A crowded group of protesters with signs reading "Hate has no home here," "This is a nation of immigrants," NO BAN NO WALL," and "Remember US Airports were built for peace."In a recent blog post, we addressed challenges and opportunities in returning to the classroom in the days immediately following an extremely divisive election. Here, we want to provide resources for teaching in the post-election climate over the longer term. No matter their political perspective, instructors are likely to notice that their students' learning or their classroom dynamics have been affected by the big emotions swirling around the new administration.

We have assembled some guidance in response to relevant questions and concerns we have been hearing from instructors in recent days. The following topics are looming large for many. Each topic can be expanded by clicking the small arrow at the left.

Establishing the boundaries of civil discourse in your classroom

Many CRLT resources emphasize the usefulness of establishing and reviewing discussion guidelines in order to foster a learning environment where multiple, often conflicting, perspectives can productively be shared and discussed. We recently met with Jack Bernard of the U-M General Counsel’s office, who endorsed this practice and offered a legal clarification we found useful. As Bernard explained, the classroom is a particular kind of campus space where norms of discourse are established by the instructor for the purposes of learning:  "While some University spaces, such as the Diag, are limited public forums, where the institution does not control or constrain much speech, classrooms are nonpublic forums, where the University and its instructors control the context for speech, including the speech of students. For instance, instructors can determine who 'has the floor' and may be speaking [or] when it is and is not appropriate to move from one topic to another. Instructors establish the norms for engagement in the course and can respond to conduct or speech that is disruptive, such as disrespectful, insensitive, or mean-spirited remarks." Many instructors have also found this FAQ sheet from the American Association of University Professors helpful in providing information and frameworks for making decisions about what ideas to share in the classroom and how.  

Supporting students in distress

Students across many different identity positions are feeling threatened in this time--regarding their personal safety, the integrity of their families, or their freedom from harassment. While many find it possible and even helpful to focus on their schoolwork in such a climate, many don’t. Some students are having trouble attending class or completing assignments or group projects for their courses. This blog on supporting students in distress provides ideas about responding compassionately while maintaining the boundaries of your instructor role. Ideas include pointing students to mental health resources as well as activating their campus support network, which might include students’ academic advisors as well as the Dean of Students office. If you have students who are experiencing distress based on concerns about their immigration or visa status in the wake of the recent Executive Order, you can make sure they are aware of U-M’s International Center as a resource; the Center has published this update with recommendations. It’s useful, too, to be familiar with U-M President Mark Schlissel’s statements about the University’s strong support for international and immigrant students and scholars.

Supporting students in responding to violence or threats

Unfortunately, given ongoing patterns of identity-based violence in the wake of the election, it’s probably wise to be ready to support students in responding to threats or incidents of violence based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, or other identities. As a teacher, you may be a key contact and point of connection to the institution for your students. You have an opportunity to make sure they are aware of steps they can take if they experience or witness threats, violence, or other identity-based crimes against their property or person. These include knowing that in any emergency they can call 9-1-1 to reach U-M police. Students can also reach out for support and advocacy to various student life offices, including Multiethnic Student Affairs (MESA) and the Spectrum Center. Guidance about what and how to report can be found on the University bias reporting website.  It’s important to keep in mind that, for various reasons, students will have different levels of comfort accessing any given resource, so it’s useful to be ready to share information about a range of options. Moreover, your own compassion, advocacy, and flexibility can also be critical resources for students affected by violence toward or around them.  

Responding to tensions in the classroom

Tensions that students experience outside the classroom are also likely to affect the ways they interact with their classmates. In particularly, many instructors are worried about new potential for conflict and even hostility to arise in their classrooms. Preparing for the unexpected, as this resource on ‘making the most of hot moments’ helps instructors to do, can be especially important for increasing both your skills and confidence if tensions do erupt. Even though the semester is well underway, instructors can intentionally foster rapport and community among students, through ice-breakers, small group work, and other interactive opportunities. It’s important to be sensitive when developing such community-building strategies to students’ need for emotional safety and allow some choice in how, and to what degree, they engage with their peers, especially in paired or small group activities.

Tending to your own self-care needs

Different members of our teaching community are doing different kinds of emotional labor in this time, depending on our own positionalities and the number of students and colleagues who perceive and depend upon us as allies. The following links are written primarily for instructors of color, but they can be useful for all instructors, either because they provide generalizable self-care strategies or because they can increase everyone’s appreciation for the disproportionate strain on some colleagues of supporting students in this challenging time.

  • This blog by Kerry Ann Rockquemore offers concrete ideas, strategies, and language for maintaining boundaries with both colleagues and students that allow instructors to strike a healthy balance of meeting professional commitments and personal needs.

  • This post by Emily Dreyfuss offers simple suggestions for your personal wellbeing, but also suggests the need to listen carefully and responsively to the needs of others.

  • For those feeling guilty about taking care of themselves in these times, this post by Shanesha Brooks-Tatum provides a reminder that self-care can be a political and a subversive act rather than a selfish or individual need.

Winter: in many fields, this time of year is filled with faculty position interviews, campus visits, and job talks. You might currently be deep in an academic job search process or watching others grapple with it. You may be curious about the kinds of jobs that PhD’s hold outside the academy. In this competitive academic job market, many graduate students and postdocs are doing both--investigating the market for academic jobs while also exploring alternate career paths.

To support the needs of current and future faculty, CRLT has drawn together a broad set of Preparing Future Faculty web resources that can help academics explore, apply for, and thrive in a wide variety of jobs. Many of the linked documents, videos, and websites originated from a CRLT-Rackham collaboration that took the form of an annual Preparing Future Faculty conference. The collection thus contains a wealth of resources that have been developed collaboratively over a decade of Preparing Future Faculty efforts at U-M.

While graduate students and postdocs will find these resources particularly useful, academics at all stages will find valuable guidance and information here. For example, we highlight strategies for success at any point in your academic career, from graduate student to postdoc to full professor. In addition, many graduate students and postdocs may be interested in exploring career options outside the academy that draw on the skills they are developing as scholars and teachers inside the academy.

Registration is now open for CRLT's winter seminar series on teaching and learning. These programs offer U-M faculty, graduate students, and postdocs opportunities to gain new perspectives on teaching at Michigan, share ideas across disciplines, and improve their teaching skills. This semester, our offerings include: 

photo of 3 faculty members working together at a seminar

Full details about these programs and more can be found on our Upcoming Events list.

At CRLT, we have been hearing from many instructors seeking guidance on how to talk with their students in the days following the election. Depending on many factors, you may or may not choose to engage students in conversation about the election results. In either case, we hope the following thoughts will be helpful. 

If you do choose to engage students on this topic, it will be important to acknowledge the range of perspectives and intense emotions that are likely present in your classroom. These guidelines on discussing difficult topics may be helpful for framing a conversation where students with diverse experiences and points of view can engage productively with one another. 

If you do not choose to address the topic of the election substantively but still want to acknowledge it, you can do the following:
  • You can begin by recognizing that it was a long night, everyone is likely very tired, different people have strong emotions from a variety of perspectives, and it may be hard to focus.  
  • You can give your students a brief chance to write for a minute or two -- to process their thoughts and feelings and/or identify people they want to reach out to later today, for whatever sorts of connection and processing would be beneficial to them. And then move on to your plan for the day. 
  • You could note the difficulty of focusing and of controlling strong emotions and let students know they can feel free to step out of class if they need a minute to refocus.

If a student raises the election as a topic when you hadn't planned to discuss it, these resources may be helpful if you want to engage everyone in conversation. If you do not feel prepared to do so, you can recognize why the student might want to have the conversation, but explain that you want to think further about whether and how to engage it as a class because it is important to do so carefully given the intense emotions and divergent perspectives around this election.