Teaching in a Tense Political Climate (Updated)

Teaching in a Tense Political Climate (Updated)

With the 2022 mid-term elections occurring next week, we are highlighting our post from 2020, Teaching in a Tense Political Climate, with updated resources to help guide discussions in your classroom and support students who may have questions and concerns.

These are truly unique times: the conditions under which the MIT community is teaching and learning are difficult, stressful, and at times threatening.

Life under the dome is not, in fact, under the dome. We are dispersed across the world, in a wide range of environments, and subject to various constraints. In the US: the pandemic, racism, social injustices, governmental policies that threaten international students, and the upcoming presidential election may justifiably pull our attention and focus away from our teaching and coursework, making this a semester like no other.

As Election Day draws near, it provides a focal point for all of our hopes, anxieties, fears, frustrations, and anger. All members of the MIT community are affected and distracted to varying degrees. We have heard from students that they cannot focus on their academic work and would appreciate it if their instructors could at least acknowledge all that is happening outside of the dome. Faculty and instructors may want to say something—to recognize these tumultuous times and their impact on students and colleagues—but may not know how or when to start a conversation. In many subjects, the Election is the proverbial elephant in the room: everyone sees it, but many feel better not mentioning it. Given that this particular elephant is not likely to disappear anytime soon, we are likely to make it bigger by not discussing it, creating a compounded distraction with even more impact and influence.

What can we do now?

  • We can establish norms for classroom discussions that allow all students voices to be heard and respected.
  • We can model how students should engage in civil discourse and meaningful dialogue.
  • We can remind ourselves and our students that we can all work together. Regardless of our political affiliations, we can strengthen the MIT community by collectively identifying and seeking solutions to the pressing social, economic, and technological issues facing our nation and world.
  • We can highlight the relevance of our subject content and disciplinary research to pressing governmental policy decisions, for example, in the areas of medicine and health, energy and the environment, transportation, and basic research.
  • We can encourage students’ civic engagement: urging them to vote and to spread the word to others about the importance of voting. Resources include:

Additional resources

Panel Discussion

On October 12, MIT’s ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge hosted a discussion titled “Why the 2022 Elections Might Determine the Future of Democracy in the US” featuring Charles Stewart, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Chris Capozzola, 2018 MicVicar Faculty Fellow and professor of history, and Jessica Huseman, editorial director of the online publication Votebeat. You can watch the recording below or read the full article on MIT News.

TLL Workshop

On October 26, 2021 we hosted a workshop and discussion on “Teaching in a Tense Political Climate” The workshop aimed to provide tools and perspectives for faculty and instructors who feel that they need to say something about the election or current political landscape, but are concerned with exposing their political opinion or excluding students whose political leanings may differ from their own.

Charles Stewart, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science, explored ways instructors can discuss the election and related topics with students. Ray Feller also discussed the impact of the election on students’ well-being and stress. Watch the recording below.


Addressing Difficult Events in the Classroom, TLL blog post.

Structuring Classroom Discussions About Elections, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and the Edward Ginsberg Center at the University of Michigan.

Election Insights 2022: Research-based perspectives from MIT, faculty perspectives from MIT SHASS

Avoid Post Election Student Unrest, by Debra Mashek, former executive director of the Heterodox Academy, for Inside Higher Ed.

Written by Janet Rankin

anti-racist inclusive classroom student engagement