Author Topic: Addressing offensive views - LONG  (Read 4456 times)

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SleepyKitty

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Addressing offensive views - LONG
« on: September 27, 2012, 02:54:02 PM »
I have a kind of sticky situation that may or may not come up. I'm a graduate TA, and it came to my attention through a university caseworker that one of my students has been reported as being a part of a group that holds deeply offensive and possibly dangerous views. Let's say he believes that women do not deserve political rights and should be at all times under the control of men because they are inherently worthless. It's not the actual situation, but it's very close in terms of the political/offensive views and also the very visceral reaction that most people have to these types of beliefs. 

This student has, thus far, been quiet and totally normal. This report is not yet confirmed, it is merely a suspicion. Therefore, this may be a situation that never develops.

However, if he should say something that exposes such a viewpoint in class, I'm wondering what the best way to handle it is in terms of being polite and respectful to the other students in class. If he should hold these beliefs, I'm not concerned in the least about being respectful to him. However, I do not want the other students to feel uncomfortable, so much as I can prevent it. To that end, I see three options available:

1) Redirect the conversation. This would be the least confrontational, assuming the student does not aggressively try to push his viewpoint. However, that would also make me feel like I had allowed such things to be said without making clear how inappropriate and unacceptable they were, and I do not want my other students to feel like I am either too timid to address them or that I may somehow implicitly agree with such ideas.

2) Firmly state how unacceptable such views are, and make it clear that any further attempt to restate them will result in him being kicked out of class. Again, assuming the student doesn't aggressively try to push his viewpoint, this would satisfy my need to address how unacceptable the comments were. But I  can only imagine the atmosphere in the classroom after that - I don't want to subject my other students to a classroom environment that is tense or hostile. Confronting him and allowing him to stay in the classroom seems likely to make my other students very uncomfortable.

3) Kick him out of class immediately. While this satisfies both my need to stand against these views, and ensures a better classroom environment for my students, this is also the nuclear option. I know my professor will stand behind me if I go this route, but it seem the most likely to provoke a potentially dangerous confrontation with the student in front of the class and possibly turn this into a departmental fiasco. While I want to handle this correctly, I do not want to provoke the student into an outburst or aggressive argument in front of my class by kicking him out when he could potentially have been handled quietly by redirecting the conversation, KWIW?

So, my question: if you were a student in a class, and another student expressed views that were highly offensive, what would you prefer the teacher to do? Would you prefer it be dealt with quietly, or would you prefer a more assertive stance?

BeagleMommy

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #1 on: September 27, 2012, 03:02:12 PM »
I don't think there's anything you can really do at this point.  The student's beliefs have not been confirmed so I think you should let sleeping dogs lie.  Check with student services at your university.  There may be a policy to deal with this.

LeveeWoman

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #2 on: September 27, 2012, 03:06:01 PM »
Even if he does belong to such a group, wouldn't it be a violation of his rights (assuming you're in the US of A) to kick him out class? And, if he does speak up about his beliefs, isn't the best cure for offensive speech not censorship but yet more speech to counter it?

rashea

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2012, 03:09:12 PM »
First, talk to your advisor and the Professor of the class. Make sure you clear what you're going to do with them.

I think you do 1, followed by meeting with him outside of class. That to me is a better way to handle discipline than making a big deal in class.
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Judah

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2012, 03:09:40 PM »
For me it would depend on if his views are pertinent to the class.  I would not expect discussion of race relations in a math class, but I would expect it in a history class.  If his views are not pertinent to the class in any way, I would expect you to squash the conversation immediately with serious repercussions to the student if he persisted.  But in a case where his views are pertinent to the discussion in class, I would expect him to be able to share his views like anyone else, regardless of whether you agree with his views or not. 
« Last Edit: September 27, 2012, 03:11:12 PM by Judah »
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hobish

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #5 on: September 27, 2012, 03:09:50 PM »
Even if he does belong to such a group, wouldn't it be a violation of his rights (assuming you're in the US of A) to kick him out class? And, if he does speak up about his beliefs, isn't the best cure for offensive speech not censorship but yet more speech to counter it?

You read my mind. Especially if this is a state school. At a private school maybe you can kick someone out of class for holding and voicing beliefs you personally - and maybe even most of society - find offensive; but unless he is inciting violence or otherwise being disruptive, then i really don't see how you are anywhere near within your rights to kick a student out of class for that.

edited for syntax
« Last Edit: September 27, 2012, 03:11:25 PM by hobish »
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SleepyKitty

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #6 on: September 27, 2012, 03:12:05 PM »
No, there's nothing I can do that would head this off or anything like that. There's no specific policy for handling this type of thing unless it turns into outright harassment or threats.

I can be impulsive when I'm put on the spot in tense situations, so I like to think things out before they happen. It's true that it may never come up, but I'd like to be prepared just in case it does so I don't act out of thoughtlessness or nervousness and make things more uncomfortable or worse for the other students.

I would personally be fine with debating, but I only have an hour a week with my students. They're not paying tuition to watch me debate with another student, and I'd be taking class time away from the subject at hand. Again, I can see how it would make some of my students uncomfortable to even listen to the subject matter. It's in my syllabus that all discussions must be respectful of other students, and there is no way he could possibly frame such views in a respectful way (they are really quite worse than the example I chose, but I didn't want to write them out), so I don't believe it would be a violation of his rights.


AustenFan

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #7 on: September 27, 2012, 03:13:09 PM »
I would prefer to see it dealt with in some way, especially if I were a member of the group being attacked.

I'm sure your university has some guidelines about dealing with hate speech, but they are probably necessary steps to take to suspend/expell him.

I'm assuming it will come up naturally, and he won't just blurt out something completely off topic, would it be possible for you to say "So you're saying women are better qualified to be farm animals then they are to vote. I don't agree, but let's open this up for discussion. Would anyone else like to weigh in?"

LeveeWoman

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #8 on: September 27, 2012, 03:15:02 PM »
No, there's nothing I can do that would head this off or anything like that. There's no specific policy for handling this type of thing unless it turns into outright harassment or threats.

I can be impulsive when I'm put on the spot in tense situations, so I like to think things out before they happen. It's true that it may never come up, but I'd like to be prepared just in case it does so I don't act out of thoughtlessness or nervousness and make things more uncomfortable or worse for the other students.

I would personally be fine with debating, but I only have an hour a week with my students. They're not paying tuition to watch me debate with another student, and I'd be taking class time away from the subject at hand. Again, I can see how it would make some of my students uncomfortable to even listen to the subject matter. It's in my syllabus that all discussions must be respectful of other students, and there is no way he could possibly frame such views in a respectful way (they are really quite worse than the example I chose, but I didn't want to write them out), so I don't believe it would be a violation of his rights.

I know of no case or statutory law that allows the government to censor speech that is not "respectful" of others. In fact, Cohen v. California says just the opposite.

AustenFan

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #9 on: September 27, 2012, 03:16:38 PM »
No, there's nothing I can do that would head this off or anything like that. There's no specific policy for handling this type of thing unless it turns into outright harassment or threats.

I can be impulsive when I'm put on the spot in tense situations, so I like to think things out before they happen. It's true that it may never come up, but I'd like to be prepared just in case it does so I don't act out of thoughtlessness or nervousness and make things more uncomfortable or worse for the other students.

I would personally be fine with debating, but I only have an hour a week with my students. They're not paying tuition to watch me debate with another student, and I'd be taking class time away from the subject at hand. Again, I can see how it would make some of my students uncomfortable to even listen to the subject matter. It's in my syllabus that all discussions must be respectful of other students, and there is no way he could possibly frame such views in a respectful way (they are really quite worse than the example I chose, but I didn't want to write them out), so I don't believe it would be a violation of his rights.

I know of no case or statutory law that allows the government to censor speech that is not "respectful" of others. In fact, Cohen v. California says just the opposite.

Legal territory and a locked thread, here we come!

LeveeWoman

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #10 on: September 27, 2012, 03:17:29 PM »
No, there's nothing I can do that would head this off or anything like that. There's no specific policy for handling this type of thing unless it turns into outright harassment or threats.

I can be impulsive when I'm put on the spot in tense situations, so I like to think things out before they happen. It's true that it may never come up, but I'd like to be prepared just in case it does so I don't act out of thoughtlessness or nervousness and make things more uncomfortable or worse for the other students.

I would personally be fine with debating, but I only have an hour a week with my students. They're not paying tuition to watch me debate with another student, and I'd be taking class time away from the subject at hand. Again, I can see how it would make some of my students uncomfortable to even listen to the subject matter. It's in my syllabus that all discussions must be respectful of other students, and there is no way he could possibly frame such views in a respectful way (they are really quite worse than the example I chose, but I didn't want to write them out), so I don't believe it would be a violation of his rights.

I know of no case or statutory law that allows the government to censor speech that is not "respectful" of others. In fact, Cohen v. California says just the opposite.

Legal territory and a locked thread, here we come!

Asking how to violate someone's rights is beyond ettiquette in the first place.

AustenFan

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #11 on: September 27, 2012, 03:21:44 PM »
That's NOT what the OP asked. She asked if we were students how we would prefer to see it handled. She mentioned kicking him out as a possible option she would consider, NOT how to violate his rights.

Quote from OP: So, my question: if you were a student in a class, and another student expressed views that were highly offensive, what would you prefer the teacher to do? Would you prefer it be dealt with quietly, or would you prefer a more assertive stance?

Chickadee

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #12 on: September 27, 2012, 03:24:30 PM »
I think it would be best to deal with it discreetly outside of class. Redirect the conversation if it happens and then address the student privately after class.

It might be a good thing, though, for you to have an open mind where this student is concerned. You have said that his affiliation with the group has not been confirmed.

Innocent until proven guilty, right?  :)

camlan

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #13 on: September 27, 2012, 03:34:32 PM »
You are a TA. In a way, you are learning to teach, just as your students are learning from you. It can be tough--I was a TA for many years.

I'm a little curious as to why you were notified about this student? Is it standard procedure to notify instructors about students' beliefs at your campus?

What I'd do first is go to whoever is supervising you. Ask for advice on how to handle this. If that person can't help you, go to a professor you trust and have a good relationship with and ask for help. Or the department chairperson.

It's a fine line you have to tread here, because college classrooms are supposed to be places where ideas can be discussed and argued and debated.

In similar situations, and I had a couple, I let the student have his/her say. Then I spoke up, while the rest of the students were sitting there stunned into silence. I rather bluntly said that their ideas went against the mainstream and were in fact insulting to members of the class he/she was sitting in and their feelings needed to be taken into consideration whenever *anyone* spoke up in class. Then I reminded everyone that in the US, we have freedom of speech. We may not like what other people have to say, and we don't have to listen to it, but we do have to allow them the right to say it, however distasteful those ideas might be to us. This made it clear where my stand was--I couldn't stop those students from talking, but that didn't mean that I agreed with them.

Then, if the ideas were pertinent to whatever the discussion was, I opened the floor to the other students to say what they thought. If the ideas were not pertinent to the subject of that class, I informed the student of that fact and went back to my lesson plan.

I did not show that I was upset or angry or repulsed. I figured that at least part of the reason the students spoke up was to get a reaction, so I was as deadpan as I could be.

I think throwing the student out of class would be giving the student exactly what he wants--a cause and a reason to press his agenda. Letting the other students have their say--let's just say that in my experience, they shut down the student with the uncomfortable ideas much better than I could have done.

The problem after that was giving those students fair grades, since their views were so unsettling to me that it was hard to be fair to them. I sometimes had another TA, who knew nothing about them, read their papers to make sure I wasn't grading too hard.
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Judah

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Re: Addressing offensive views - LONG
« Reply #14 on: September 27, 2012, 03:38:28 PM »
You are a TA. In a way, you are learning to teach, just as your students are learning from you. It can be tough--I was a TA for many years.

I'm a little curious as to why you were notified about this student? Is it standard procedure to notify instructors about students' beliefs at your campus?

What I'd do first is go to whoever is supervising you. Ask for advice on how to handle this. If that person can't help you, go to a professor you trust and have a good relationship with and ask for help. Or the department chairperson.

It's a fine line you have to tread here, because college classrooms are supposed to be places where ideas can be discussed and argued and debated.

In similar situations, and I had a couple, I let the student have his/her say. Then I spoke up, while the rest of the students were sitting there stunned into silence. I rather bluntly said that their ideas went against the mainstream and were in fact insulting to members of the class he/she was sitting in and their feelings needed to be taken into consideration whenever *anyone* spoke up in class. Then I reminded everyone that in the US, we have freedom of speech. We may not like what other people have to say, and we don't have to listen to it, but we do have to allow them the right to say it, however distasteful those ideas might be to us. This made it clear where my stand was--I couldn't stop those students from talking, but that didn't mean that I agreed with them.

Then, if the ideas were pertinent to whatever the discussion was, I opened the floor to the other students to say what they thought. If the ideas were not pertinent to the subject of that class, I informed the student of that fact and went back to my lesson plan.

I did not show that I was upset or angry or repulsed. I figured that at least part of the reason the students spoke up was to get a reaction, so I was as deadpan as I could be.

I think throwing the student out of class would be giving the student exactly what he wants--a cause and a reason to press his agenda. Letting the other students have their say--let's just say that in my experience, they shut down the student with the uncomfortable ideas much better than I could have done.

The problem after that was giving those students fair grades, since their views were so unsettling to me that it was hard to be fair to them. I sometimes had another TA, who knew nothing about them, read their papers to make sure I wasn't grading too hard.

Are you still in academia?  I hope so, because you sound like a good teacher and this is the perfect way to handle the situation.
Ask for what you want. Let's be clear on this one:
Subtle hints don't work.
Strong hints don't work.
Really obvious hints don't work.
Just say it!

-The Car Talk Guys