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January 24, 2012


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Eric Muller

My approach is to name the issue openly before starting, to acknowledge the risk of discomfort, to state my own assumption that every participant will be entering the discussion in good faith and without the intention to give offense. Then I jump in for clarification if someone uses a term that I feel is crossing (or closely approaching) a line. I try to do this correctively but non-punishingly. For example, years ago, a student kept referring to "the Japs" in talking about the Japanese threat to the West Coast in 1942. I interrupted and said, "I assume that in saying 'the Japs,' you're using the vernacular that many Americans used in 1942, not the way people use that term today." Everyone gets the message, and I think that that intervention preserves at least a bit of dignity for the speaker. (I can imagine scenarios in which stopping class to address the use and impact of the epithet much more directly would be warranted. But I don't thin EVERY use of an epithet necessarily calls for a class-discussion-stopping intervention from the professor.)


Kelly Anders

This is an excellent approach, and one that would work well in any discussion involving mature adults. I also liked the example about "Japs," and I think the non-punishing reminder also served a secondary purpose of subtly teaching everyone that the term is dated and offensive while still allowing the student who made the reference to save face; it also encouraged others to participate without fearing their comments would be used against them. Truly open discussions of diversity require such a delicate balance, and it's clear that you manage this quite effectively.

Eric Muller

Who said anything about "mature adults?" :-)

Kelly Anders

Ha! That's the subject of another post. ;-)

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