If a student has said something in class that you find offensive
Students come from a range of backgrounds and bring diverse experiences, perspectives, and belief systems to campus. In class discussions, they may expose their differing ideologies, perhaps on sensitive or controversial topics. Professors should do their best to model open inquiry and constructive disagreement in the classroom.
In the moment, take a second to think about whether the student’s speech is best addressed in class or privately.
Try to honestly assess the student’s speech and its impact on the class. Was it merely offensive, or was it detrimental to a productive classroom environment? Consider consulting other faculty members for advice, but be careful to keep the student’s identity private.
If you decide to reach out to the student, be clear that your intention is not punitive but to get a better understanding of their perspective and the intention behind their speech.
Give the student room to explain their point of view. Remain calm, patient, and open.
Make sure to keep your department head and other faculty members informed throughout your interactions with the student. If the speech persists in a way that prevents the function of the class and the learning of others, you should not be expected to solve the problem on your own.
If the incident attracts public attention, work not only with your department but also with the university’s communications team to make sure you have control of the narrative.
If you think it might benefit your classroom in the future, consider setting classroom norms for mutual respect on the syllabus or on the first day of class that you can refer back to when incidents like these occur.