rules and emphasizing a few guidelines using the acronym RESPECT. This is what it stood for:
R – recognize your communication style (we did this in an earlier workshop)
E – expect to learn something about yourself and others
S – speak clearly and use personal examples when making a point
P – participate honestly and openly
E – engage in the process by listening as well as speaking
C – confidentiality/curiosity/charity
T – take responsibility for yourself and what you say
The workshop ended up being a bit of a challenge. As the facilitator, I was asked to keep my ideas and opinions out of the discussion. This didn’t seem difficult at first, but it became quite hard when I realized that the conversation was becoming very one-sided. Though we had several students from minoritized groups in our classroom, the majority of the room consisted of people who identified in the majority. Students in the majority tended to dominate the conversation, making statements that most likely made other students uncomfortable. As the facilitator, I tried to steer the conversation back in a more productive direction, reminding the students of the guidelines we set at the beginning of the session. Nevertheless, it was difficult to do so with such a large proportion of the classroom in agreement (and not in a good way), especially since I was asked to keep my ideas and opinions out of the discussion.
I’ve reflected on this situation many times and still struggle with the best way to handle it. I’m interested in your thoughts. Do you have any suggestions for handling these difficult situations? How do I remain neutral as the facilitator, but ensure that the conversation is productive and not one-sided?