Election 2020 Faculty Resources

A Message from the Office of Diversity, the Office of the Dean of Students, and the Center for Teaching Excellence

It is likely that we will not know the results of the 2020 election until after November 3rd. Feelings of worry, hope, anticipation, and more may linger in this election season for us, and our students, with the potential to further disrupt student learning in our courses. To support you in communicating compassionately with students during this time, we developed a resource with tips and tools to help you consider contingencies in your curriculum planning and maintain academic continuity through what could be a challenging period of time this semester.

Many other campus units are preparing materials and hosting events to support students, staff, and faculty before and after the election. The Student Leadership and Engagement team has compiled a growing list of programs occurring here at UIC and the Chicago area (see go.uic.edu/PostElection). It may also be helpful to check in with your local academic or administrative units to see if additional support is available.

We will get through this together. For more information or to reach out for further support, please contact us.

Acknowledging Current Events: What's at Stake?

  • Issues that are important to many of us and our students could be impacted by the outcomes of the election this year: DACA, protections for international students, access to health care, and countless others. It is likely that stress and feelings of anxiety will be running high among our community members.
  • Research shows that students appreciate when instructors recognize and address issues of concern on campus and in the broader environment, even if they use only a short portion of class time (Huston & DiPietro, 2007).
  • Students notice when their instructors ignore what is occurring in the broader environment (Huston & DiPietro, 2007). In fact, research suggests that student experience and success is negatively impacted when racism is not addressed in the classroom (Harper & Davis, 2016).
  • Take care not to assume any homogeneity of students’ political views in the classroom. Be prepared to promote inclusion of all viewpoints, which may reflect both positive and negative reactions to the election outcomes.

Strategies to Signal Your Concern & Anticipate Disruptions to Your Lesson Planning

We share several strategies that you can use to demonstrate concern and empathy for students in the wake of the election. We note that these same strategies, which prioritize students’ well-being and contribute to their academic success, make for successful inclusive teaching practices in general.

Click on the tabs below to learn more about each strategy.

Address the 2020 election in your class

A brief acknowledgement of your concern for students’ well-being during difficult emotional times can signal your care for students while also addressing the need to focus class time on key learning objectives. Here are some examples, including those from The Sheridan Center at Brown University and UCLA.

  • If your class is asynchronous, consider checking in with students via email. Acknowledge the moment and communicate your desire to offer support. Here’s an example:

Dear Students: I understand that people have strong feelings about the election and it is difficult to continue with business as usual. I encourage you to remember to take care of yourself and check in with one another. There are also a number of campus events and resources that are available should you wish to process with others in the community. Do also feel free to reach out to me or other members of the instructional team and know we will do what we can to support you.

  • If you are holding in-person or synchronous sessions, consider saying something at the beginning of class. Here are some examples:

I understand that this is likely a challenging day to be thinking about our course topic given the election. 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 today’s 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.

I realize that with everything that is currently happening in the country, it is hard to focus on coursework. Thank you for coming to class.

We live in a challenging time. I acknowledge the anxiety and uncertainty that you are feeling. Know that I am here for anyone who needs to be heard and who needs time to process all that is happening.

I want to create a space for comments and dialogue before we delve into our studies.

  • If you typically hold synchronous sessions but are unsure whether you want to, consider if there are alternative ways to use class time to gauge reactions and thoughts that provide support for the different responses your students may have. For example, open up a Blackboard Collaborate session, start a discussion thread, or hold drop-in office hours. If you use an online discussion platform, consider using ground rules or community agreement guidelines (for examples, see Guidelines for Classroom Interactions from the University of Michigan’s CRLT or CTE Syllabus templates) to ensure a respectful and open discussion can occur.

Provide stability with lesson planning while allowing space for students to process the election outcomes

  • Recognize that different student groups may be disproportionately impacted by the rhetoric and/or outcome of the election. Your students may have a range of reactions and feelings regarding the outcome and unknowns of the election. Keep in mind that this may affect their ability to concentrate and focus in your class.
  • Provide breaks to move, stretch, grab a drink of water, or turn off the video if needed to better help students focus in class or via your online learning videoconference platform.
  • Plan for differential levels of participation and/or engagement in class. Offer different ways for students to engage in class without an over reliance on verbal or written participation.
  • Do something at the intersection of care and learning. Examples include: meditation, a breathing activity, starting class with some music, taking time for quiet writing, watching a calming and distracting video… anything to bring some levity to the moment.
  • Depending on your comfort level, give students a chance to express what’s on their minds. You might let students know they can join office or drop-in hours as a place to share their reactions. If your course is asynchronous, consider giving students opportunities to do some journaling or other reflective writing about their experiences or reactions (for examples, see the Writing to Learn in Times of Change resource from Brown University’s Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning). Be sure to remind students of some ground rules (for examples, see Guidelines for Classroom Interactions from the University of Michigan’s CRLT or the CTE Syllabus templates) in their discussions and posts to avoid contentious, disrespectful verbal or written exchanges.
  • Depending on your course content and your experience with difficult dialogue, consider allocating time and space for a discussion about the election into your class lesson plan (for examples on structuring classroom discussions about the 2020 election, see this CRLT blog post from the University of Michigan).
  • Remind students of the campus resources available to provide support including the Counseling Center, Wellness Center, Cultural Centers, Office of the Dean of Students, Office of Diversity, and many others.

Be flexible and sensitive to extraordinary circumstances without abandoning expectations

  • Be transparent and consistent in your communications with students.
  • Consider rescheduling high-stakes exams or adopting a more lenient timeline for assignment deadlines. Offer an alternative option or extend deadlines, for example.
  • Because students may have difficulty focusing, offer opportunities outside of class time for students to review course material that is discussed in class. Consider recording your lecture and sharing notes/slides if this is not a common practice in your course already.
  • Remember that the previously mentioned suggestions can benefit everyone in your class, reducing the need for individual accommodations while creating equitable relief to those students feeling overwhelmed, distracted, confused, fearful, or upset by the election outcomes.

Offer TAs support and guidance through these challenging times

  • Check in with your teaching assistants. Provide them with resources to help them successfully navigate their interactions and communications with students with compassion and empathy.
  • Remind TAs how to respond to students, both verbally and in email messages, in a consistent yet empathetic manner. Come to an agreement, for example, as to how to handle requests for extensions on assignments, additional office or drop-in hours, or referral resources for students.
  • Ask your TAs to communicate directly with you concerning individual requests for accommodations.

Engage in self-reflection as you prepare to teach

Take care of yourself and consider your own readiness to teach. Even if the election does not strongly affect you, please remember that its outcomes may profoundly impact many of your students, and so it is important to gauge your own reactions, think intentionally about the topic, and consider how you wish to acknowledge the election before facing your students in the weeks preceding and following November 3rd.

Want to Learn More?

References

Huston, Therese A., & DiPietro, Michele. (2007). In the eye of the storm: Students perceptions of helpful faculty actions following a collective tragedy. In D. R. Robertson & L. B. Nilson (Eds.) To Improve the Academy: Vol 25. Resources for faculty, instructional, and organizational development. Bolton, MA: Anker. 207-224.

Harper, S. R., & Davis III, C. H. (2016). Eight actions to reduce racism in college classrooms. Academe 102(6): 30-34.