During the Discussion

Classroom conversations surrounding First Nations land rights, racism & classism, and marginalized groups can be tricky to navigate. There is a need to educate and listen, especially to the marginalized voices in question. There is a need to be thorough without being harsh. There is a need to hold space for individuals in the room who may have relevant lived experience (in this case, Indigenous folks) without putting them on the spot.

Keep in Mind

Here are some things to keep in mind as you navigate these discussions:

Validate Any Discussion of Feelings

Due to the objective nature of engineering, feelings are rarely discussed or acknowledged in a classroom environment. This isn’t because engineering students and professors aren’t capable of emotions, but because there is no need to discuss our feelings when calculating fuel rations and integrals and load-bearing capacity.  Therefore, we don’t have the practice of listening to others’ feelings when it comes to classroom learning.

  • Recognize that students may be in unfamiliar territory regarding discussing feelings/emotions/lived experiences in the classroom
  • Acknowledge in the beginning that strong emotions are okay and it’s alright to express them.
  • Be receptive to students’ emotions
  • Don’t be afraid to recognize and name racial or cultural tension
  • Encourage participants to talk about their anxieties/anger regarding the topic

Encourage Diverse Perspectives & Curiosity on a Topic

When students do share, we must recognize it.

  • When someone speaks from personal experience or shares their feelings, thank them and acknowledge them for it
  • Thank & acknowledge the whole class for participating in a challenging discussion at the end

Control the Discussion Process, Not Content

  • This is explained well in the video in section 2.2.
  • When students make challenging or angry statements, give yourself and the students time to reflect before responding.

Things to Avoid

Here are some things to avoid doing during complex discussions:

Do Nothing

  • Don’t opt for silence if/when discussions get heated
  • Don’t avoid the conversation

Sidetrack the Conversation

Appease the Participants

  • Don’t avoid confrontation
  • Don’t allow the conversation to be sidetracked
  • Don’t glaze over the more profound, personal meaning behind comments

Terminate Discussion When It Gets Hard

Become Defensive

  • You can be more present and involved in the discussion by avoiding these things.


Center for Teaching, Research & Learning (CTRL). (n.d.). Facilitating class discussions and navigating difficult conversations. American University. Retrieved from https://edspace.american.edu/ctrl/portfolio-item/facilitating-class-discussions/

Wing Sue, D. (2015). Facilitating difficult race discussions. Wiley. Available at https://www.colorado.edu/center/teaching-learning/sites/default/files/attached-files/facilitating_difficult_race_discussions.pdf



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Decolonizing the Engineering Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Pamela Wolf, Ben Harris, Nika Martinussen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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