Difficult Dialogues Overview
Inclusivity does not mean avoiding difficult dialogues. Instead, inclusivity encourages productive difficult dialogues in the classroom. Your students come from various backgrounds and may have differing political, religious, or social viewpoints. Some material may cause tensions to arise between students who hold opposing views. While it may seem easier to avoid them, exploring deeply divisive topics in the classroom allows students to think critically, examine their own beliefs, and learn to respectfully communicate with those who hold differing opinions. Start Talking is a no-cost OER that provides guidance and activities to design productive dialogues.
Provide Pre-Discussion Assignments
Prior to teaching hot-button issues explain to students why the material is included in the syllabus. Before beginning the discussion, give students the opportunity to reflect on the topic, and activate their prior knowledge through readings, or short answer questions.
Establish Discussion Guidelines in Advance
In order to ensure that the discussion remains civil and productive, clearly state the rules you expect your students to abide by when discussing controversial topics. A handout that reiterates your guidelines for acceptable language and behavior, can be helpful in making sure that tensions don’t boil over.
Do not avoid controversy, it can provide a great learning opportunity. Controversy can prompt students to conduct further research, state their ideas and opinions clearly and defend and explain their positions. It is important to remember that ideas can be attacked, not people.
Provide opportunities to work in small groups. In small groups, students meet and discuss ideas, thoughts and positions with others with very different views. It helps to challenge what we think we know. Plus, it is fun!
- Center for Teaching Excellence (University of Florida): Diversity Problem Scenarios (.pdf)
- Vanderbilt University: Difficult Dialogues
- Indiana University: Managing Difficult Classroom Discussions
- The Thomas Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument: Places you on a scale of how likely you are to avoid conflict want to merge folks to the collaborative end of the scale tend to hear from the students on the aggressive end of the scale.
- Harvard 20 Minute Manager: Difficult Conversations: Contains class activities to help manage difficult conversations.
- Valparaiso University: Center for Civic Reflection: Get help with how to handle difficult conversations. Harvard Conversation Readers.
- University of Minnesota: Preparing for and Facilitating Sensitive Discussion (.pdf)
- Max Malikow (2006): Engaging Students in Controversial Issues
- Sarah Philpott & Jeremiah Clabough et. al. (2011): Controversial Issues: To Teach or Not to Teach?
- Ratnesh Nagda, Patricia Gurin, Jaclyn Rodriguez & Kelly Maxwell (2008): Comparing Debate, Discussion, and Dialogue (.pdf)
- Kevin Baron (University of Florida): Difficult Conversations (.pdf)