Cal Poly Election Guide
Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT)
Cal Poly’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT) has gathered resources that can assist faculty engage students in conversations post-election. Below are two links that can be helpful:
- Acknowledging and Responding to Distressing Events includes general suggestions for responding to events, such as the election, that may bring up a range of emotions for students.
- Strategies for Addressing Behavior that is Detrimental to the Learning Environment provides general recommendations for how faculty can address a variety of scenarios in their classes, while reflecting an awareness of students’ rights to freedom of expression.
Preparing to Teach About the 2020 Election (and After)
[Adapted from University of Michigan]
This guide is a resource for instructors from any discipline to establish conditions for post-election discussions in their courses. Below, are reflective questions and resources designed to help instructors think about their disciplinary investments in the election conversation, consider the stakes for their students and themselves, and have preliminary conversations with students about civic engagement.
To support a free and fair exchange of ideas, the following four questions can guide you in preparing to address the 2020 Election, regardless of the election outcome.
1. What role does my discipline play in the issues raised by this election?
Our students need to be able to critically evaluate the platforms of candidates and elected leaders. Every discipline is somehow implicated in these agendas and related policy proposals, whether the topic is health care; history, race, and the Black Lives Matter movement; education, immigration and the rights of refugees; fracking or climate change; gender inequality and LGBTQ rights; or international relations and the “war on terror.”
As you prepare to facilitate discussion about the election, consider these questions:
- Which topics within my discipline might require special attention in light of the election?
- How might the candidate platforms be a resource for teaching and learning these topics?
- How might my discipline be impacted by policy decisions as a result of the election?
- What are the diverse perspectives and voices that characterize my field related to these topics, and how do I maintain some balance in presenting them?
- Talking About Elections In Your Classroom
- Politically Engaged Classroom
- Treating Covid-19 as a teachable moment for your discipline
2. How might my courses allow students to practice some of the fundamental, particular skills required by democracy?
Regardless of your course topic, you can help your students begin to practice habits of mind that allow them to engage critically and learn from unfamiliar perspectives--habits that are important for their participation in democracy. In addition to the content of our individual disciplines and courses, there are overarching democratic skills that students can develop in courses across the University. These include:
- The ability to engage in respectful discourse and thoughtful argumentation
- The capacity to speak and listen in ways that promote collective learning and advance social good
- The skills of critical literacy and the ability to evaluate bias in text, discourse, and other mediums
- Teaching the 2020 Election
- Civic Learning in the Major by Design
- Deliberative Dialogue Discussion
- These Civic Learning activities can be adapted for your class:
3. What is ‘at stake’ for students and instructors in discussions about the 2020 Election?
When preparing to discuss the election and its results, it is important for you to consider what is ‘at stake’ for the members of your classroom community. For example, students and instructors whose identities are repeatedly targeted or negatively represented can feel unsafe, unwelcome, and drained emotionally and intellectually by the rhetoric and realities of this election. This can and does include members of our Cal Poly community who are Black, Indigenous, LatinX, Asian American, Arab American, Muslim, migrants and immigrants, LGBTQIA, women, or people with disabilities. It follows then, that classroom discussions about the election have the potential to reproduce harm and magnify the stakes for targeted communities. As such, instructors must carefully design and facilitate discussion with an awareness of the stakes involved.
Beyond the stakes of the law and policy issues in the election, consider what is at risk for students (and for instructors) during a classroom conversation about the election. Here are some stakes to consider:
- Academic Risks & Consequences:
Are there, or do students perceive that there will be, academic consequences for sharing their perspective during (or opting out of) an election-related discussion?
- Experience of Vulnerability:
Might this discussion surface students’ deeply held beliefs, assumptions, and worldviews? Might this discussion make visible their personal experiences or their political investments? How are the stakes of vulnerability different for members of different groups (e.g., Black, LGBTQ, disabled communities and other groups)?
- Changes to Relationships:
How might the relationships between students, or between students and the instructor, change in the course of this discussion? What connections and disconnections might result?
- Belonging & Exclusion:
What are the stakes of this discussion for students and instructors from marginalized and underrepresented groups? In what ways can this discussion signal to these students that they belong (or don’t belong) in the classroom community, in the discipline, or at Cal Poly?
- Experience of Harm:
What forms of harm could be produced in real-time for students and instructors during this election discussion? What harms related to systemic injustice do we need to avoid? How will we distinguish between these actual harms vs. the feelings of productive discomfort that arise when students are challenged to learn?
Teaching during this election season will undoubtedly be challenging. We encourage you to use the resources by the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT).
Structuring Classroom Discussions about the 2020 Election
[Adapted from University of Michigan]
1. Choose an Election Topic to Discuss
Instructors will host a range of election-related conversations in their classrooms, from analyzing the election through a disciplinary lens to making space for students to debrief their reactions to the election results. Some instructors may also be thinking about what they’ll do if an ‘unexpected’ conversation arises in their course even when the election is left off the official agenda. While all of these scenarios involve ‘Election 2020’ as the discussion topic, each of these examples invokes a different set of stakes for students and instructors. Make a plan for a specific classroom scenario in order to promote close alignment between your goals for discussion and your instructional choices.
2. Identify a “Critical Friend”
Who do you trust to share ideas with and to offer you helpful critiques? All instructors can benefit from having someone to offer feedback on their discussion plan. Consider identifying a colleague or booking a consultation with CTLT to get feedback while you develop your approach to discussion.
3. Consider the Stakes
Before thinking about discussion prompts and activities, consider what may be at stake for you and your students during an election discussion. Before addressing the logistics of your discussion plan, think through what might be at stake:
- What risks will students take on in the process of participating in an election debrief?
- What are the risks for as an instructor in my particular Department/discipline?
- How might the risks be experienced differently depending on the social identities held by students’ and instructors’, or their relationships to institutional power and authority?
- What can be gained (e.g. for learning, a sense of belonging, classroom community) if this discussion is facilitated well?
4. Define Your Goals.
One way to think about discussion goals is to ask yourself: What do I want to ensure happens during the discussion? What do I want to avoid? Defining and sharing with students your clearly articulated objectives can help set participant expectations and link your discussion to other course goals. Specific objectives for your election discussion may focus on disciplinary connections, policies, civic responsibilities, or the high stakes of the election. Examples include:
- Connecting the election with course learning objectives; for example, by exploring disciplinary connections and investments in the issues raised by the election.
- Making space to acknowledge the range of emotions (fear, disappointment, elation, confusion, anger, relief) that may be present within your class.
- Enhancing skills for dialogue across differences.
- Practicing the skills of critical literacy and the ability to evaluate bias in text, discourse, and other mediums.
- Analyzing the root causes or reasons for a social conflict (i.e., a past-oriented discussion).
- Exploring possible consequences or implications of the election (i.e., a future-oriented discussion).
- Planning effective actions to reduce harms experienced by students targeted by election rhetoric.
- Relating classroom discussion to the roles that students have as members within the university community and larger society.
5. Choose Structures
‘Structure’ refers to the formats, activities, guidance, and resources that you will use to support your election discussion. As you choose structures, ask yourself:
- What discussion formats/ activities will best further your goals?
- What discussion guidelines will be important to provide or establish with student input before starting discussion?
- How much time should you devote to this discussion?
- What resources will you have in place to support your students beyond this discussion? Think: office hours, supplementary readings, other events & organizations, etc.
6. Choose Facilitation Strategies
While facilitation strategies are often instructors’ focus, the following was intentionally left as the final step in the process to illustrate the ways that the preceding steps help create the conditions for effective facilitation. The strategies in the Resource links below will help you navigate these and other critical in-the-moment facilitation decisions:
- How will you explain your decision to devote class time to talking about the election? How will you frame your decision for your students if you decide not to spend much time?
- What language will you use to acknowledge the high stakes of the discussion?
- How will you provide a common starting point (shared learning goals, definitions, etc.) for students to engage in discussion?
- What will you do to get conversation moving if your students are silent?
- What language will you use to respond and guide students through moments of tension, emotion, and/or conflict?
Resources for Students, Staff, and Faculty
Self-Care for Managing Election Stress
Prioritizing self-care is an important step in our daily lives, especially in times of distress. In the wake of heightened emotions and concerning incidents throughout the country and on our campus, here are a few tips for self-care to get you to through the next upcoming days.
- UNPLUG. Limit your consumption of media, particularly of the 24-hour news cycle of social media variety. Stay informed, of course, but instead of constantly scrolling your newsfeed, try one of these other options.
- BE PRESENT. It is important to be aware of and acknowledge our thoughts and feelings. Pay attention with non-judgmental curiosity, and give yourself permission to feel the way you do. Although distraction can be useful, unaddressed intense emotion can also have negative impacts.
- FIND A HEALTHY ESCAPE. Do something engaging or energizing to manage your feelings rather than turn to potentially harmful or hurtful coping mechanisms (i.e. excess substance use) Get outside. Practice mindfulness. Exercise. Journal. Meditate. Read something light. Make art. Watch a funny movie. Laughter is often a good antidote for stress and anxiety.
- CONNECT. Engage with supportive friends and allies. Talk about it if you need to, but also communicate your boundaries when needed. Not everyone will share your perspective. Give yourself permission to walk away from a conversation that is feeling uncomfortable, heated or too stressful. Reach out to a mental health professional such as those at Counseling Services or another trusted individual.
- REPLENISH. Get back to self-care, and focus on restoring yourself. Get enough rest. Eat well. Drink plenty of water and fluids. Move daily… walking, stretching, breathing are great ways to replenish.
- DO SOMETHING. Channel what you are feeling into something that is meaningful and purposeful to you. Get informed and be proactive around issues that matter to you. Find ways to engage with your community through volunteering and advocacy.
It’s easy to feel alone or isolated during these times, but remember there are resources throughout campus with the sole purpose of helping you find your way. Below are links to a few resources and pages that may be helpful during these turbulent times or for any other problems you may be facing.
[Adapted from University of Northern Colorado]
Statement on Commitment to Community
Cal Poly is committed to maintaining a broad and inclusive community that values diversity and fosters tolerance and mutual respect, in which all members embrace core values of academic excellence, open inquiry, free expression, and diversity. Membership in the Cal Poly community is consistent with the highest principles of shared governance, social and environmental responsibility, engagement, and integrity. We embrace and encourage our community differences in age, disability, race or ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, veteran or military status, and other characteristics that make our community unique. All community members have the right to participate fully in Cal Poly’s programs and activities free from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation (bias).
How to Report
Anyone who has knowledge of or has experienced a bias incident, on or off campus, involving Cal Poly students, faculty and/or staff, may report the incident in a variety of ways.