Challenging Discussions – Ideas for different activities, lessons, and readings

We asked faculty to share their approaches and suggestions. We hope to add to our list here, so if you have any of your own suggestions and thoughts, please post in the comments or email us at!

If you would like assistance with figuring out how you might adapt these ideas into your course, or would like to talk through an idea that you have, please reach out to the CTL.

From Robin Root, Professor of Anthropology:

I ‘piloted’ an improvisational exercise in class last Thursday: I invited students to take out a piece of paper and write down 3 words that represent their thoughts and feelings currently with respect to the election (outcome) and 3 words that represent how they hope to feel in 4 years’ time. For the jumbo, it enabled a brief moment of reflection, when some students shared their words. For my smaller class, it resulted in 75 minutes of utter grief as Muslim students described how the hijabs of a sister, cousin, and friend were ripped off their heads.

From Cheryl Smith, Associate Professor of English and Director of Great Works:

Literature provides rich, emotional, and evocative ground for class discussions. The following poems were compiled by Entropy Magazine the day after the election. While the poems obviously lean toward individuals who are disappointed with the election result, they speak to all people living in the US. Faculty might find one or two of the poems useful for opening discussions about feeling of hope and hopelessness, political disenfranchisement and action. Poems for Coping, from Entropy magazine:

The New Yorker published a series of short responses to the election from a diverse set of writers that are similarly useful for opening discussions about students’ potential range of feelings and responses to both the election and our visions for the future.

Alice Walker published an essay about despair and hope on Nov. 9. She says: “This is not a lament.  It is counsel.  It is saying:  We can awaken completely.  The best sign of which will be how we treat every being who crosses our path. For real change is personal.  The change within ourselves expressed in our willingness to hear, and have patience with, the “other.” Together we move forward.”

McSweeney’s published a wryly humorous “Post-Election College Paper Grading Rubric” that students might enjoy analyzing. They could be tasked with creating their own paper grading rubric.

Great Works of World Literature instructor, Gray Campbell, offers this suggestion:

Many students are greatly inspired by Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! both in audio and transcript formats. Democracy Now! episodes are available for free on the DN website ( as well as on iTunes. Playing segments of audio newscasts can be great for students who may not know where to turn for insightful commentary from non-corporate media.

Gray also shares the following articles as applicable to issues central to the current election cycle:

Money and Elections:

David Cole, “Free Speech, Big Money, Bad Elections” (The New York Review of Books, 2015)

Criminal Justice:

Michael Greenberg, “‘Broken Windows’ and the NYPD” (The New York Review of Books, 2014)

Jeffrey Toobin, “Police Reform: Does Anything Work?” (The New Yorker, 2015)

Jed Rakoff, “Mass Incarceration: The Silence of the Judges” (New York Review of Books, 2015)

The Supreme Court:

Lincoln Caplan, “Does the Supreme Court Need a Code of Conduct?” (The New Yorker, 2015)

Diana Hamilton, Acting Director of the Baruch College Writing Center shares this resource from the New York Times.


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