Wheaton faculty members met in Mary Lyon Hall on February 19 to discuss their role in managing and facilitating difficult discussions in the classroom. This meeting was prompted by problems arising in classroom discourse following the hateful speech/graffiti incident that occurred in Meadows last semester.
Psychology Department Chair, Peony Fhagen, led the forum with the purpose of allowing faculty to share experiences and learn from one another. Fhagen also hoped to set a framework for how sensitive topics should be handled in the classroom. The information put forward was primarily based on research Fhagen had done as well as case studies from other faculty.
“The first thing is to remember that [the professor’s] role, in terms of leading a classroom discussion, is that you’re a facilitator. [So that] does require some faculty to toggle between being a lecturer and being an expert,” Fhagen said.
“The most successful, difficult discussions are when they are planned and there is a structure to them…perhaps, someone brings up that the Meadows incident was really upsetting to them, and they would really like an opportunity to talk about it in class,” Fhagen said, “It is okay for the professor to take a poll and see if other people in the class want to talk about it [or] say ‘it’s a great idea, but let’s do it [next class].’”
At the forum, faculty spoke at length about how to deal with offensive statements in classroom settings. They agreed that while all opinions and perspectives should be recognized, it is important to address any statements that offend other students or are generally inflammatory.
For such types of discussion to be successful, Fhagen said that it was vital for faculty to set some ground rules and expectations. “It’s really important for the faculty member to talk about their role…and to talk about an impending discussion beforehand,” Fhagen said, “There might be times when [a student’s] opinion is based on erroneous information, and it is my [faculty member’s] job to correct, not [their] perspective or [their] opinion, but the information.”
Fhagen also presented at length the ‘Observe, Think, Feel, Desire’ (O.T.F.D.) teaching model. She believes it can help facilitate classroom discussions that concern subjects that are more personal or difficult, for members of both the faculty and student body.