The director of our Center for Teaching Excellence recently wrote a blog post about creating safe spaces. While she definitely didn’t raise such a concern, it’s easy for me to see how someone could take her post and then decide it’s simply easier to shy away from subjects that could lead to conflict. There’s also the ever-popular complaint that we shouldn’t have to be “politically correct” (which, for the record, has to be one of the dumbest phrases, linguistically-speaking, ever created).
Thus, the trick is how to talk about challenging issues honestly while creating safe spaces. Here are a few ideas/approaches that work well for me (there’s also an essay on embracing tension in the August/September issue of The Teaching Professor that’s worth reading).
First, just talking about such issues helps tremendously. When I talk to students who fall into at least one minority category, their main complaint is that they feel invisible, that no one is talking about issues that matter to them. Whenever controversial subjects have come up in my classes or on our campus, most students respond simply by saying “I’m just glad we’re talking about this.” As long as we avoid the issues or avoid talking about them in the complexity we deserve, we continue to propagate this invisibility our students feel. Continue reading