6 ways to deal with post-election tension on campus

Experts recommend building an action plan for confronting bias

After such a dramatic and divisive campaign, relationships in your campus community might be strained.

Writing for University Business, Michael Alexander, president of Lasell College, and Jesse Tauriac, the director of Lasell's Donahue Institute for Ethics, Diversity, and Inclusion share six ways to prepare for and address intense, polarizing conversations.

1: Set an expectation of courtesy

Alexander and Tauriac encourage college presidents to address the campus and define the kind of community your school should be.

"When these students arrive on our campuses, they may bring habits and behaviors that are inconsistent with the values of free speech, respect for differences among people, and common courtesy and kindness," the authors write, which is why it is vital to address your institution's values early on.

At Lasell, for instance, Alexander's convocation address asked students "to be campus citizens who take responsibility for their own words and behavior, and to challenge viewpoints with which they disagree, without denigrating the thoughts and opinions of another community member."

2: Collaborate to develop an action plan

Next, Alexander and Tauriac recommend establishing a campus-wide action plan for confronting inequality, which should include input from a variety of community representatives. At Lasell, the Inclusive Excellence Initiative seeks to reflect the college's values on both the campus-wide and departmental levels.

How should you establish your bias response team?

3: Make sure everyone knows the rules

The bias response plan can help clarify expectations and deter inappropriate behavior. Alexander and Tauriac argue that making students and faculty fully aware of how the institution will respond to bias can mean that problems will be less likely to escalate.

4: Build inclusion into training sessions

Professional development opportunities should help employees and students understand the ways words and actions can be unintentionally offensive.

At Lasell, the resident assistant and peer mentor training sessions include workshops about managing conflicts. Lasell plans to extend these workshops to encourage faculty and students to collaborate on diversity and inclusion goals.

5: Encourage open discussion in the classroom

Alexander and Tauriac argue that faculty should make an effort to discuss difficult topics like shootings, attacks, debates, animosity, and sensitive policies outside of campus. However, to help students feel more comfortable speaking up, Alexander and Tauriac recommend focusing on how challenging issues relate to the course material. Grounding the discussion in course material makes it feel less personal and encourages diverse points of view.

Strategies to promote diversity and inclusion in the classroom

6: Lead forums about controversial topics

Forums that model polarizing discussions can be co-facilitated by faculty and students, write Alexander and Tauriac. Participants should represent different stances on sensitive issues, which encourages people to share opinions that might otherwise remain pent up. Alexander and Tauriac  argue that such forums encourage discourse and facilitate a better understanding of diverse perspectives (Alexander/Tauriac, University Business, 11/7).

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