Difficult Dialogues series aims to help faculty facilitate tough discussions in classroom

Worn down chairs sit in the basement of Eisenhower Hall. (Archive photo by Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

Late Monday morning, Be Stoney, associate professor in physical and multicultural education, and Don Saucier, professor in psychological sciences, presented “Empathy and Discovery in Class Discussions on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice.”

The presentation was part of the Difficult Dialogues series — a series intended to help faculty gain knowledge and skill in facilitating difficult conversations in the classroom when those topics arise.

Faculty members attended the Zoom presentation to become more informed and educated on hard discussions concerning diversity, equity and inclusion in their classrooms.

“I teach several classes and am attending today’s event to learn how to better approach the difficult conversations that I am likely to have in my classes,” Tucker Jones, graduate student in psychology, said.

The presenters discussed practical recommendations to help instructors build a community within their classes and create ways for individuals to use their voices.

Stoney said many foreign exchange students will Americanize their name to make it easier for peers and teachers, but their name is a part of their identity and diversity, and it is encouraged that teachers learn to call them by their birth-given name.

Additionally, the hosts said faculty should encourage fact-based, peaceful and honest conversations when confronted with conversations of the difficult climate.

“Teachers are working past these minimizing views,” Saucier said. “We do not have to be able to comprehend each perspective, but each and every students’ voice deserves to be heard.”

One of the main focuses of the presentation was focusing on conversations, rather than accusations.

“Silence is equivalent to complicity in the classroom,” Saucier said. “In a setting where we can have discussions and learn other perspectives, we want to be allied in these conversations to perpetuate a step towards solutions in our classrooms and on our campus.”

The hosts said conversations take a considerable amount of time and energy.

“Education and research are important as a starting point,” Saucier said. “It is only through education and research we can bring our knowledge to hopefully empathetic and open conversations that we need to have.”

Tamara Bauer, instructor in leadership studies, said the presentation reinforced her belief that making spaces for students to engage in difficult conversations is essential.

“How we construct those spaces to teach and practice difficult dialogue is as important — if not more so — than the topic of the discussion,” Bauer said.