Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Prioritize individuality, comfortability in classroom discussions

Avery Thorpe

With the world being an unpredictable and sometimes scary place, students may seek comfort in other aspects of their daily lives – including in their classes. While worldview and global issues have a place in the classroom and can be necessary educational conversations, these topics should be proportionally navigated, limited to the classroom as a whole and should not bleed into individual student-teacher dynamics.

Professors should place more importance on objective teaching methods and ensure that the power imbalance does not place pressure on students to conform to a certain set of ideas. 

Renita Coleman, a journalism professor, teaches a class regarding pop culture in the media. Notable issues and debates are often discussed in her class, she says.

“Everybody perceives things differently from other people, and differently from how they’re intended,” said Coleman. “Sometimes the intent isn’t there, but it still comes across reliably as being disrespectful. So we have to be careful about our come across, our delivery.”

BridgeTexas is an organization open to all, dedicated to reducing political polarization in the US through constructive conversation and viewpoint diversity. Through biweekly moderated discussions, guest lectures and volunteer opportunities, the discussions take place in informal settings in which there are no “right” answers to the questions being asked. Whether participants agree or disagree, the rules prohibit personal attacks and ensure mutual and consistent respect from all parties. 

Alison Eng, a government junior and current president of BridgeTexas, says that criticism is always welcome but that it’s important to address all sides of a topic to achieve a better understanding. 

“Though many professors are committed to open inquiry and believe in keeping their personal beliefs outside of the classroom, they may unintentionally favor some perspectives over others,” Eng said. “Some students also may feel intimidated in a classroom because they feel a need to impress the professor or their classmates with a ‘perfect’ answer.”

When speaking upon contentious or equivocal topics in school, it’s important to open the discussion to everyone, provide resources and establish a positive framework that ensures the discussion remains educational. Additionally, providing a clear purpose for the discussion, laying out the basics and facilitating the flow of the lesson are vital for clear and concise delivery. 

“Political issues should not be kept out of classrooms for fear of causing offense. … However, we need to ensure that disagreement remains healthy — that is, approached with an open mind and informed by respect for others and a shared desire to better our society for the benefit of all,” Eng said. “It is up to our education system to provide us with the skills to understand complex topics and form our own opinions.”

A psychology sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous, read a memoir written by a Holocaust survivor in class shortly prior to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel

“My teacher was aware that I was Jewish because I had been excused for the Jewish holidays a couple of weeks before,” they said. “She called me out individually … in the context of me possibly knowing more background information about the book because I was Jewish.”

Although probably unintended, instances like this one can make students feel targeted, singled out or as if they are perceived differently than the rest of the class. Professors should withhold using individual student characteristics to portray a message or contribute to the lesson in which they are teaching. 

“If she went about it in the same way that she did for the other books, and treated all students the same, I think it would have made me feel a lot less uncomfortable, but it was just noticeably different,” they said. 

Addressing and analyzing heavy subject matter is necessary for a learning environment in which different viewpoints and personal belief are respectfully welcomed, but when these discussions begin to influence the opinions of others or cause discomfort, it can become fatal to the education system. 

Ismert is a liberal arts junior from Dallas, Texas.

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