Navigating Controversy and Hot Topics in Required Diversity Courses

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Ryan Miller
Laura Struve
Morgan Murray
Alex Tompkins


Required undergraduate diversity courses often expose students to topics and worldviews which may push them out of their comfort zones and prompt dissonance and even resistance. This paper reports on interviews with 68 faculty members at five predominantly white institutions in the Southern United States, detailing how they navigated discussion of controversial and “hot” topics in required diversity courses. Most instructors evidenced a critical-functionalist perspective in their approaches, as they aimed to expose students to critical social issues, yet were concerned that resistance could disturb the learning process. Primary strategies for handling hot topics in class included proactively establishing community and safety and normalizing conflict, and reactively acknowledging and surfacing multiple perspectives, as well as connecting content to students’ lived experiences. Some instructors also reported a lack of controversy or conflict in their classrooms, which they variously attributed to student characteristics or their own disinclination to promote heated discussion. We conclude the paper with implications for faculty, educational developers, administrators, and institutions.


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Miller, R., Struve, L., Murray, M., & Tompkins, A. (2024). Navigating Controversy and Hot Topics in Required Diversity Courses. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 24(1).