Overlapping crises have framed our experience this fall and the election brings these crises into sharp focus. Princeton’s Bridging Divides Initiative and the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) write “amid a rising tide of political polarization, hate crimes, and widespread social mobilization, the United States is at a heightened risk of violence and instability going into the 2020 election.” This risk, they note “is further exacerbated by an economic contraction triggered by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which may now be posed for a second wave.” Instructors, students, and staff feel the impact of this instability and vulnerability alike.
Whether or not the election itself is a relevant and teachable topic for your class, it will likely be a major influence on the lived experience of all of us. This post collects some information on how to work with the reality that the election hovers over all of us. Then, the post discusses some ways you may wish to incorporate it into your classroom. It ends with places to refer students.
The election touches us all (but not equally)
We all live within a context of increased stress as we approach the election. Much of this stress is outside our direct control. Depending on the identities one holds, they may also experience the increased stress of racist, homophobic, or otherwise marginalizing public discourse. Our experiences with the election are not equal. In this context, political polarization has increased the general perception of feeling dehumanized. We all carry complicated feelings into the classroom but we do so unequally.
To complicate matters, many instructors are already doing additional care work in their teaching and home lives. The election may bring on feelings of more care work to come. The University of Oregon has collected some self-care strategies and some ways to communicate care to students that you may find useful to employ in your classroom. The goal is not to increase the already high workload but rather to acknowledge the care work instructors are doing and offer strategies for doing it.
Plan flexibility into your schedule: It may be helpful to look at your meetings and see which ones are crucial and which ones are not. Perhaps you can find ways to decrease your workload and find space to reflect, process, and breathe.
Plan to process your emotions: If you haven’t already, identify people you feel you can contact to discuss your feelings about the election—even plan for when you’ll connect.
Access resources that support mental and emotional health: The university has mental health resources available to students and employees.
Communicate care to students
Verbalize care: You may wish to put an announcement in Canvas that you acknowledge that the election is a stressful event and that you care about your students’ well– being regardless of their political beliefs.
Build flexibility into your class schedule: Assess the workload for the week of the election and see if there is possibility to build in some flexibility with deadlines.
Refer students: You cannot solve all problems and may wish to share the resources at the bottom of this post with your students.
If the election fits into your course content
What role does your discipline play?
Teaching about the election may not suit your classes. But, if it does, just about every discipline can help our students evaluate the platforms of our elected leaders from a critical perspective. The University of Michigan Center for Research in Learning and Teaching (CRLT) has put together some resources to help instructors think through how to facilitate lessons about the election from within their disciplines:
As you prepare to facilitate discussion about the election, consider these questions:
- Which topics within my discipline might require special attention in light of the election?
- How might the candidate platforms be a resource for teaching and learning these topics?
- How might my discipline be impacted by policy decisions as a result of the election?
- What are the diverse perspectives and voices that characterize my field related to these topics, and how do I maintain some balance in presenting them?
How might your courses allow students to practice core democratic skills?
Again, as the Michigan CRLT recommends, the classroom can be a place of informed and respectful dialogue amid a political context when this is all too rare. In that sense classrooms are vital democratic spaces. In addition to the content of our individual disciplines, there are overarching democratic skills that students can develop in courses across the University. These include:
- The ability to engage in respectful discourse and thoughtful argumentation
- The capacity to speak and listen in ways that promote collective learning and advance social good
- The skills of critical literacy and the ability to evaluate bias in text, discourse, and other mediums
Where/how can I refer students?
It is easy to feel alone when under stress. If you know of students who are struggling as they deal with election issues or outcomes, there are resources on campus where you can refer them.
- UWGB counseling and health has lists of resources available to students.
- The Phoenix Cares site serves as a hub for financial, academic, and mental health support. It also has emergency food and housing options available to students.
- You may wish to refer students to specialized help from many of our campus offices that have specific expertise:
The election affects us all but we may not all engage with it in the classroom in the same way. The purpose of this post is not to provide “the answer” for how to teach the importance of the election to students. Rather it acknowledges the election’s role as a framing element of our lives and offers multiple ways to engage with it at the personal, interpersonal, and disciplinary levels.