Michelle Zhiqing Yang / Sun Staff Photographer

The Intergroup Dialogue Project have created a guide for students to deal with the stress of this year's Election Day.

November 6, 2020

Intergroup Dialogue Project Provides Framework to Discuss Contentious Election

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In response to a tumultuous election that has caused stress and anxiety for students, the Intergroup Dialogue Project released a guide and hosted training sessions for how staff, faculty and educators can handle conversations and discussions about the election.

For many, issues such as racial justice, immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, climate change and inequality were on the ballot at this year’s election. IDP sought to empower people to support each other and openly communicatie about these issues — including, and especially, in the classroom. 

IDP’s guide highlighted communication methods that facilitate understanding and empathy across differences of perspective, opinion and identity — core to its goals as an academic initiative around critical dialogue through programs and courses for students, faculty and staff. The program’s work includes a session for all incoming students and a 3-credit undergraduate class.. 

“Research on any one of these [socio-political] issues reveals the complex effects of specific policies on particular groups in our society and helps us understand how the results of this election will reverberate in different ways across our country’s diverse populations,” the guide states. 

After releasing the guide, University faculty and staff wanted more advice on how to hold discussions on the election in classrooms and one-on-one conversations with students.

IDP hosted separate online training sessions tailored for faculty advisors, graduate students and all faculty members in the past few weeks, according to Program Coordinator Natasha Steinhall ’14 MPA ’21.

Attendees expressed fears about saying the wrong thing in election discussions that may harm students, according to Jazlin Gomez Garner ’16 MPA ’18, pedagogy specialist. So IDP training sessions reviewed the difficulties in discussions around sensitive topics, offering strategies for working through these concerns.

“There is a way to have these conversations, that is our responsibility as educators,” said Gomez Garner, who co-facilitated these sessions. “Rather than avoiding these discussions, it can have really positive outcomes that we can see as a way to build relationships that allow for connection.”

IDP’s election-specific offerings also provided guidance to professors on how to express vulnerability to their students and the benefits of doing so.

“As human beings, we are living through this historical moment, this is going to affect us, and this may impact what’s going on in the classroom as well,” said Curriculum Specialist Stephen Kim Ph.D. ’20, who helped develop the guide. “How powerful even a passing recognition of that can be for students who are feeling more isolated than ever this semester.”

As ballots are continuing to be counted and no winner has been called yet, the election and its results will continue to be on student’s minds throughout the rest of the semester. 

“The official results will likely be announced at a time when students are actually even more stressed than they are now, because we are heading into semi-finals and finals,” Kim said. “Faculty should continue practicing the empathy that we have for elections for the rest of the semester.” 

Overall, the guide and training session garnered positive feedback from wary staff and faculty, according to IDP Director Adi Grabiner-Keinan Ph.D. ’15.

“One thing I’m hearing is, ‘You just gave us the confidence to do it. We were hesitant to do it but being there together with other people, empowering each other and we realize why it’s important for us to sign up for these sessions,’” Grabiner-Keinan said.