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Suggested Strategies for Deeper Dialogues

From: Susan Amatangelo, Speaker of the Faculty; ​Amit Taneja, Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion / Chief Diversity Officer
Date: Aug 22, 2017 
Subject: Suggested Strategies for Deeper Dialogues


Dear Faculty Colleagues:

At the Campus Climate listening session in September 2016, we heard a call from students to be more attentive to the experiences of historically marginalized students within our community.  In the run-up to the election, and in the days and months that followed, many of us struggled with the challenge of engaging in productive dialogue in a polarized climate. At the February 2017 Faculty Assembly meeting, Emily Breakell and Ed DeLuca, SGA Co-Presidents, passionately appealed to faculty to play a greater role in facilitating “dialogue about the most pressing issues facing our campus, society, and our world…”  They further pointed out that the classroom remains one of the few spaces in which students are compelled to engage with difference. As we begin this academic year, our national political discourse continues to be marked by sharp divisiveness, and recent demonstrations by hate groups have further contributed to a climate of fear and mistrust.

Our institutional mission calls us to create opportunities for this sort of thoughtful dialogue and engagement. The work to create opportunities for effective discussions about difficult issues is not easy, nor is the path towards deeper engagement with these issues always clear. But the work is necessary if we are to respond to the needs of our students and help to create the community we would like to see at Holy Cross. For this reason, we write to you today to provide some suggestions for your consideration. We have also created a google drive with additional resources.

Strategies to Promote Dialogue and Inclusion in the Classroom

  1. Consider including a diversity and inclusion statement in your syllabi. Sample statements that can be adapted to your needs can be found here.
  2. FacultyFocus.com, a newsletter on effective teaching strategies, recently issued a “Diversity & Inclusion in the College Classroom Report” that has several suggestions, including foundational principles for productive conversations, managing microagressions, and responding to student resistance.
  3. Expand your own pedagogies around challenging conversations/discussions. Some resources might include:

●     Difficult dialogues in the classroom - Vanderbilt University
●     Teaching in times of crisis - Vanderbilt University
●     Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom - Harvard University

  1. Consider incorporating the Principles of Dialogue versus Debate into your pedagogy.
  2. In the spirit of cura-personalis, demonstrate empathy for the lived experiences of our students by:

●     Taking a few moments at the start of your classroom to invite a dialogue on a pressing national issue
●     Inviting students to come and meet with you individually or in small groups outside of the classroom
●     Encouraging students to work with you to incorporate issues surrounding national discourse into the classroom
●     Participating in activities that help us enhance our listening and empathy skills (a workshop series for faculty & staff on this topic will be announced shortly)

  1. Incorporate campus events and programs into your syllabi as you see fit. The draft list of events is available here. Furthermore, students have repeatedly shared that they deeply value faculty presence at these events. You might also allow students to announce the events in which they are involved at the beginning or end of class.
  2. Consider organizing or participating in faculty led teach-ins. It may be especially helpful for us to proactively organize teach-ins in anticipation of topics that may become part of a national debate during the upcoming academic year. If you know of 3-4 faculty who would be willing to speak on any relevant topic, please be in touch with Amit.
  3. We will soon announce a “Faculty Think Tank Series” to share, develop, and expand our existing pedagogies. Suggested topics might include:

●     Enhancing the reflection essay assignment for deeper engagement
●     Developing student assignments that allow current events to be incorporated into syllabi
●     Strategies for engaging students across political ideologies

We recognize that most of us will need support in order to do this well, and that some students may respond negatively to the discomfort they feel in engaging with difficult issues. These challenges will be part of the discussion that the Deans will be having with Department Chairs and members of the CTP on using CEFs to evaluate teaching. We hope that these suggestions will help us collectively provide more opportunities for our students, both inside and outside the classroom.

Sincerely, 

Susan Amatangelo, Speaker of the Faculty
Amit Taneja, Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion / Chief Diversity Officer