Category Archives: Difficult Dialogues

Resources for Evaluating Dialogue

Written by Dr. Sarah Ropp

Evaluating dialogue in the classroom is a tricky business, whether we are talking about assessment (trying to determine the degree to which classroom dialogue has achieved its goal for the purpose of affirming or adjusting pedagogical approach) or grading (attempting to assign a quantitative value to student performance). As Brookfield and Presskill (1999) write, “We don’t believe there really are any standardized protocols or universal measures we can apply to assessing a discussion leader’s effectiveness or the value of student contributions.” 

However, reflecting critically on what has just happened in the dialogue, including facilitator choices and participant contributions and experiences, is deeply valuable for both teachers and students. And assigning a grade to dialogue participation is a way to signal its value and importance as a learning outcome in the course, validate student effort, and make expectations transparent and consistent. 

There are endless ways to both assess and grade dialogue. Below are some ready-to-use resources to spark ideas. 

 

Difficult Dialogues Spring Public Forum: Health, Infrastructure, and the Environment

This spring’s Difficult Dialogues Public Forum, held on April 13, featured three of the 2020-2022 Faculty Fellows: Dr. Andrea Gore (College of Pharmacy);  Dr. Ben Hodges (Cockrell School of Engineering, Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering); and Dr. Katherine Lieberknecht (School of Architecture, Community and Regional Planning) speaking on the topic of “Health, Infrastructure, and the Environment.” Each panelist spoke briefly, followed by conversation moderated by HI Director Dr. Pauline Strong.

Dr. Lieberknecht’s presentation focused on the importance of including local knowledge in climate planning. She heads a National Science Foundation-supported collaborative project located in Dove Springs that seeks to find ways to integrate community knowledge into city efforts to contain flooding and ameliorate extreme heat. Lieberknecht identified three kinds of infrastructure planners consider when designing solutions: the built environment; the ecological environment; and the social environment. Using seasonal flooding as an example, the built environment includes structures such as levees; the ecological environment includes efforts to create green space; and the social environment includes communication networks within communities. Local knowledge incorporates information about all three. Community members know which storm drain always backs up, which route to the grocery store is shadiest in the heat of summer, and who organizes community responses. The Dove Springs project is still in its beginning stages—the research began roughly 6 months ago, and some aspects have been hampered by C19 restrictions—but Lieberknecht and her academic and community partners hope that its findings will help planners and communities design more robust climate solutions.

Dr. Hodges followed. He opened his presentation by sharing a simple fact: global warming means increasing rain, increasing rain means more floods. Floods happen for three reasons, Hodges explained. Rivers exceed their banks; storm surges overwhelm coastal areas; and “water bombs,” localized intense rainstorms. Cities are not currently designed to manage such storms. Design criteria must change. But civil engineering solutions operate almost exclusively from a cost benefit analysis.  Wealthy people live on the most valuable land, so it’s that land that civil engineers strive to protect. Hodges pinpointed a dilemma in infrastructure planning: when changes are made to mitigate undesirable circumstances, such as flooding, property values rise. Gentrification often follows, driving the original residents out. How can engineers and city planners create solutions that preserve communities instead of displacing them? Hodges suggested a few ways to change current practices. Firstly, he encouraged more interdisciplinary work to provide more holistic understandings of the problems and possible solutions. He promoted investment in ripping out concrete and asphalt to create new green spaces, and stressed the importance of building codes in addressing infrastructure inequities. He also proposed that cities begin thinking of eminent domain as a tool to bring more valuable properties into green space.

To close the panel, Dr. Gore brought a more direct focus on health outcomes. Since the “chemical revolution” of the World War II period, synthetic chemical production has increased dramatically. Many of these chemicals allow us to have products that make our lives easier or more convenient. However, their production often causes pollution that harms both human and non-human life. Gore described her research on endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, which she defined as “a chemical that interferes with any aspect of hormone action.” Hormones, she explained, affect brain development and behavior regulation, among other factors. She emphasized two points: EDCs have adverse effects on brain health, and these adverse effects can affect the health of future generations. We’re all exposed to EDCs, primarily through food. Chemical contamination harms wildlife as well as human life, which Rachel Carson demonstrated in her 1962 book, Silent Spring. As the planet warms up, the polar ice caps melt, and chemicals once trapped in the ice are released into the air and water. While it would be impossible to avoid all exposure to EDCs, Gore offered some actions we all can take in order to minimize risk. She advised microwaving in glass containers rather than plastic; drinking filtered water, not bottled water; and eating fresh produce—organic, if it’s affordable—instead of industrially processed food.

A lively discussion followed. Participants discussed the tension between local and national needs when addressing infrastructure issues, and the need for context-informed solutions. Lieberknecht cited the need to “think with equity.” Solving these issues requires thinking holistically, including conversations about living wages, affordable housing, and access to healthy food. While all agreed that community cultures of care are important, they stressed that it’s the role of municipalities to step up and address problems.

Several resources were shared by the panelists and participants in the chat. Some are linked below.

City of Austin Climate Equity Plan 

Planet Texas 2050

“Editorial: An International Riposte to Naysayers of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals” Andrea Gore

“Policy Decisions on Endocrine Disruptors Should Be Based on Science Across Disciplines: A Response to Dietrich et al.” Andrea Gore, et al.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities Jane Jacobs

The Economy of Cities Jane Jacobs

Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life  Eric Klinenberg

Thinking in Systems and other work by Donella Meadows

Water 4.0: The Past, Present, and Future of the World’s Most Vital Resource David Sedlak

Scale: The Universal Laws of Life, Growth, and Death in Organisms, Cities, and Companies Geoffrey West

 

Photo of the 2015 Halloween flood in Austin, TX courtesy of the City of Austin

Ways to Support AAPI Students and Other Stressed and Traumatized Students Right Now

Written by Dr. Sarah Ropp

April is a stressful time of year under the very best of circumstances. These are not the very best of circumstances: daily, there is more news of violent attacks, both rhetorical and physical, against people from the Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities; police violence against Black people; mass shootings across the country; and gender violence. Below are a few ideas for supporting students, and yourself, during the last month of this semester. They include options to pursue bystander intervention training; practical mental health resources; and 3 ideas for classroom dialogues related to imposter syndrome and belonging, challenging biased language, and considering the racialization of social threats in a comparative historical perspective.  

 

  • Attend a Bystander Intervention Training 

Hollaback! in partnership with Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) are offering free, one-hour, online bystander intervention trainings specifically focused on recognizing and responding to incidents of anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander bias. Sign up here. Advertise to students, too

Note that you can also sign up for bystander intervention training to address gender-based harassment, here.

  • Share Resources with Students

“Making It to May: Ideas for Stress Relief” is a one-page infographic with about 30 simple, free ideas for coping with stress and anxiety. Circulate to students via Canvas announcement, add to your email signature for the rest of the semester, or take 1-3 minutes to practice one of the techniques together at the beginning or end of each class. PDF version here

The Students’ Guide to Radical Healing is a fantastic 40-page graphic booklet that helps people understand trauma and its impact as well as discover a variety of healing modalities. Circulate to students and keep handy to reshare with individuals as needed. 

Graduate Student Mental Health Services is a 5-page booklet that contains links and contact information for all relevant campus resources related to health and wellness. Most of the content is relevant for undergraduates as well! Circulate to students, but keep a copy handy for yourself as well, both for your own use and in order to be able to refer students to services readily. 

  • Incorporate Classroom Dialogues on Belonging, Biased Language, and Racializing Threat

Classroom Dialogue #1: Imposter Syndrome and Belonging

  1. Define imposter syndrome using this four-minute video: “What Is Imposter Syndrome?” 
  2. Read and respond to this brief article on Kevin Cokley’s imposter syndrome study at UT-Austin: “Impostor Feelings Fuel Negative Mental Health Outcomes for Minority Students.” Did anything surprise you about these findings? Are they consistent with your own experiences and/or observations? What further questions does the article raise for you? The focus of this article is on ethnic and racial minority students; what other groups of students do you think are likely to experience imposter syndrome? 
  3. Take this quick assessment to determine whether you struggle with imposter feelings to any degree: Clance IP scale. Are you surprised by these results? Is imposter syndrome something you have thought or talked much about before?
  4. Watch this one-minute video from the Blanton Museum: “Belonging”. Complete the associated dialogue and action. After each person shares, affirm their belonging in the way that feels most natural and sincere to you: 

  Verbally: “Thank you for sharing that.” “Welcome.” “Glad you’re here.” (etc) 

Physically: Smile. Nod your head. Bow. Give a thumbs up. (etc)

Visually: Use a Zoom reaction button. Type a smiley face or heart into the chat. Hold up a drawing of a heart or other symbol of welcome and affirmation. (etc) 

Classroom Dialogue #2: Identifying and Challenging Biased Language

  1. Read this text: “Biased Language Definitions and Examples,” ThoughtCo (2019) 
  2. Generate a list of other examples of biased language. Here are a few examples to start: 
    • “ghetto” (a racialized term used to indicate any of the following or a combination: impoverished, violent, “tacky,” unrefined, uneducated, etc)   
    • “crippled” (used either in a literal sense to describe a disability or non-literal sense to describe the impacts of difficulty or hardship)
    • “gypped” (a derogatory reference to Sinti and Roma peoples, formerly known as Gypsies, to mean “cheated” or “scammed”) 
    • “Indian giver” (a derogatory reference to Native Americans, to mean one who gives a gift with the intention of recalling it for oneself) 
    • “Latino time” (used to indicate a stereotype of habitual lateness or a relaxed, non-rigid sense of time) 
    • “A blonde moment” (indicating a moment of forgetfulness, silliness, illogic, unintelligence, etc) 
    • “ethnic-looking,” “ethnic food,” “ethnic clothing,” etc (indicating anything NOT associated with the presumed “neutral” or “default” White + Anglo-Saxon + Protestant + Northern European culture, people, and phenotype) 
  • “Hysterical” (a gendered way to describe an emotional response that is erratic, overdramatic, irrational, out-of-control, etc)
  • “Kung flu” or “Chinese virus” (a racialized way to describe COVID-19) 

Note that biased language also includes mocking or imitating non-dominant accents, speech patterns, dialects, and language varieties like African American Vernacular English; South Asian or East Asian accents; a Southern U.S. accent adopted to indicate ignorance or poverty; speech patterns stereotypically associated with gay men; etc. 

3.  Share examples. Categorize examples into 2 groups: 1) examples that the class agrees fairly unanimously is biased and harmful and 2) examples that people have questions about. Discuss why the examples of biased language in the “we have questions about this” category generate doubt. Is it because it is a term whose connection to a certain identity group may not be known to most people who use it (e.g. many people don’t know that “hysterical” refers to the uterus)? Is it because the term is sometimes invoked with a positive intention (e.g. praising someone’s “ethnic features”)? Is it because the term might be used lovingly by the folks belonging to the identity group it refers to (e.g. lots of Latinx people invoke the concept of “Latino time”)? (And so on.) Work through that doubt: Who gets to decide what language is unacceptable and who gets to use what language? What should you do if you’re not sure whether a term is biased or not? 

4.  What harm does biased language do? Think about the known or potential impact of biased language in terms of the personal (feelings; self-image; sense of belonging or exclusion; interpersonal relationships) and the public/political (policy; political action; political rhetoric; social norms; cultural attitudes; etc). Connect specific examples of biased language to specific harms, if you can. What should you do if you use biased language, on purpose or not? 

5.  What should you do if you witness the use of biased language by classmates, peers, colleagues, family members, authority figures, and others? To begin, refer to some of the five Ds of bystander intervention identified in BeVocal UT’s Powerpoint presentation:

What would a direct response look like?

How could you distract from what is happening?

Does delay apply here?

Under what circumstances would you delegate intervention? 

When is documentation necessary or useful? 

What are other ways to address biased language? 

Classroom Dialogue #3: Racializing Threat in Historical Perspective

Text: “Lead’s Racial Matters,” from Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect, Mel Y. Chen, Duke UP, 2012. Pair with Jabin Botford’s photograph of Trump crossing out “corona” in “coronavirus” and writing in “Chinese” instead. 

Summary of Text: Chen discusses the 2007 panic in the U.S. over traces of lead paint in children’s toys manufactured in China, describing how an “inanimate but migrant” substance–lead–became racialized and notions of the Chinese other as toxic, impure, and threatening became reanimated and re-legitimized. 

Possible discussion prompts: Compare and contrast the coronavirus crisis to the 2007 lead paint scare: what similarities do you notice? What important differences exist? Discuss some other moments in history in which a specific threat (imagined or real) was racialized. Pick one such moment and research the consequences for the ethnic group(s) associated with this threat as well as the consequences on policy and society more generally. Describe or predict, referring to your research, what some of the consequences of the coronavirus have been or will be, in terms of racial relations in the U.S., international relations, immigration policy, border enforcement, etc, etc. Discuss what Asian and Asian-descended people are experiencing locally, nationally, or globally at the moment, referring to recent testimonies, interviews, articles, and/or (if applicable and only if you wish) personal experience. 

 

Dialogue Techniques for Fostering Environmental Awareness across the Curriculum

written by Dr. Sarah Ropp

Spring has arrived to Austin–arguably its most beautiful season–and with it, growing hope for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the devastating effects of February’s extreme cold are still evident in the landscape, perhaps most poignantly in the collapsed nopales splayed out over the sidewalks. And the financial and health impacts of infrastructural and political failures to support the people of Texas during that extreme weather event have produced a lingering bitterness in many of us. April is Earth Month, and there is no better time to consider how we can bring a greater sense of environmental awareness into our classrooms through a few minutes a week of focused peer-to-peer dialogue. 

No matter what content we teach, place-based pedagogies are important. They support students’ mental health and ability to engage in the classroom by acknowledging and attending to the ways in which our relationship to our environment affects us on a moment-to-moment basis. They break down artificial boundaries between “in here” and “out there” and encourage students to understand classrooms as an extension of communities and themselves as critical agents within their environments. They illuminate the ways in which varying experiences of restriction and freedom within environments are fundamental to understanding social inequities created by ableism, racism, misogyny, heteronormativity, transphobia, and more. Below are a few opportunities to engage your students in dialogue around the environment over the course of this month.

5 Ways to Incorporate More Classroom Dialogue about Environmental Awareness 

This infographic details 5 quick ways to foster more eco-awareness in your classroom without losing instructional time devoted to your content. 

Difficult Dialogues Public Forum on Health, Infrastructure, and the Environment

April 13, 7-8pm, via Zoom

The Spring 2021 Difficult Dialogues Public Forum features three of our 2020-2022 Faculty Fellows in a conversation about health, infrastructure, and the environment. Faculty from a range of disciplines will discuss their research on environmental contamination, climate change and climate planning, and environmental racism and injustice. The presentations will be followed by a Q&A session moderated by HI Director Pauline Strong. 

Click here to register and learn more about the speakers and their topics.

Controversy and Conversation Film Discussion of An American Ascent

May 6, 7:30-8:30pm, via Zoom

An American Ascent focuses on the first African American expedition to climb Denali, North America’s highest peak. The film also discusses what it refers to as the “Adventure Gap,” referring to the disproportionately low number of African Americans participating in nature-based recreational activities. One of the nine climbers poses: “Think about the story that mountaineering has been. It’s been mainly white male, and if a little black girl were to look into mountaineering and hear that single story, she would probably say ‘I don’t have much of a place there.’” Follow the group on their challenging journey to the summit of Mount Denali as they discuss the impacts they hope to have on their communities.

Starla Simmons, Clinical Assistant Professor in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, will lead the discussion. Professor Simmons’s work is rooted in social justice and racial equity. In addition to her clinical practice and  academic work, she has served as the Austin leader for Outdoor Afro, an organization dedicated to promoting and celebrating Black leadership in nature.

Click here to register and to find more information about the film and how to watch it.