Workshop: Teaching Controversial Topics (1)

On Tuesday January 27, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. in SS 1339, the Faculty of Arts Teaching + Learning Committee will host a workshop on Teaching Controversial Subjects, presented by Valerie Pruegger (ODEPD) and Carol Berenson (Taylor Institute Educational Development Unit).

Programs in the Faculty of Arts often deal with subjects that can prove to be controversial such as race/ethnicity, gender/sex/sexuality, faith/religion/fundamentalism, and geo-politics (including war, genocide, invasion, and the Holocaust).  The teaching of controversial topics presents an opportunity to expose students to a variety of perspectives, and to provide them with tools to analyze issues and communicate across differences.

However, as diversity in our classrooms increases, instructors may be confronted more than ever before with challenging situations that have the potential to divide students.  Reactions can range from perceived harmless jokes in a class discussion, to a sincere argument over distinct beliefs, to more hateful incidents outside the classroom such as hate speech and/or violence directed at a specific group.  In this interactive session we will address ways to prepare for and lead discussions about controversial issues by creating and maintaining respectful and inclusive classroom environments in which students can learn from each other’s perspectives.

By the end of this workshop, participants will be able to implement strategies to design and lead productive class discussions in order to maximize student learning and engagement on controversial subjects.


Please refer to the advance reading here by Nicole Fournier-Sylvester: Daring to Debate: Strategies for teaching controversial issues in the classroom.

  • These are cross-disciplinary workshops that will directly affect your course designs and delivery. Each one have an immediate and concrete impact on your teaching in every department and discipline in the Faculty of Arts.
  • Registration is required. Most will have pre-workshop questions or even exercises for registrants to complete or consider before attending.
  • Materials and resources will be available — normally here on this website — for those who want to follow up with them, and for those unable to attend.
  • A new feature for 2014-15 is formal recognition of those who attend three or more workshops in an academic year, or who present in any workshop. A letter from the Faculty of Arts will testify to your professional development in merit, promotion and tenure applications.
  • For more information, leave a comment below or e-mail Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning).

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