Facilitating Sensitive Conversations

Sensitive topics are sensitive because they involve emotions. That is okay.

How will you manage emotions as they arise in classroom discussions?


Significant events affect our students both within and beyond the classroom. As instructors, it is important to recognize, support, and value the diversity of perspectives that students bring to the classroom, but significant events can lead to sensitive or emotionally-charged discussions that can be challenging for instructors to facilitate.  When sensitive topics arise do we ignore them and focus on the course content or do we engage? What expertise and/or experience do we need to successfully facilitate a conversation of this nature? How do we prepare ahead of time if we want such a conversation to arise, or expect that it might, or how do we respond in the moment when something happens in the classroom? Furthermore, what does success look like--and how might our definition of a successful conversation be different than our students’ definition?

Below please find some resources that might help you understand what these conversations may entail and how you might think about engaging in them.

Key Questions to Consider

  • Why are you engaging in this conversation?
  • Have such discussions been a part of the classroom experience for this course in the past? That is, what context do the students have for engaging in this discussion?
  • How can you prepare students for the conversation?
  • What do you want the outcome to be? (Consensus? Group understanding of the issues at play? Practice having ‘difficult dialogues’? Allowing the students to vent? etc.)
  • What will happen after the discussion? How can you support student reflection? What resources can you share with students (to learn more, or to deal with possible trauma)?

Key Resources to Review


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