Professors vary in approach to post-election conversations

In the days following the results of the presidential election, anxiety levels on campus were high.

Some professors were similarly vexed and carried the responsibility of teaching with the elephant in their classrooms — the astounding conclusion of a long and treacherous campaign.

“For me personally, it felt really artificial to just try to go on with business as usual,” said Kelly Green, professor of psychology.

Green, a licensed clinical psychologist, had two sections of chemical dependency issues that morning, a class that Green said is “cross-listed” or offered to students from several disciplines including psychology, criminal justice, criminology and social work.

Although Green’s classes seemed adaptable to post-election discussion, she expressed concern about proceeding the morning after the election results; she wasn’t sure how to go about doing it.

“Part of what I was struggling with on election night and early election morning was, ‘What am I gonna do?’” Green said. “I think that a lot of faculty were in the same boat.”

After talking to some of her colleagues on Facebook, she decided to leave the discussion open to her class.

“I tried to really make sure that I was acknowledging that not everyone in my class was going to be upset,” Green said. “I also acknowledge that this election could be having a very emotional impact on a lot of people. I wanted us to talk about it as a community.”

Other professors, more limited by time-constraints and a stringent course direction, preferred to leave the conversation out of the classroom altogether.

“We don’t have a lot of time for extraneous discussions,” Keith Syska, adjunct science professor in the School of Natural Sciences, said about his science in perspective class. “It’s pretty hard to make the social issues relevant to our topic.”

Syska, his students talk about the election in a couple of his classes, modified his policy for his later sections after regretting how far away the discussions drifted from science

He said that the reason he allowed his students to discuss politics in the first place was because some of their class presentations were related to Donald Trump’s positions on science issues and therefore directly related to the content of the class.

“Difficult social issues were raised that were not really appropriate for a science class,” Syska said. “I’m happy to address election issues as long as they’re science-related but when it extends beyond that then I run a risk of being uninformed or not having the expertise to comment on the issue.”

Jack Musselman, associate professor of philosophy, shared similar sentiments but did facilitate a post-election class discussion focused on the legality of some of the candidate’s actions during the campaign.

“It’s not necessarily relevant for everyone,” Musselman said about the political discussion that ensued post-election. “If I were teaching differential equations or organic chemistry, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable finding a place in my class section for it .”

Musselman saw an opportunity in his legal ethics class to have a productive and engaging discussion, so he adapted his course for the day accordingly.

“Everyone seems to agree the election season was interminable and in some ways unprecedented,” Musselman said. “It seemed to me if a college classroom should do anything, it should model analytic incisiveness and civil engagement of topics. If you can do that and advance the course materials and make sense of a national/world event, then that’s it; it’s a win-win-win.”