How to Talk Inclusively About Politics in the Classroom During an Unusual Election

by Kalyan Balaven, Dean of Equity and Inclusion

Many of us will tackle conversations about the upcoming elections in our classrooms as we have done in previous election cycles.  This year proves to be difficult especially for our community as a result of the ‘phobic, racist and sexist language used by candidates during this presidential campaign.  

What exacerbates the challenge further is that we pride ourselves on being an inclusive space and this also means being inclusive of different political views in and out of the classroom. 

There is a line between political arguments that are anti-immigration, anti-refugee, pro-gun, anti-same-sex rights, anti-abortion/pro-life, and language that is ‘phobic, racist, and sexist.  We should allow for the discourse of the former but the latter is unacceptable and is a safety issue for our students who would be impacted by such language.

The Southern Poverty Law Center came out with a compelling report earlier this year (“The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation’s Schools“) around bullying and anxiety amongst minorities during this presidential campaign.  The study and report look at the specific impact on students and the teachers’ answers show “an increase in the bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates.”

This is disturbing and something we have a right to protect our students from, and at the same time Donald Trump (the focus of the article) and others during this campaign have used vitriolic language to put themselves in a position to be elected, and hence they are relevant components of the political viewshed facing our students.  If navigating this seems considerably difficult, I have included the following bullet points to help with the challenging conversations ahead.

1.  Do not allow any homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, racist, misogynistic and/or sexist language in the classroom. 

a.  Just because candidates have used such language does not give license to our students to.

b.  This should be a norm set up prior to discussion and students should be given the reason why—to ensure the safety and inclusion of everyone in our community.

2.  Discuss conservative perspectives on issues at stake in the election from the 2nd Amendment to immigration, etc., but do so using the statements put out by the Republican or Libertarian parties and not necessarily by the candidates themselves. These are akin to the statements that show up in your voting booklet and are bereft of the offending language described above.

3.  Check in with minority students in class after discussions, making sure their emotional safety is being safeguarded. 

a.  Often times conversations that begin in the classroom do not end there and it’s important we check in to keep an eye on how students might feel, especially when the conversation continues outside the classroom and is no longer facilitated by a culturally-competent instructor.

b.  This check-in can be done via writing, so as to not single out or draw attention to students who may be feeling particularly affected.

4.  If a student wants to advocate for the positionality of Trump specifically in the classroom, allow the student to make political arguments for their positions, but remind them privately of point #1. 

a.  Trump does have talking points for his positions that do not include the language he has become infamous for.

b.   If you plan on having specific conversations with students about these elections, make sure you include those points.

5.   Finally, if in doubt, feel free to reach out to this office and let’s problem solve together so we can remain an inclusive space that also safeguards all our students at the same time.