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Friday, June 24 • 10:00 - 10:50
CON11.09 - Empowering Students to Create Safety in the Classroom When the Subject Matter is Anything but Safe

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In undergraduate seminars on minorities, mental health, and gender-based violence, students engage with sensitive and controversial materials related to disenfranchised groups and challenging issues (e.g., homophobia/transphobia, racism, the effects of Canada’s colonial history and residential schools, violence against sex workers, and seclusion/restraint of persons with mental illnesses). Exploring provocative and potentially divisive subjects, we feel an increased responsibility to empower students to create safety in the classroom and a healthy classroom community when the topics are anything but safe.

In these courses, we ask students to reflect upon their available frameworks to better understand assumptions made in everyday life, including their own biases, and to reflect on their personal experiences and articulate the value they bring to the classroom and to the production of knowledge. Hand and Levinson (2012) argue that facilitated discussions are a key tool for teaching controversial issues. We use facilitated discussions and classroom-based activities to raise emotional, personal, and controversial issues that invite students to challenge their values and assumptions, which can lead some students to feel empowered yet others to feel silenced (Redmond, 2010). We draw on Ezzedeen’s (2008) ten recommendations for facilitating difficult discussions and Gregory’s (2014) “procedurally directive rather than substantively directive” (pg. 627) approach to motivate students to engage in discussion about controversial issues.

Learning outcomes include how to: (1) empower students to create safe spaces and healthy classroom communities; (2) design activities and exercises to motivate students to engage when learning about controversial and sensitive topics; and (3) anticipate student responses to difficult materials, and develop strategies for responding. Our interactive workshop will engage participants through facilitated dialogue, discussion of ideas based on participants’ perspectives and experiences, and the collaborative development of strategies and techniques for empowering students to create safety, and addressing their reactions to sensitive topics.


Ezzedeen, S. R. (2008). Facilitating class discussions around current and controversial issues: Ten recommendations for teachers. College Teaching, 56(4), 230-236. doi:10.3200/CTCH.56.4.230-236

Gregory, M. R. (2014). The procedurally directive approach to teaching controversial issues. Educational Theory, 64(6), 627-648. doi:10.1111/edth.12087

Hand, M., & Levinson, R. (2012). Discussing controversial issues in the classroom. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 44(6), 614-629. doi:10.1111/j.1469-5812.2010.00732.x

Redmond, M. (2010). Safe space oddity: revisiting critical pedagogy. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 30(1), 1-14. doi: 10.1080/08841230903249729

avatar for Sheri Fabian

Sheri Fabian

University Lecturer, Simon Fraser University
Dr. Sheri Fabian is a University Lecturer in the School of Criminology and  Director of the Institute for the Study of  Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines at Simon Fraser University. Her teaching and research focus on minorities and justice, qualitative research methods, and... Read More →
avatar for Katherine (Kate) Rossiter

Katherine (Kate) Rossiter

Adjunct Professor, Simon Fraser University
Dr. Katherine Rossiter is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, and affiliated with the FREDA Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children. Her teaching and research focuses on violence against women, mental health, and trauma-informed... Read More →

Friday June 24, 2016 10:00 - 10:50 EDT
UCC 63