Classroom Concerns

Responding to Classroom Challenges

Classroom instructors face many challenges teaching in a vibrant campus community, and it is expected that students at a university will experience a wide variety of emotions in and outside of the classroom. While many students will be attentive and engaged in classroom activities, others may be day-dreaming, bored, distracted, or pre-occupied. Many instructors have their own effective techniques for working with these students.

Students may present a greater challenge when they come to class:

  • experiencing significant stress in their academic or personal lives.
  • under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • and engage in ways that are inconsistent with our classroom discourse expectations.

    University Expectations

Our Community Standards in the Code of Student Conduct affirms that we prioritize student and University activities, events, teaching, research, administration, and other authorized non-University activities that are essential to supporting learning and discourse.

Students are encouraged to share their concerns in ways that are aligned with the on-campus demonstrations policy, university speakers’ policy, our Jesuit values, and in the spirit of robust academic discourse. See Policies for more information.

Disruption or obstruction of these activities may include, but is not limited to:

  • behaviors inconsistent with stated learning community norms in individual classes.
  • posted guidelines in campus facilities.
  • intentional use of bias language (link to bias harassment policy), or
  • actions that prevent students, staff, faculty, and/or visitors from engaging in University business including the exchange of ideas in academic discourse.

How do we set up expectations for classes or other spaces?

Faculty, staff, and students can establish these norms during the first day of class as part of the review of the syllabus or during the first meetings of a group. This conversation can include specific information about a given course (i.e. literature classes where the discussion includes books with bias terms or talking about legal theories rooted in oppression). Community members can either start from a basic set of guidelines (listed below) and/or facilitate a discussion with a class or group using the following norms as a starting point:

  • Rooted in Jesuit and Catholic values, as well as the Redhawk Commitment.
  • Spirit of inquiry – being curious about each other.
  • Spirit of humility – our students are learning how to engage in discourse, will make mistakes, and need to be supported in their growth and learning.
  • Assuming best intentions – folx come from various places in their own journeys.
  • Willingness to call in – when folx make a mistake/misstep, calling them into the discussion to learn.
  • Thinking about personal identities and how we show up in spaces – folx with majority identities might inadvertently impact minoritized students by being unaware or unconscious about how they show up in discussions. We should encourage students to engage in this reflection and be aware of how much discourse space they take up, the language that they use, etc.
  • Staying on topic – when discussion strays, being open to being called back to the topic or asked to make the connection between the discussion topic and the other content explicit
  • Creating a “brave” space for discourse – no one can guarantee emotional “safety” but we can commit to a space where discourse can occur.
  • Normalize self-care and appropriate disclosure – if someone is having difficulty with content, the discussion, or are triggered in some way, faculty can normalize the importance of self-care and taking time to reflect and reset before reengaging in the discussion.
  • Setting clear next steps when the norms are breached.

What gets in the way?

What gets in the way of productive academic discourse?

  • Use of bias language (when not related to class context).
  • Personal attacks.
  • Interpersonal conflicts not related to class (i.e. folx who have conflict that might be part of a cohort, club, or other group outside of a given course).
  • Not staying engaged – if you aren’t able to be fully part of the discussion, consider presence in the class and whether it would be more productive to take the time off to reset.
  • Any kind of physical interaction (invading personal space, any form of assault).
  • Verbal interactions that breach learning community expectations (yelling, insults).

I've got a group and don't know where to start!

It can be tough to start from nothing. Here's a set of sample learning community expectations as a starting point for your group discussion:

  • “I” statements – “I think/feel/believe…” and “When I heard you say X, I felt Y”.
  • Base assertions in data or reading – “I understood when the author said “X” that it meant “Y”.
  • Discourse is rooted in inclusion, meaning we refrain from using terms which dehumanize minoritized individuals. So we refrain from using biased terms for individuals based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, sex, national origin, etc.. If you aren’t sure if a term would be a bias term, please ask your faculty or look online before using it.
  • Spirit of inquiry – “I heard you say “Y” and I’d appreciate if you could say more.”
  • We are learning how to engage in discourse, will make mistakes, and need to be supported in our growth and learning – “I noticed that you said X. That is often a hurtful term for individuals who identify as Y.”
  • Assuming best intentions – “I heard you say X and because I identify as Y, that hurt my feelings. I am guessing you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but wanted to share the impact.”
  • Willingness to call in – “When you said Z, I felt like you were making an assumption about all people who identify as X. Could you say more about what you meant so we can talk about it?”
  • Thinking about personal identities and how we show up in spaces – step up and step back in discussions. “I notice that many of the folx who identify as X have spoken up. Could we also hear from others to get their perspectives?”
  • Staying on topic – “I think we might have gotten off topic. Could you please share where you see a connection between what you shared and X?”
  • Creating a “brave” space for discourse – When we disagree, we can say that without putting value on the other person.
  • Normalize self-care and appropriate disclosure – if you’re having difficulty with topics and content, the discussion, or are triggered in some way, please take care of yourself (i.e. stepping away from class, saying “I’m feeling triggered by this because of X,” or engaging in a private conversation with the faculty member after class to talk about it.

How do I handle a situation when something doesn't go well or when someone doesn't follow our established expectations?

There are a lot of different strategies. Below are some initial guidelines for how to respond if a student does not comply with learning community expectations:

  • Take their concern or comments seriously, since there’s usually more context for why a student might choose to breach the learning community expectations
  • Ask to speak with them outside of the classroom or during a class period break – “Let’s take a five minute break, [student] let’s speak for a moment in private”
  • Highlight specific impacts – “when you said/did X, this is how I/others experienced this”
  • Listen to their feedback – “Help me understand what’s going on for you. Where were you coming from when you made this comment/engaged in this activity?”
  • Thank them for sharing – “I really appreciate you telling me what’s going on.”
  • Ask for change – “Moving forward, I would appreciate if you would do Y.”
  • If students continue to breach these norms, ask them to leave the class session and invite them for a one on one conversation.
  • Contact DPS (206-296-5911) if the behavior escalates to any form of violence.
  • Debrief with the class to make sure there’s follow up if the issue was significant.

If you would like to consult about possible strategies or have a situation you're not sure how to approach, contact the Office of the Dean of Students at