Tips for preparing and addressing election-related issues with students in class

General tips

  • Prepare your classroom space for the impact of the election results with a brief conversation, Blackboard announcement, project or reflection (if applicable), or processing space.
  • Don't ignore the elephant in the room—address the tension or energy, if you're feeling it in your classroom. Each election is a big moment in our country's democratic process with ramifications for everyone.
  • Consider providing alternative accommodations (i.e., asynchronous content) for the day before, during or after election day, to allow students to process and reflect if they are unable to be fully present.
  • If the election aligns with the content of your course, you may want to outline a conversation to help students learn and process around it. Perhaps provide students with an outline of the conversation ahead of class or at the beginning of class to help guide and facilitate the discussion.
  • If the election does not align with the content of your course, you may want to consider:
    • Inviting students who want to discuss or process the election to attend class a few minutes early or stay a few minutes late.
    • Refer students to campus or community-based events that are discussing the election or that are holding space to build community and connection.
    • Take the first few minutes to discuss the importance of participating in the voting process, and share that there are local and national entities to support (volunteering, financially, etc.) whether the outcome aligns with their personal vote or not.

Understanding your role

  • As faculty, you need to ensure you can convey material in an environment where it can be received fully. Preparation of the classroom space will help in doing so.
  • Don’t feel you need to be a political or psychological expert, knowing all the answers and how to address the impact on each student is not an expectation.
  • Get students talking, thinking critically and reflecting, but refrain from leading them toward a particular political viewpoint or electoral outcome.

Facilitating the conversation

  • Outline and establish some grounding assumptions prior to engaging in a conversation of this nature. Spend the first couple of minutes of class laying out a classroom contract for respectful, constructive dialogue. Be specific and ask students what it might look like (i.e., what might respectful communication look like on Zoom?).
  • Help students look for common ground—not necessarily with the candidates, but with class members with whom they may disagree. Acknowledge that the purpose of this safe learning space is not to come to agreement, but to allow for reflection and processing.
  • Encourage students to passionately articulate their perspectives but treat each other with respect.
  • Anticipate disagreement and make clear in advance that it is an inevitable part of a democracy.
  • Encourage students to listen, hear each other’s perspectives— particularly where they differ— and work to understand the experiences that generates these perspectives.
  • Help students reflect on how they formed their own perspectives, the genesis of their values.
  • Encourage students to think about their self-care if the conversation gets challenging. When strong emotions arise, and the discussion gets heated, what does one need to do in that moment? (i.e., take deep breaths; step away from the space respectfully and return).
  • Close with helping students plan for putting their agreement or disagreement into positive action (lobbying groups, local volunteering, etc.). Elected officials need input, feedback and information from across the spectrum to be effective.

Faculty self-care

  • Watch your "media diet" of what you consume in the 24-hour news cycle. Be intentional about giving yourself a time limit for how much news you consume each day, leading up to the election.
  • Consider your own mental and emotional capacity as an educator. Leading up to the election, engage in purposeful strategies to mitigate election stress disorder, like spending time with loved ones, finding time for quiet or meditation, writing down your thoughts, trying to get more rest, moving your body and staying present.

*Adapted in part from Campus Election Engagement Project