By Amanda Almond
In order to facilitate classroom discussion that is both productive and respectful, I begin each semester with what I call the Policies Assignment. On the first day of class I take time out to provide an overview of what is referred to as “relational safety:” that is, how we will work semester long to maintain a welcoming environment in which each student may speak freely and safely both in-class and online.
My interdisciplinary course, Health Psychology, asks students to explore dimensions of oppression and privilege. By virtue of these personally and politically charged topics, it is important to foster a classroom culture in which all members are safe both speaking in class and posting to online discussion threads. What I find to be unique about this assignment is that a) I, too, am held accountable to these standards and this is emphasized to students on day one, and that b) since students work to construct additional policies and speak to the importance of the original seven, they work to uphold these rules with one another. One example that comes to mind is a student who ‘face-planted’ their forehead to palm, communicating a lack of patience when hearing another student’s experience. This was seen by peers in the room and immediately corrected when a classmate leaned over and said “Not cool.” Another product of these policies is that students are forced to formulate questions about issues that they may feel strongly about. This practice works not only to achieve learning objectives related to values and ethics, best achieved via group discussion, but also cultivates lifelong skills that will translate into their professional environments post-graduation.
Amanda Almond, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the New York City College of Technology where she teaches Health Psychology and is actively engaged in Undergraduate student research. She is the Chair of the Early Career Professionals committee for the Society on the Psychology of Women (APA, Div. 35) and is the Diversity Liaison for the Society of Health Psychology’s (APA, Div. 38) Research Council. Her research focuses on social interactions and health behaviors of women and minorities by utilizing feminist and social justice-based perspectives.