We want to share some important recommendations forwarded to us by our colleague, Rou-Jia Sung at Carleton College in Minnesota, right outside of Minneapolis, where guidance was shared by the Carleton Learning and Teaching Center on how instructors might acknowledge and make space to discuss recent traumatic events such as the Chauvin trial. These recommendations were put together through the work of John Thabiti Willis (Carleton College) with Victoria M. Morse, Director of the Perlman Center for Teaching and Learning, Carleton College and Trey Williams, Director of TRIO/Student Support Services, TRIO-SSS Program.
“First a set of requests from our students:
- Offer extensions/flexible deadlines to the class so that individual students don’t have to request a special accommodation.
- Reach out to students individually. Check in; ask how they are doing; and ask what kind of support they need. Some students may want to spend class time discussing events and their reactions to those events, while others may not. Black students want more than a perfunctory acknowledgment of circumstances, but they may not want to be put on the spot and expected to speak about their perspectives in a class setting.
- Show your humanity, so that students can see you as a person and not only a professor.
- Think about how students with different identities might respond to a particular activity, exercise, or material and reframe if some students might be uncomfortable.
- If professors are incorporating race-related material that may be outside of their discipline, professors should spend time educating themselves about that material so that they can appropriately contextualize it.
“Second, a possible model framed in the knowledge that we are all learning, that we will make mistakes, and that it is ok to check back in and ask how your intervention felt to the students and how you could do better another time. If you want to make time to discuss your reactions to these events and issues, consider this as a possible approach:
- Send the class an email in advance explaining that you will be discussing this topic and for how long. Invite them to come if they want to or to join the class at a stated time after your remarks (you might want to remind the class that there might be many reasons to not attend, including fear of being retraumatized by the discussion)
- Ask them to reflect carefully on why they make the choice they do (perhaps as a written reflection)
- Consider speaking from a very personal (“I” language) place and to the basic humanity of the situation (the victims as friends, brothers, husbands) rather than starting with the big structural issues
- Making it clear that this is an issue for all of us at Carleton, not just for BIPOC students, staff, and faculty
- Follow up afterwards with individual emails checking in (here maybe especially with BIPOC students)
- Follow up with a survey for the class about how it went so you know what to improve on another time”