Post-Election Classroom Conversations from Faculty and CGE 

Dear Teaching Faculty and Graduate Employees, 

On November 4, 2020, Americans will have cast their vote for President. We may not know the  final election results for some time. Many faculty will be in our classrooms – on campus, in  Zoom, and on Canvas – on November 4th and possibly for weeks afterward while the country  may be in turbulence. Students in our classrooms immediately after the election may want to  dialogue about what is happening. Because so many faculty have expressed concern about how  to support students and manage their classes should the election cause disruption and social  unrest, the Faculty Senate Executive Committee is providing some guidance. 

We know that as faculty, we are public employees, and that public employees are prohibited  from campaign activities at work. We also know that freedom of expression is an essential part  of the work we do as a university. The OSU Code of Student Conduct (Code) states that freedom  of expression is a fundamental right, but does not extend to imminent threats of physical  violence or to substantial disruption of the operation of the university or the legal rights of  others (such as targeted harassment that is severe or pervasive enough that it curtails  others’ access to education or copyright infringement).  

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee (EC) has some guidance we hope will be helpful for  faculty and graduate teaching assistants as we continue to navigate our way through this  challenging year.  

  1. Prior to Election Day: Think in advance about how you will handle politically charged  discussions in your class, whether your class be on campus, in a Zoom room, in a Canvas  discussion forum, or other location. Have a plan.  
  • You may be able to rely on your existing classroom practices and norms. Reminding  students in advance of the existing class policies and norms can help to set  expectations for civility.  
  • You may find it helpful to ask students to collaborate with you on expectations and  guidelines for use in your course that are specific to discussions of the election and  related political issues.  
  • Start a dialogue between your own department colleagues and unit head about how  best to support your disciplinary specific students and classes.  
  • Review and be aware of de-escalation practices for potential incidents or altercations,  such as those provided by the Crisis Prevention Institute
  • Review a short video featuring OSU General Counsel Rebecca Gose discussing  speech and care guidelines in the classroom.  
  1. Election Day and Beyond:  

Caring for Students 

  • Recognize that whatever the election outcomes may be, you may encounter individuals with strong emotional reactions. Practice kindness and  

compassion. Be sensitive to the many reactions students may have: anger,  fear, sadness, shock, happiness, pride, or satisfaction. 

  • Regardless of the outcome of the election, actions that violate OSU’s non discrimination policy or anti-harassment policy are not acceptable, period.  Please do not ignore discriminatory behavior, as silence would suggest that  you tacitly approve. These actions should be referred to the Office of Equal Opportunity & Access (EOA) for investigation and potential sanctioning.  

This becomes more difficult if the potentially discriminatory or  harassing actions are just speech (words or images only), as students  have free speech rights. Those rights are not, however, unlimited, and  we recommend that you consult with the Office of Institutional  Diversity (OID) or EOA before attempting to restrict or bar student  speech on the basis of the speaker’s viewpoint. 

When you see problematic images or speech on a student’s Zoom  background, in their home or in a profile picture, it should be treated  the same as the student wearing that speech on a shirt or hat in a  physical classroom. Please consult with OID or EOA in individual  cases. 

  • Remind students to balance their needs of being informed and the risks of  being over-exposed to social media. Suggest that students limit “doom  scrolling” if they are having difficulty coping.  
  • Also students have access to services through OSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services office or the Cascades campus wellness service. Note  that Ecampus students also have access to some CAPS services, resources and  referrals.  
  • This may be a particularly important time to closely monitor Zoom chat  conversations (and perhaps material visible on cameras) where expressions of  feelings may easily be seen. Where you see a student who is particularly  upset, please be sure to reach out and refer them to resources (regardless of  their viewpoint). 

Keep in mind that you have a lot of control over content in your  classroom (online or in-person), but once you open up a discussion on  a particular content area, you are generally limited in restricting  viewpoints in that content area.  

We advise that you be thoughtful in how you shape the content that  you would like students to discuss. We also advise that you strive to  have any political discussion be germane to the course content of your  class. 

You have a lot of control over the manner and timing of speech also.  Just as in the physical classroom, you can insist upon students using  certain evidence, methodology, professional norms, particular numbers  of comments, not interrupting, etc… 

  • Remember that as the host in Zoom, you have the power to mute or move  students to the waiting room who are being disruptive or otherwise violating  OSU policy or your classroom rules. Please ensure that you are generally  applying your rules in a viewpoint neutral way, such that all disruptive or  uncivil behavior or speech is handled similarly (whether you agree with the  viewpoint or not).

Caring for OSU Employees  

  • Faculty, staff, and other OSU employees may also experience some strong  emotional reactions to the election outcomes. Please take care of your mental  and emotional health, and ask for help if you need it.  
  • As a part of OSU’s Culture of Care, Human Resources has introduced a new  employee assistance program called Beyond Benefits. Beyond Benefits  

provides extensive counselling resources for employees.  

Responding to Incidents 

  • You may find it helpful to ask simple, exploratory questions without  

aggression. Doing so can open up communication and clarify the root of the  student’s beliefs so that you know what information you need to convey.  

Asking for more information may also let students encounter their own biases. One caution in this area is to frame the discussion in such an open 

ended way that you are unable to rein in the conversation based on  

content (since you generally are not able to shut down or restrict  

speech based purely on viewpoint, where relevant to the discussion  

content you have set up). 

  • If you believe that something has taken place in your course that violates the  Code or is otherwise threatening or concerning, please contact the office of  the Dean of Students for a consultation or submit a student misconduct report.  
  • If you believe that something has taken place that may constitute a bias  incident (an act directed toward an individual or community based upon actual  or perceived background or identity including age, color, disability, gender  identity or expression, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex,  

sexual orientation, or veteran status), please use the bias incidence response  process.  

  • Put physical safety first if you feel you need immediate help with an on campus situation that constitutes a threat to the physical safety of yourself or  others, and the conflict cannot be de-escalated, the Benton County Sheriff’s  Office Crisis Response Team can be reached at (541) 766-6911 and OSU’s  Public Safety Dispatch can be reached at (541) 737-3010. OSU-Cascades  Public Safety can be reached at (541) 322-3110. As always, please call 911 in  the event of a medical or life-threatening emergency. 

Thank you for all you do for the OSU community in this challenging year, and always. Sincerely, 

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee  

Coalition of Graduate Employees, American Federation of Teachers Local 6069