Potash Hill

Creating Space for Critical Conversations

Faculty members engage in small group discussions to explore the challenges of supporting civil discourse in the classroom. Photo by Clayton Clemetson ’19In December, faculty members participated in a workshop in civil discourse designed to support their commitment to the second goal of the Marlboro Promise: the ability to work, live, and communicate with a wide range of individuals. Sponsored by the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, the faculty development workshop was titled “Creating Space for Critical Conversations” and was facilitated by Renee Wells, director of education for equity and inclusion at Middlebury College. The workshop was supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation.

“Having Renee Wells on campus was a valuable opportunity for us to work toward fulfilling our commitment to the Marlboro Promise and for us to engage difficult pedagogical opportunities appropriately,” said William Ransom, sculpture professor and member of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. “The workshop offered strategies to create more inclusive classroom spaces.”

The training explored the challenges associated with class discussion, and helped faculty develop skills to set the tone for critical conversations and to intervene and respond when comments or questions result in harm. Key concepts addressed included establishing expectations and intended outcomes for dialogue, and helping students to analyze not only their own ideas and the ideas of others but the impact of those ideas on others. Faculty left with a better sense of how to frame these issues for students, help students critically self-reflect, and respond to microaggressions when they occur.