Sometimes when contentious issues arise in our society, people can struggle to find an outlet for dealing with their feelings regarding those issues. This is the case with the recent election of our country’s 45th President. The final two Presidential candidates campaigned for many months, during which they each gained staunch support for their stances and proposed policies. Those who were proponents of the losing candidate are expressing feelings of disillusionment, while proponents of the winning candidate seem to feel the need to offer some justification for their candidate’s victory. As a result, many people are in search of a comfortable, safe environment where they can talk about their emotions. While it may be obvious to educators employed at higher education institutions that a college campus might be an ideal location, this is not so obvious to many in the general population.
Why is a college campus a suitable forum? For one, college employees, especially faculty members, understand and respect the concept of academic freedom, the freedom to openly discuss and explore topics in a classroom setting, as long as the result is the acquisition of knowledge. Many of the ideologies and policies of our President-elect will directly affect those who are currently enrolled in colleges and universities. Therefore, humanities and social science professors might be wise to consider spending some class time giving their students an opportunity to express their views. This can take place in the form of a special topic for discussion or as a writing assignment, when appropriate and when possible.
College campuses can also be the perfect environment for discussing the recent Presidential election if they have designated Free Speech Zones. Keeping spirited expressions of approval or disdain regarding an issue in a contained and monitored area can be a deterrent to aggressive protests and violent disagreements. Most of the time when people are passionate about an issue, they merely want to be assured that others hear and respect their perspective. If some entity provides them with the means to either vent their frustrations or tout their successes, they feel validated and can move forward in their lives.
Another reason that college campuses might be an ideal place for addressing important social issues such as the recent Presidential election is because, for many communities, it serves as the central location for an entire community. This is certainly true of community colleges. In fact, a primary aspect of their mission is to provide services to and build relationships with the local community. Moreover, colleges and universities often have facilities that are perfectly suited for forums and panel discussions.
At the elementary, middle, and high school levels, it can be very difficult for educators to justify spending time discussing social issues or having their students discover their own feelings about a particular issue. At the post-secondary level, it is much easier to justify and implement classroom activities and campus events that speak to societal issues.
Educators who miss the opportunity to play a lead role in securing a safe environment for their students and for the community they serve to explore argumentative issues are doing themselves and others a disservice.