Cultivating Campus Climates and Classroom Conditions for Political Learning, Speech, and Inclusion
Wednesday, June 5th • 09.00 AM – 12.00 PM
Much has been written about the current state of political life and deep social and ideological divides in American society, dynamics that exacerbate policy stalemates and intergroup animosity. They also have consequences for campus climates and student learning. The response has been a call to improve discourse in ways that that engage intellectual and experiential diversity without chilling speech or reinforcing exclusion. These desired outcomes are more difficult to achieve than they sound, and there is too much at stake to improvise. This workshop concerns readiness – what it takes for higher educators to be ready to engage students in political discussions. At a minimum, discussion leaders and teachers need the skills to frame, organize, and manage discussions. Beyond basic facilitation skills, however, readiness also calls for reflection about inevitable pedagogical choices in a discussion process, decision points best considered before a discussion begins. Should all perspectives get a fair hearing, even if they reflect ideals antithetical to learning goals or institutional values? Should beliefs that contradict established science or evidence get a full hearing? Do feelings belong in a deliberation? Should discussion leaders and teachers aspire to be “neutral,” and if so, what does that mean? Answers to these and similar questions are particularly hard in today’s hyper-partisan and divisive political climate.
This workshop will draw from research at Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education on campus climates and emerging strategies for fostering robust discussions. Participants will identify and discuss critical pedagogical challenges in discussion leading/teaching. They will connect discourse with the broader institutional climate for political learning. The workshop will also examine the role of individual professors or staff members as change agents on campus. Part of this session will be dedicated to how change happens on a campus and leadership with or without positional authority.
Organizer: Nancy Thomas, Director, Institute for Democracy and Higher Education, Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University