New Types of Classroom Conversations
Jesse Holcomb, Calvin College: It’s my first year on faculty at the college in this role, so it’s been really interesting to land at this institution from a very different environment in Washington [at the Pew Research Center] at a time when so many of our assumptions about the ways journalism works are blowing up in our face. So it makes for no shortage of classroom material.
Frantz: Ten years ago, we didn’t talk about immigration in the classroom; now we talk about it a lot. The things the students get excited about right now have become much more community and globally centered. Thirty years ago, my students were concerned about the Persian Gulf War, but more concerned about things like the quality of the food on campus. Now they’re worried about transgender bathroom bills and stuff that they didn’t used to talk about, ever.
Feldstein: It is a challenge for those of us who are teaching to make our classrooms safe spaces for everyone to feel comfortable saying what they believe, partly because the anti-Trump students are in the majority [in our program] and some of the Trump supporters sometimes feel shy about defending him. I’ve had students email me to say, “People think you’re a racist just because you’re supporting Trump, so I’m not going to say anything about it in class.” I try to draw this out in discussions. What I care about is that they learn and that the classroom is a place where all sides can be expressed.
Holcomb: What I try to do is to emphasize basic assumptions we hold dear about the dignity about all human beings, which is something these students would recognize as Calvin students. A recent feature appeared in the student newspaper about LGBT+ students on campus that explored identity in the context of same-sex relationships. It’s a subject that can generate controversy in certain religious quarters. Here was a great example of student journalists who navigated an ideologically and theologically fraught subject in such a way that placed a primary emphasis first and foremost on the dignity and the humanity of LGBT+ students.
Leturia: I come from a background in which politics are part of the daily conversation. [In Peru,] friends talk, colleagues talk, even though they can be affiliated with one party or the other party. In the United States, they say, “Look what happened,” and the topic is changed very quickly. If somebody in the group is a Trump supporter, we don’t want to talk about it. There will be tension there; we want to be happy. That’s the American syndrome to me: It’s a land of happiness, but it’s fake happiness. I want to talk about [politics]. It doesn’t matter that we don’t agree.