Here’s the situation: you stand in front of a wall, and you talk. You explain your opinions, beliefs, what you think is right and give good examples to support what you are saying. Nonetheless, you are still talking to a wall. Obviously, it will not respond back to you or take in what you say, yet students talk to walls during class discussions.
While involved in class discussions, the main objective for many students seems to be to get their own point across. This may be in order to get a better grade — many instructors grade on participation — or simply to persuade someone to agree with their opinion without allowing the other side to have a voice. But discussions lack communication, which needs to change immediately in order for us as Guilford College students to come together to form a community.
It’s sad that sensitive topics, often regarding race, gender or sexuality, cannot be spoken about in class or are difficult for people to talk about because they fear being judged, looked at differently or rejected. This will clearly place a glass ceiling on the effectiveness of a discussion as not everyone will express their viewpoint.
“It can be deeply challenging to change opinions that one holds dear or even to keep an open mind when listening to someone with a perspective that is very different,” said Justice & Policy Studies Professor Sherry Giles. “I’ve found that staying open to other opinions in a classroom is made much easier when there is a sense of trust and strong community among students and the instructor.”
Thus in order to build that trust, we need to approach the beginning of a discussion with open arms toward everyone in the class. Using discussions in class to learn from one another will undoubtedly grow the sense of trust that encourages students to be able to speak their minds.
“Knowledge gets built best when everybody speaks,” said Nancy Daukas, philosophy professor and interim coordinator of women’s, gender and sexuality studies. “You learn better and learn more. Everybody benefits when you hear from each other.”
That is to say, showing respect to another’s opinion will encourage them to speak up more. An easy way to show respect is to make eye contact with the person speaking in order to show that you are engaged and interested in their opinion.
Knowledge itself is a key component in good communication. The more people know about and share interest in a specific topic, the better and more educated the discussion will be.
“We should get more knowledge about the topic, so once it is brought up in class, we can rely on what we know instead of what we think,” said first-year Erick Fuentes.
Communication built upon strong knowledge is incredibly important to the improvement of social justice as well.
“So many of our ongoing social problems are continually fueled by ignorance and misunderstanding,” said Daukas. “You can’t teach people things they are not ready to hear, so you have to find a way to really get people to listen and respond without being concerned how they are going to look or be perceived.”
The ability to share thoughts on topics with high sensitivity without fear is only unfathomable if we elect to make it that way. Class discussions are greatly enhanced by the inclusion of all students, and everyone will be able to gain from hearing and listening to the perspectives of their peers.