Guidance & Resources for Election Season

Many members of our community, whether faculty, staff, or students, are experiencing considerable anxiety and other strong emotions during this election season. We’ll need to consider a number of issues that may arise in our classrooms in the coming week.

Prepare in advance: One of the goals of a college education is to prepare students to be informed and engaged citizens in our participatory democracy. In many classes, the election may already be a topic of discussion, or students may expect for it to come up as a topic. If you haven’t already, it will be helpful to think in advance about what you’d like to say about the election, or what kind of activity or assignment might be relevant for students to do, including how you might respond to students’ questions or comments on the topic.

The University of Michigan’s resource, Preparing to Teach About the 2020 Election, has recommendations and examples for activities and discussions you could consider facilitating with students, depending on your discipline. It also invites faculty to think about how our courses “allow students to practice some of the fundamental, particular skills required by democracy.” The Ginsberg Center also offers a useful guide for helping students to become informed voters.

Consider acknowledging the event: If you’re wondering about what you might say to your students, on election day or the days that follow, that might be helpful, consider this sample statement from Brown University:

I understand that this is likely a challenging day to be thinking about [subject]. I also imagine that by being here today, like me, you find some reassurance in observing this moment as a community. In a minute, I will turn to the topic in the syllabus, but I do understand that it may be difficult to focus, and so I will both record the session and be available later this week in office hours to support your learning and well-being.
Be compassionate: If you’ve scheduled exams, quizzes, or project deadlines during the next week or two, please do your best to be compassionate and flexible. Students may be distracted by stress and anxiety about the election, and may legitimately have difficulty completing work, or producing their best work. Attendance may be spotty when large numbers of students are experiencing anxiety, suspense, grief, or other disruptive emotions.

Address in-class disruptions: Unfortunately, hate speech and other biased and discriminatory actions are more likely to occur in our classrooms in times of political tension. As faculty and instructors, we are responsible for maintaining the conditions in which all students are able to learn, so we must monitor classroom interactions and preserve a classroom environment of mutual respect, where students can share differing views in an ethical way. Although some students may wish to argue that racist or anti-Semitic, etc., language should be protected as “free speech,” our courses are not public fora, and we have the responsibility to protect our students from hostile learning environments. Students may not use our courses as platforms for hostility or discrimination. We must redirect students who exhibit harmful language to the learning goals of our courses and help them to abide by the boundaries established in our syllabi and by our university. Students who cannot maintain civility may need to be counseled, muted, or in some cases reported for misconduct.

Although we may not always feel properly prepared to negotiate difficult conversations, it is important to know that ignoring or failing to address discriminatory or hurtful speech gives it your tacit approval. Students must be able to trust that their instructor will protect them in the classroom. It’s common to feel frozen or unable to react when an inappropriate comment takes us off guard, so it’s useful to think through some potential scenarios and develop a “script” for how you’d respond.

Seek support, and care for yourself: Faculty and staff who are coping with election-related stress or anxiety also need and deserve support. The Employee Assistance Program offers counseling, referrals, and resources that can help us process our thoughts and feelings, and make plans to care for ourselves.

For support thinking through how to handle difficult classroom conversations, or to maintain positive conditions for learning, contact us at pro-teaching@fsu.edu. We look forward to working with you.


UPCOMING…

FGEN Week at FSU: Nov. 5th – 13th

A national leader with a long history of institutional commitment to first-generation student success, FSU was recently designated as an FGEN Forward Institution by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. CARE provides institutional access and support services to first-generation college students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. CARE currently serves over 1600 students through a variety of programs. Each year, campuses across the country celebrate National FGEN Day. This year, FGEN Day is on Sunday, November 8th. At FSU, we have decided to celebrate FGEN Day an entire week between November 5th – 13th. Below are opportunities for FSU faculty to join in the celebration and support FGEN students.

First Generation Student Success Faculty Training

Thursday, Nov. 5th, from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

FSU, UF, and FAU are hosting a virtual training session for institutions throughout the Southeast.  We invite you to this free dialog about serving students who are the first in their families to pursue a college degree. There will be a presentation about understanding and supporting students, a panel of first-generation students discussing their experiences, and a conversation centering around institutional considerations for improving support on campuses for this population. Click here to register in advance for this session.

FGEN FSU Faculty Panel

Thursday, Nov. 12th, 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

CARE and the Center for the Advancement of Teaching are hosting a virtual FGEN FSU Faculty Panel. Several FSU faculty will share their stories about being the first in their family to complete a college education as well as a bit about their journey to becoming a FGEN faculty member. All are welcome, and please encourage your first-generation students to attend.  Zoom link: https://fsu.zoom.us/j/93747591418 Meeting ID: 937 4759 1418