Dear Faculty Colleagues,

As some of you may know, there is another upcoming student protest that starts tomorrow, Monday, Oct. 26. This may directly impact your class and will certainly impact a number of your students.

What are the details?

In response to Chancellor Haefner’s message this past Wednesday, Righteous Anger! Healing Resistance! (RAHR) is encouraging DU students to engage in a “silent protest” in their online, hyflex, and hybrid classes by muting their mics, turning off their cameras, and posting “no more Pios” or similar messages. Here is their Instagram page with their message.

The free speech concerns in this situation are complex, involving both students’ rights to engage in peaceful civil disobedience and faculties’ rights of academic freedom, which may include regulating classroom conduct and discussion.

As we promised in our commitment from a few months ago, we want to be sure faculty are made aware of what is going on, and to provide a framework in which faculty might think through some of the issues that might arise as students bring their protest into the classroom. In that spirit, here are some FAQs:

What should I do if I require students to participate in class or if I have a test or planned presentation scheduled?

DU is committed to freedom of expression and political engagement. Participating in protests is protected and should not prompt any disciplinary actions related to the purpose or act of protesting. Faculty can articulate that while they support students’ civil rights — including their right to engage in peaceful protest — students’ beliefs are their own. Schools can defend students’ rights to express themselves, without taking a stand on the content of that expression. This is the heart of the First Amendment.

Please note that there can be no retaliation for a student’s decision to participate, or not participate, in a protest, including with respect to their grade or standing in the class. In terms of academic freedom, faculty run their classes as they deem fit and it is not our intention to tell you how to address the situation. That said, we would encourage you, when possible, to make alternate accommodations for students, that permit the students to complete all necessary coursework without penalty.

What if I don’t believe that a classroom is an appropriate venue for political protest and/or I don’t feel that I should be disclosing my personal views on this subject?

Faculty will inevitably face challenges and questions based on their pedagogical philosophies, their own beliefs, and the contexts in which they are working. We realize that it may be difficult for faculty to craft a response that respects the multiple perspectives that members of the university community may have about this issue. But one helpful avenue may be to show support for students’ civic engagement. This does not necessarily mean that the class time should be turned over to a discussion of the issue or that you have an obligation to disclose your own stance on this issue.

What can I do if I want to engage with students regarding the protest within the classroom and/or discuss it with advisees/mentees? 

  • First be cognizant that this is a silent protest and, depending on a student’s identity and position, this can be a very difficult topic to discuss with classmates especially if this is the first time you are discussing a controversial issue in class. As such students shouldn’t feel pressured to speak on this topic.
  • If however your course is a place conducive to this kind of discussion, please consider referencing the Inclusive Teaching Practices website within the Office of Teaching and Learning (OTL) as well as Dr. Iturbe-LaGrave’s blog post Pedagogical Strategies to Acknowledge and Discuss Institutional Legacies of Racism, which provides concrete advice for facilitating these discussions.
  • Given the social and political climate more broadly, it can be helpful to proactively consider frameworks for having difficult conversations in your courses whether you plan to discuss the protest or not. Attempting to engage in difficult conversations in the absence of established classroom norms and without considering discussion facilitation techniques can cause additional harm. See pages 2-4 of Dr. Iturbe-LaGrave’s inclusive teaching worksheet from the OTL’s Teaching toolkit for guidance. We also provide examples below of opportunities for you and your students to become further informed about the issues.


What if my Zoom classroom is entirely silent?

We know Zoom camera usage is a contentious and complex issue even without the context of a protest. Keep in mind that there are many reasons students may choose to be off camera. If you elect to directly address the protest in class you may opt to acknowledge the event and consider Monday a “camera off” day.

  • Here, we point you to a recent OTL blog post by Dr. Virginia Pitt’s on “Teaching Into the Abyss” on the more general topic of cultivating trust in the Zoom classroom and the complex question of cameras on or off.
  • Be prepared for the possibility that there could be much less discussion or no discussion or engagement at all in your classroom and that the burden may fall more upon you to fill classroom space if you run a discussion-based class. Plan accordingly.


Will there be alternative venues for me or my students who wish to discuss these issues in depth?

Yes. Here they are;

  1. The Faculty Senate is hosting a Special Senate meeting to begin the conversation about the Chancellor’s October 21st campus communication with plans for additional follow-up opportunities for Senate discussion; this first meeting will be this Friday 10.30.20 from 1:45-2:45 (after the regular Senate meeting from 11:30-1:30); an email with a Zoom link will go out to all faculty shortly. If you have thoughts about items you’d like to see addressed or raised, please email sarah.pessin@du.edu.
  2. A number of faculty colleagues are working to create a series of “learn-in” opportunities for November connected to Indigenous History month. Check here for updates.

Now more than ever, we need to show one another compassion and create a community of care with each other and with our students. We appreciate how you bring your tremendous gifts and talents to DU in and out of the classroom and how you support our students to pursue  their  passions and achieve their highest potential.

The questions with which we as a DU community are grappling are rooted in deep, painful, and complicated histories. As is so often the case, those who are most vulnerable bear a disproportionate share of the emotional and physical harm, negative consequences, and burden of leading change.  Yet we all have a role to play with our students in shaping the DU we aspire to be.  

 

With gratitude for all that you do to support our students,

Kate Willink signature

Kate Willink
Vice Provost of
Faculty Affairs

Sarah Pessin signature

Sarah Pessin
Faculty Senate President

Tom Romero signature

Tom Romero
Interim Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion