Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology

Supporting an Inclusive Conversation

Students look to the faculty and staff of our institution for guidance and support. Whether or not you agree or disagree with current events, it is important to acknowledge them and promote spaces where understanding, tolerance, and acceptance can flourish. Stressed and unhappy students struggle to learn. Stressed and unhappy faculty struggle to teach. Hopefully by opening spaces of dialog we can encourage a more inclusive and productive climate.


1) Compose an email to students

     a) Acknowledge the current situation and provide a bit of framing about SLO Solidarity, use the recent campus information about the “free speech wall,” information from the Mustang News, and the national movement surrounding diversity on college campuses. There are also plenty of historical moments that you can draw from.

     b) Connect with course specifics if possible. In your courses, do you talk about teamwork, getting along, working with clients, citizenship? All of these topics can be tied to understanding the perspective of an individual or group and acknowledging that their experience, what ever it is, is valid.

     c) If possible,describe your position within the framework of your teaching philosophy. However, as a facilitator you will need to conduct the discussion from an impartial position. You may agree completely with SLO Solidarity’s demands and actions, or you may not. That is fine, explain why and why not and how you will facilitate from a position of understanding. If you don’t feel comfortable with that political of a discussion, you can take a stand on “There’s No Place For Hate.”

     d) Provide resources for your students. This might mean pointing out the Cross Cultural Centers, Counseling Services, Dean of Students, Campus Police. You can also invite students to email you individually if they want to discuss further.

Another option, in addition to or instead of an email, is to have a discussion in class. The following tips are written as a follow-up to an email, but can easily be revised to encompass a stand-alone discussion.

2) Prepare a brief follow-up from your email for class on Thursday

     a) Remind about norms/create them if you haven't talked about civility during discussion. This can be done by outlining what effective and civil discussion is about. You can ask students to suggest five different “rules” to follow when having a discussion about a possible heated or contested topic. Norms often include things like: be respectful, don’t talk over someone, be open to different perspectives and ideas, listen and think before replying or commenting.

     b) Include any further developments that you think students should know about on campus such as the rally supported by President Armstrong in front of the library at 11:00 on Thursday December 3, and the letter sent out by the Cross Cultural Centers.

     b) Tie what Cal Poly is experiencing into the larger framework of colleges nationally

     c) Provide a list of campus resources (you could do this in your email instead or both places)

     d) Ask students about what they would like to discuss. What is bothering them? Do they have questions or concerns on how events are affecting various aspects of the campus?

          ii) Encourage students to be meta about the discussion. How can ideas discussed from class help guide discussion. If this is too much of a stretch then encourage students to draw on past coursework and experiences to frame discussion in a productive manner. 

         ii) Set a time limit for initial discussion. If discussion is useful and engaging extend the time or provide an outlet for follow-up. 

I hope you find these suggestions helpful and useful, they are by no means the only ways of checking in with your students. If you would like to talk about other ways of discussing or incorporating diversity and promoting inclusivity in your classrooms through our current events and climate, or in general, please let me know. Robin Parent, PhD, Inclusive Excellence Specialist, raparent@calpoly.edu

I have also posted some additional resources below.


Mizzou has been very proactive in their response to the activist movement on their campus this fall. These are resources they recently posted, because of the connected nature of their campus movement and that occurring at Cal Poly, these might be very useful in framing discussions.

Tips for Talking about Race
Guide to Facilitating Dialogues
Facilitator Guide for Departmental Discussions about Race

Harvard Derek Bok Center for Teaching, Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom

Vanderbilt University has an excellent site for Teaching in Times of Tragedy that can be modified to fit current campus events as well as support some of the state and national events such as Ferguson, San Bernardino, and others.



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