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Some Tools and Resources for Talking about Charlottesville

Compiled by Dr. Fredi Avalos, Faculty Fellow for Cultural Intelligence
I. Classrooms are Places of Discomfort

I have found these general guidelines to work well in my classes:
- Students have the right to be safe from physical harm and personal attacks.
- They do not have the right to feel comfortable (and neither do faculty).
- Our roles as educators are to help students cultivate the skills, motivation and courage to find their own voices and arrive at their own conclusions.
- Help students reframe their understanding of conflict, the nature of its inevitability, and how it may serve as an opportunity for growth.
- Examine your own relationship with conflict before you ask students to reflect on theirs or engage in classroom discussions about difficult topics.
- Identify and reflect on your own “hot” button topics and unconscious bias.
- Understand that there is a difference between “argument” and “dialogue.”

II. Building Connections, Trust and Empathy

Early in the semester, build community within your classroom through the use of activities, readings, discussions that will engender a more nuanced sense of their classmates’ humanity. It is much more difficult for the classroom climate to become hostile when students have learned something about the experience of a classmate who does not share their view. Storytelling is one way to connect students to both the course content and each other.
Here is a storytelling prompt that was created, by Dr. Mary Robertson that I have found very useful. The stories can be about anything relevant to the class.

Example Assignment: Storytelling Essay

Write a 500-800 word true story about …

How has this story/experience affected the way you understand yourself?

On the due date, read or perform your story aloud in class in no more than 5 minutes. I cannot overemphasize how important it is that you stick to the timeframe.

• You will be cut off at 5 minutes whether you have finished or not. Please practice reading your essay aloud at home in order to be sure you can complete it in less than 5 minutes.

• Final copies of written essays must meet academic writing standards, meaning they must be in 12-pt font, double-spaced, and free of spelling, organizational, and grammatical errors.

• Please be thoughtful about your presentation of stories, topics, or experiences that are potentially offensive to others. This does not mean you cannot talk about offensive things, just that you should use care to choose language that conveys these experiences in
a respectful manner.

• Be careful that you tell YOUR story, not that of others.

• Although this is a fun and creative assignment, it is still an academic assignment for a 300-level college course. Therefore, your interpretation of your experience must reflect some aspects of theories and concepts you have learned in class. Be sure and include at least one concept from that class/readings/lecture/film that you believe connects with your story.

• There will be no make-up presentations.
• Tips for telling a good story (from
• Tell your story don’t tell us what the story is about or what it might be.
• Tell your story along an arc, meaning it should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
• Try to convey to the audience how your story changed you.
• Tell your own story not your sister’s or your best friend’s story.
• For ideas about how to tell stories, listen to The Moth podcast at www.the

III. Historical Context

Students often lack critical knowledge about history.

- Create a space(s) in your syllabus/curriculum for student led presentations about key historical moments that help them understand how/why the event in Charlottesville occurred.

- Ask students what it is they believe they need to know and understand to make sense of this national tragedy. Dr. Marcia Chatelain the creator of the “Ferguson Syllabus” states: “Talking about what the impact of these events have had on our nation is simply talking about an important moment in history, reflecting on it, and asking students what they think about it.”

Here is an excellent resource that includes articles/films and a discussion outline from the New York Times:

Example assignment: Discussion Questions after article or film
(You can use the materials provided in the link or insert you own texts.)
Before reading an article/watching a film ask students the following reflection questions:
What do you already know — or think you know — about the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va. that unfolded over the weekend? How did you learn about them?
Watch the short Times video. Who are the protesters? Who are the counter-protesters? What does each group want?
What historical events do you believe may have contributed to this national tragedy?
What questions do you still have about this event?
Now read “Man Charged After White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville Ends in Deadly Violence” and answer the following questions:
1. What happened in Charlottesville, according to the first six paragraphs of this article?
2. Who is David Duke and what did he say about the purpose of the rally?
3. What was President Donald Trump’s reaction to the violence? Who was displeased with that response, and why?
Continue reading the main story
4. What do you learn about the white nationalists from this article? What do you learn about the counter protesters?
5. Why did officials allow the Saturday protest to go on? How did they respond after shutting down the protest? In your opinion, did they do enough, before, during or after the protest? Why or why not?
6. What is your reaction to what you have read?

IV. Media Literacy

Some educators have called for a “second curriculum” that asks student to explore a variety of media and perspectives. Helping students develop a critical lens to view and understand how the media is used as tool of manipulation is now an educational imperative.

I recommend incorporating the On-The-Media weekly podcasts on NPR. The podcasts range from 15 minutes to 1 hour. Students have responded with enthusiasm to this assignment. It provides in-depth analysis/context about the media not available on mainstream/cable news.

V. Recognizing the Fallacy of False Equivalency

Use readings/activities that help students understand that not all ideas are created equal. Hate and genocide are not “debatable” concepts.

Here are links that provide historical examples of how false equivalency has been used against social justice movements.

More Online Resources


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