someone speaking to a group about divisive topics

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.

Strategies

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.

Embrace Controversy

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.

Group Work

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!

Resources

Diving Deeper/Research