Professors should seek consent from students



By Tara Kalra and Simran Pavcha

“Get up when I enter the classroom”

“Call me sir”

We grew up listening to and obeying these unwritten classroom “rules”.

It starts early and rather subconsciously, as the “self-respect narrative” is conditioned and normalized in our thinking. From the start, Indian students are reprimanded for any sign of non-compliance, encouraged to unconditionally respect elders, simply by virtue of their age or status.

Classrooms are meant to be fertile ground for conversation, intellectual stimulation, and learning – without the burden of status and identity. But what happens when instead of becoming safe spaces to unlearn the conditioning you’ve been through in your private life, educational institutions perpetuate the opposite result?

Consent and communication then become the key to such conversations. When should professors seek consent from students?

Teachers should take special care to set the right context for a discussion and instill diverse voices. Representative image.

Teaching is a power relationship

An equation where the fear of hostility, punishment and authority already weighs heavily on students, it becomes all the more important for teachers to actively demonstrate sensitivity and empathy. Teachers and professors should be especially careful to set the right context for a discussion and instill the voices of those being talked about – this can really help make education inclusive.

“At the heart of every teaching moment is a rich tapestry of ethical choices about a teacher’s power, how he uses that power, and how free a student feels to speak the truth to that power over the teacher. the teacher’s use of it. ” writing Ami K Jo, professor at the University of Washington Information School. To fully assume these ethical responsibilities, student consent in classrooms must be full, ongoing, and fully informed, at all times.

In school, it was quite common for teachers to make fleeting comments about students’ appearances, hold them publicly accountable for unfinished business, humiliate them for explaining their prolonged absence, etc. All of these gestures were implemented within the confines of the classroom, which is perhaps the best example of how maladaptive hierarchical structures are insinuated all over the world.

Paulo Freire, educator and great defender of critical pedagogy, said how in a classroom, power must be neutralized. By dismantling the concept of banking education, in which students are passive recipients, a classroom must challenge learners to investigate and question patterns of inequality and power structures.

Talk to students about a politically sensitive and marginalized community

The first time I felt that some limit should have been in place was when a teacher asked us to spell out our father’s professions while introducing ourselves. I had the impression that some lines were out of place. Why was it important for the teacher to know what “background” we came from? Was it to justify his subsequent treatment of the students?

It is only natural for a teacher to ignore the social makeup of his class and the myriad identities with which he will engage. Things can go wrong very quickly on discussions about Kashmir, the reserve or community harmony, for example. These discussions can be triggering and create a hostile classroom environment for students of these identities. When speaking to students about demographics rooted in identity conflicts and societal oppression, it becomes relevant to be aware of these identities and conflicts. The same goes for being vigilant about gender identities in conversations. Asking for pronouns is a great way to draw that first line of comfort. Sharing your own pronouns and creating a safe space is even better.

“In my school, mentoring programs and awareness workshops were never taken seriously and teachers used to foster problematic notions. Like defending notions of family or perfect relationship while talking about related problems, consciously leaving aside those who might not identify with these constructions ”, says Mrittika Maitra, an English literature student at Delhi University.

Dr Megha Dhillon, professor of psychology at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, as if answering the above, points out how a certain topic, like domestic violence, is sometimes an important part of the curriculum. For Dr. Dhillon, giving trigger warnings and letting students log out of the classroom should be made necessary.

“I learned a lot from my students, and although I realize that some people may regard certain problems or their descriptions as the harsh realities of life, but because of the sheer camaraderie and respect that a teacher has for its students, what triggers the warnings can really transform an educational space ”, said Dr Dhillon.

The situation becomes more delicate when such discussions are initiated in relatively more stringent scientific or business areas, where the possibility of modifying the problematic and uncomfortable nature of certain comments or discussions is limited.

“If caught in an uncomfortable and traumatic situation, a student can either release that grief, cling to it, or take action. The student will have to weigh the consequences of the three options because, unfortunately, power dynamics and situational factors are involved. In a utopian world, if the teacher made a certain comment, the class should be able to oppose it ”, Dr. Dhillon points out.

Recognizing and recognizing the power asymmetry between faculty and students is the first step towards establishing a safe space. Representative image.

No limits: force class participation and technical details

“There was a teacher who kept forcing all of us to open our cameras. I’m not comfortable with it. Why can’t a teacher even try to figure this out?

The room in which I study is not a unique room. I have to share it with my siblings. Every time they walk into the room, they start laughing or talking to me. They do it even when I’m not comfortable with it. And when I start to fight back, they end up saying, “I know how much you study!” You just pretend to study, but you’re not. For god’s sake, I want to cry at the top of my lungs, but I can’t, “ Sumit writes on Young Ki Awaaz.

With teacher-student interactions limited to Zoom and Google Meet, a sense of mutual frustration and constriction is doomed to happen. As much as professors prefer active students to a screen full of black dots, they must also consider the situational diversity of their classrooms.

The same goes for the willingness to discuss workload and true bandwidth for missions.

Not only do many students lack a stable internet connection, but also access to devices, a personal space for the classroom, comfortable family dynamics and other factors – all determine a student’s level of participation. Putting them in situations where they have to introduce themselves or engage in a little obligatory conversation can make the virtual space already difficult, overwhelming.

Using insults and offensive words for educational purposes

As we struggle to acquire societal awareness of gender and caste, language is key while even disseminating important information. Want to teach sociology sex work? Want to discuss historical oppression and manual looting in classrooms? Realize the weight of using certain words in class because they are triggers. What matters most is making sure the classroom is a safe space.

“I was talking about sex work and prostitution in my sociology class. To speak of some historical connotation, I asked my students’ consent to use the word, R *** i, “ a law professor told me.

It really is that simple. The rebuttal to qualify this gesture as a “threat to academic freedom” seems a bit absurd. Everyone knows what these words are – given that we have used them for generations as oppressors. We need to remove them from our language and there is no better place to start doing it than our classrooms.

Nate Behar, in Toronto Star, explains this well in the context of using the N word in class. “There is no student who takes advantage of his historical education by having a professor of European origin utter a word created to hurt blacks. In fact, there is only damage that manifests itself as a result. Each university student can gain a good understanding of their subject by omitting the vitriol and inserting a less harmful substitution, such as simply referring to the “N word” in its place, “ he writes. The same is true of words denoting gender and caste oppression in India.

Create sensitive and safe classrooms

Recognizing and recognizing the asymmetry of power then becomes the first step towards establishing a safe space.

“If a teacher is new to a class, they can start by introducing themselves and understanding what their students think about the sensitivity in the conversation. Some ground rules can be introduced in terms of empathy, how to talk about marginalized communities, bodily shame, and much more ”, Shraddha Iyer tells us.

It also becomes important to regularly seek consent, invite disagreements, and listen to them sincerely. If a student shows unease based on a history of discrimination or socio-political-cultural oppression, offer a way out of the conversation. Or tailor the conversation to their needs. It shows that you, the teacher, value the student-teacher relationship in learning.

As we progress and grow together, I feel empowered because my students know where I come from and I am able to provide them with a safe presence to express their differences ”, said Dr Dhillon.

Empathy and the desire to listen are the basic principles of any successful relationship. Teachers will always have a weighted advantage. This advantage should be used to support students in their efforts to define their social identities rather than invalidating their struggles.

Featured image is for representation purposes only.


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