Teaching Hub

Student Perspectives: Civility, Dialogue, and Inclusion

Lane McLelland, director of Crossroads Community Center, asked students how they wish to experience civility, inclusion, and dialogue in the classroom. Here’s what they had to say.

Consider the classroom space

“Simply rearranging the classroom space can astronomically enhance the civility and inclusivity of a classroom. Traditional classrooms tend to not only be intimidating but also offer a sort of isolation to students, which both discourages dialogue and relies on uncomfortable silence in order to achieve the goal of teacher-focused classrooms.

However, this arrangement of space often leads to cliques and can leave people of more diverse identities feeling like targets, or, altogether excluded from the conversation and academia. Moreover, this style of classroom arrangements is capable of stifling even Mozart’s creativity because it creates an air of formality that does not necessarily welcome open dialogue and discussion or provoke deeper thinking.

In my own personal experience, I have found semi-circles and circles to be the most effective at achieving this goal. Not only do these arrangements allow students to look and at the very least, acknowledge, the various identities and groups around the room, but circles and semi-circles force students (both literally and otherwise) to be closer to each other. Students, surrounded on all sides, must develop a consciousness and awareness of those around them.

Even more importantly, this type of space arrangement allows students to look each other in the eye, perhaps provoking a second thought or a reevaluation of what students are going to say before they speak. Differentiating from the traditional desk-rowed, teacher-centered, and often times, restricting environment and intentionally rearranging classrooms to be more open and unifying would inevitably enhance the civility, dialogue, and inclusion in classrooms.” — Resha Swanson

Encourage thoughtful interactions

“Ideally, where classroom participation is encouraged the difference between dialogue and debate tends to be vague, resulting in the conversations often lacking inclusivity and civility. Interactions tend to be more inclusive and civil when the difference between debate and dialogue is not only recognized, but dialogue is actively practiced over debate.

I have come to appreciate being able to speak openly and honestly about different topics, all while learning from my peers. Often times in the classroom, the objective is not to gain insight or gather different perspectives from my peers. I am just simply learning the subject matter and what is being taught by my instructor. Though I may leave the classroom more knowledgeable about certain subjects, the possibility of going more in-depth or expressing different opinions is rare.

The single most important lesson I have learned about what fosters inclusivity and civility is the importance of relationships and actually interacting and engaging with people when meaningful and valuable dialogue is practiced in a manner that is inclusive and civil.” — Kelsei Coleman

Help students find community

“There have been times in my experience as a student at the University of Alabama, where it has seemed as though the words “civility,” “inclusion,” and “dialogue” were not really part of the institutional lexicon, so to speak. I remember before I began at UA, I took college visits to many small, liberal arts schools across the country. I found that almost each and every one trumpeted their commitment to diversity and bragged about their inclusive and tight-knit campus culture.

I chose UA over those liberal arts colleges so that I could avoid student loan debt that would have likely taken me decades to pay off. When I came to UA, I found many different, divided, and exclusive tight-knit communities, as opposed to a single, tight-knit, diverse campus culture that I had come to expect to read about on the first page of every liberal arts college’s recruitment brochures.

The first year at UA, for me, was all about finding a community, whether that be through a course of study, Greek life, a sport or other club, which you would then (typically) stick with for the remainder of your stay.

I found my community early on in the Blount Scholars Program, which has provided me with my best friends, the best classes I’ve taken at UA, the best professors, and by far the most civil and inclusive classroom or college culture that I’ve experienced. I think it has a lot to do with how Blount focuses on building a community between its members as soon as you start living in the dorm, which doesn’t sequester its suite occupants into their own individual rooms. Blount’s structure forces you to interact and work with students that have incredibly wide-ranging interests and backgrounds.” — Walter Hall