From the CRLT Blog

Responding to Incidents of Hate Speech

September 27, 2016
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Ann Arbor Campus

The recent incident of hate speech that occurred at U-M is part of a disturbing national trend. A recent article in Inside Higher Education referred to “an epidemic of racist incidents at campuses across the country.” These upsetting events in combination with the heightened rhetoric of the election campaign have the potential to increase the stress levels experienced by members of the campus community, especially those from groups targeted by hate speech. It is useful to keep in mind that such incidents may still be on students’ minds when they enter your classroom, and that such incidents take a toll on faculty and GSIs as well.  What can instructors do?

  • Acknowledge the incidents: Research conducted in the wake of national tragedies, such as 9-11 or Hurricane Katrina, indicates that students find it helpful when their instructors simply acknowledge traumatic events, recognize that students might be experiencing distress, and show extra support (Huston & DiPietro, 2007).
  • Prepare to engage with the incident proactively or in response to student concerns: CRLT has developed a web page with guidelines for discussing incidents of hate, bias, and discrimination that can help you prepare. The site offers strategies for planned discussions, as well as suggestions for responding to challenging conversations when they arise spontaneously. For example, we provide sample discussion guidelines instructors have found helpful in both planned and spontaneous discussions of difficult issues.
  • Refer students to campus resources: Offices include Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the Depression Center, and the University Psychological Clinic. CRLT’s blog post on Supporting Students in Distress offers an overview of resources and advice on this topic, including this web page from the Mental Health Workgroup which offers resources for instructors who encounter students in need of mental health support.
  • Attend to your own needs: These incidents and the ensuing classroom and hallway discussions can also be stressful for faculty and GSIs, especially for those instructors who feel personally targeted by the hate speech. In these cases, it is important to activate your own support network. For some concrete self-care strategies specifically for faculty of color in difficult times, see Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s blog post on Radical Self Care. The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FASAP, 936-8660) also offers counseling services for faculty and GSIs.

As always, CRLT consultants are available to speak one-on-one with faculty and GSIs who wish to discuss approaches to handling difficult discussions, either in advance or after they arise in class. You can visit the CRLT website to set up a consultation, call us (764-0505) to speak with a consultant during our regular office hours (8:00-5:00), or email [email protected].

Source Cited:

Huston, Therese A., & DiPietro, Michele. (2007). In the eye of the storm: Students perceptions of helpful faculty actions following a collective tragedy. In D. R. Robertson & L. B. Nilson (Eds.). To Improve the Academy, 25(207-224). 

Photo Credit: Scott Soderberg, Michigan Photography