Luther College Chips

Faculty must decide to support every student on campus

Martel DenHartog, Staff Writer

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When I pitched the story at our Chips meeting last week to spotlight faculty and how they decide to talk about current traumatic events in class, I did not expect it to be a story. I was more curious why some professors chose to bring these things into classrooms and others did not. Spending the week conducting interviews with faculty across departments to gain a sense of how emotionally-charged issues — like the hate incidents of last spring and the Kavanaugh nomination (and confirmation) process — are discussed in class was a challenge I have not faced during my time at Chips. I discovered that professors who choose not to address these issues appropriately don’t seem to view it this way.

Let’s talk about how faculty responded to the spring’s hate incidents.

I found myself leaving every interview thinking the professor made a compelling argument—yes, I agree, I thought, regardless of if they spoke to how they discuss or don’t discuss certain issues. Though they all commented on the topic across a spectrum, I understood each person. I did not hear one faculty member not voice their care for students on campus. But what differed was the kind of students professors choose to explicitly support in their classrooms during times of crisis for marginalized groups.

“I expect my professors, regardless of the classes I am enrolled in, to first and foremost be there to academically push students and support their needs. This requires timely acknowledgement of events that negatively affect our community.”

– Martel DenHartog (‘19)

The decision to make space for students to talk and listen reflects who faculty decide is worth supporting in their classrooms. Not identifying oneself as an ally is perceived as indifference on the issue, and strictly sticking to course content caters to students who are less affected by these events. 

Here are some additional thoughts from my interviews and my discussions with peers.

I heard a resounding, “it depends.” It depends on classroom dynamics, the topic of the issue, the content of the course, the timing in the semester, whether or not the hate incidents were addressed in class, and whether significant class time was devoted to debriefing and processing.

I heard that topics like the hate incidents are easier to talk about in smaller classes with juniors and seniors because the students are more comfortable with each other and the professor. But first-years and sophomores are not immune to feelings of discrimination. They deserve to have their voices heard.

I heard it is important for students to understand where faculty are coming from, too: sometimes these events are too emotional for them to bring up in a classroom, or there may be other things going on in faculty’s lives that prevent them from being on their A-game all of the time. But I expect my professors, regardless of the classes I am enrolled in, to first and foremost be there to academically push students and support their needs. This requires timely acknowledgment of events that negatively affect our community.

I heard that syllabi are important, but what is more important is alleviating the fear that students experience. When students can’t sleep or attend class because they are genuinely afraid at Luther College, classes cannot carry on as normal.

If something so immediate comes up like this again, I hope every single one of Luther’s professors recognizes students need to hear that they are supported, listened to, and valued. I hope our campus can do better. Eliminating fear does not stem from silence.

Signed,

Martel DenHartog (‘19)

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