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How to Have Hard Conversations on Campus

By: Brian Van Brunt, Ed.D. President, NaBITA Partner, TNG

The world turned upside down. Perhaps one of the few positive developments in 2020 was the release of Hamilton on the Disney streaming channel. Beyond this, one struggles to find an upside on the unmitigated dumpster fire that has been the year 2020. It is difficult to quantify the enormous number of stressful events that have occurred related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tensions between law enforcement and African Americans, a rise in white supremacist ideology, and the divide in U.S. politics. Add the more than a million people who have lost their lives internationally and the 210,000 deaths and counting in the United States, and we find ourselves in a brave new world indeed.

Over the summer, NABITA hosted a very well received program addressing the current conflicts related to pandemic, protests, and violence. Based on feedback from this program, we made a plan to bring the panel back to talk about the upcoming election. Little did we know, with the passing of RBG, the political tensions would grow exponentially as the election approaches in little more than a month. It is likely there are concerns over the uncertainty of the outcome, the online voting process, and the reaction of those who do not have their candidate win.

The uncertainty of the election process will certainly be a central issue in the upcoming weeks. We could see a clear Trump win, a clear Biden win, or a slight margin Biden win with Trump failing to step down as we enter a slow and drawn out battle over mail-in votes. During this, we will have many of our students in the middle of finals and/or anticipating a return home for Thanksgiving to wait out the aftermath.

As prevention educators in health and counseling centers come together with administrators and faculty, it will be important to set the stage for civil conversations. This will involve laying ground rules for conversations about the election, avoidance of inflammatory language that could escalate the situation, and preparation and planning for on-campus protests, civil disobedience, and potential violence. Given the cumulative stress we are all struggling with in the midst of the global pandemic, it will be even more important to have a clear plan of action moving forward.

This plan should involve how to support students both on campus and at home, the best ways to provide support to those who are part of a marginalized community, the importance of civility in our conversations about the election, cautions and limits to how faculty should engage around these issues in the classroom, a discussion of response to campus protests, understanding free speech concerns on campus from a legal and administrative perspective, and the psychological impact in terms of acting out, affective and targeted violence, and the nature of cumulative stress as it relates to suicide risk, IPV, and hate crimes.

Consider joining us on Tuesday, October 13th from 2pm-3:30pm ET to discuss the various challenges of the election and how to best prepare to have these discussions with students to reduce potential conflict and get out in front of these pending challenges. Click here to learn more about this program.