Discussion: Community Standards

In any discussion-based course, clear guidelines for discussion are necessary to ensure everyone feels welcome, included, and safe in our conversations. We also want our guidelines to promote conversation at a high intellectual level. In other words, these guidelines need to create a space where everyone is not simply able to participate, but able to disagree civilly, to question one another’s arguments or assumptions, and to reach a point of common understanding.

To post below, click “reply” under the comment you want to respond to (don’t use the general “reply” form at the bottom of the page, which will start a new discussion thread). Reply to one of my prompts, or to a comment from another student. Be a good citizen of the discussion board: read the whole conversation before adding your own views.

Before class on Friday, 9/9, please post two comments in response to the prompts below. By 5:00pm on Sunday 9/11, please post a third comment, responding to something in your fellow students’ remarks.

Join the Conversation


  1. Prompt One: What to do when we disagree?
    We’ll be examining some difficult and controversial questions together this semester. How can we ensure that these disagreements are productive – that is, that they lead to further, deeper conversation, rather than shutting the conversation down or simply making each other angry? What assumptions about our fellow students might help or hinder our conversations? What techniques might we use as bystanders if we feel a conversation is headed in the wrong direction?

    1. One way to ensure that disagreements further rather than inhibit discussion is for each student to try and remain open-minded to other arguments or points of view. Lots of times, we feel that we have to be “right” and so anything that someone says which doesn’t match our own opinions is automatically “wrong”. So in discussion we want to get rid of the idea of “right” or “wrong” and remember that everyone has their own ideas and opinions that don’t have to match our own. It also helps to remember that opinions are more flexible than facts, and so different opinions can exist simultaneously. If a disagreement does occur in discussion, it would help for the student who disagrees to explain their own reasoning rather than simply shooting down the original response. That way, both sides of the argument can be explained in a logical fashion that might even help other students who are listening to learn the reasonings behind both sides. If a bystander feels that a conversation is heading in the wrong direction, maybe turning into a heated disagreement, a good thing to do might be to change the subject and talk about something else so that the people disagreeing can calm down. We should try to stay open to the fact that not everyone in the class will agree with our opinions, and be sure to listen to what someone who disagrees with us has to say instead of jumping to defend our position strongly. We can defend our opinions, but in a rational way rather than getting defensive and harsh. It can also be a good tactic to disagree with the argument/opinion rather than the person, and remember that a person’s opinions don’t define them and so not judge them by their opinions.

      1. I also agree that in discussion twe should avoid wanting to be right in a way that excludes other points of views. I think acknowledging that the space we are creating is non-jugdmental and all of us are still learning is important. We can use “I” statements or be sure to express our ideas to another person in a tone that is calm and open for discussion. Keep the discussion about the ideas that we are discussing. It is okay if the viewpoint that you came to class with is not the one you take away or that other people have different opinions. Remeber to listen. As bystanders, I think another tactic can be to restate what each opinion is in a way that is calm and suggestive. People can then hear their own ideas and others from someone who is not as emotionally invested. It might open up either to the other’s ideas in a less emotionally charged way. Then, I definitely agree with Rose’s idea of redirection to allow students to calm down.

    2. I believe that establishing shared guidelines (like we are doing here) is a good way to ensure that we are going into each class/conversation with a shared goal of learning from each other, despite our differences in opinions/experiences. However, even if we all have similar goals for each conversation, we cannot go into class with the assumption that we will all agree on everything or that we can’t/shouldn’t challenge each other. Instead, understanding that whatever we say in the classroom is up for discussion/debate and that we are holding each other accountable out of a shared goal to learn and grow within our shared discipline will be much more beneficial. This cannot completely prevent disagreements from escalating, but I think this can be avoided as long as we understand that rebuttals from other students are not personal attacks but rather a chance to listen and learn in a safe environment. However, if a disagreement escalates despite this, other students should intervene if it surpasses the point of an educational debate. This can often happen due to misunderstandings or an initial defensive reaction, so other students interjecting and putting the disagreement back into perspective may help calm the situation down and put the conversation back on track.

      1. I think your point about stepping in to help our fellow students stay on track in discussions is really useful, Laken. It’s important for us to remember that we are part of a shared community in this classroom, and that means we need to work together to make the environment as productive as possible. We should be working together in discussions, even when we don’t agree with everything that’s said, and that requires continues attention and willingness to step up when needed.

    3. A technique I really love is something I learned from DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) called (surprise!) dialectics. Dialectics teaches us that there is always more than one side to anything that exists (for example, you can be doing the best you can, AND still need to do better). As such, when you disagree with someone, it asks you to ask yourself, “where is the kernel of truth in the other side?”

      For me, this allows me to take a breath and approach the other person with empathy. I may still disagree with them, but I can remember that I should treat others the way I want to be treated.

    4. I think in a class with such a range of student ideas and backgrounds it is illogical to assume that we will always agree on everything, so it is important for everyone to listen carefully and attempt to understand what everyone says. Even if someone does not necessarily agree with something someone says, they have an obligation to think critically about Why they disagree, and help the person talking to understand that in a relaxed and considerate way. I think it is most important that people try not to impose their own ideas on others: sometimes it’s just not possible. Of course, people should feel free to explain why they think a person is wrong, or why they think what they do, but it does not make sense to expect someone to change their mind just because someone else disagrees. I hope that in this class everyone will feel comfortable speaking truthfully, and as long as their opinions do not hurt other members of society I see no issue with it.

      1. I agree with your idea that not every discussion or debate has to end in agreement, but that we ought to be comfortable with having expressed our viewpoints respectfully and to the best of our ability and recognize when further pushing may be counterproductive and harm the atmosphere of the classroom. Of course, this does not apply if the disagreement or debate is related to a harmful view or statement, in which case we ought to consider other means of resolution, per the prompt below.

    5. One thing that can be easy to forget is the extent to which lived experiences and interpersonal relationships shape and affirm our viewpoints. A particular idea may be considered by one to be the only reasonable conclusion, the acceptance of which is barred only in so far as the explanation proposed in favor of it has thus far been inadequate in its delivery, a lacking that can be remedied by further and more vehement arguments, even as that same idea is inadmissible to another on the basis of their own perceptions of the world as inevitably shaped by their own lives. As such, it is important to bear in mind that disagreements, while potentially rooted in personal emotions, need not in and of themselves be taken personally, and in fact recognizing the significance of an opinion in the context of a broader life lived outside the realm of Classics and academia, and in such a recognition actively identifying some of the ways in which one’s academic life is inseparable from one’s personal life is key to respectful disagreement that does not cross over into disrespect.

    6. I think the biggest help to me when in a difficult conversation is remembering that the person I’m disagreeing with probably has good intentions. It will help us to assume that no one in this class is saying hurtful things on purpose. We will disagree during our discussions, but holding different opinions does not mean that we’re incompatible as a community or as friends. We should listen carefully, speak respectfully, and expect that our classmates will do the same for us.
      As bystanders, we should feel comfortable joining discussions with new information that two parties might be missing. We should also feel comfortable stepping in when a discussion stops being respectful or productive.

  2. Prompt Two: Calling In and Calling Out
    We’ll be spending the first part of the semester examining issues of racism and anti-racism in the field of Classics. These conversations may – and probably should – be uncomfortable for many of us. At the same time, in live conversation people may express views that are problematic or unexamined. How can we respond to one another by calling in (inviting further thought, reflection, and self-correction) rather than calling out (accusing, labeling, dismissing)? How can we support one another as we confront difficult topics?

    1. Do not weaponize guilt; though this does not mean that guilt should be ignored. Instead, both force yourself and help others to face the issues that make you and them feel uncomfortable with the compassionate understanding that change takes time. The overutilization of feelings of guilt can cause the accused to withdraw, feeling helpless and becoming inactive, or overcompensate by calling out others to feel as though they are enacting change. We should keep in mind the fact that we are all here to learn, not to make ourselves feel better by putting others down.

      1. I think this is a really thoughtful one! Guilt is definitely an emotion that gets triggered easily for me (justified or not) and I think you bring up a pertinent point when you say it brings people to either disengage or overcompensate. I think it’s also equally important for people to be reflective on why they feel guilt at certain times and ask themselves if their behavior behaviors should change.

    2. This question is one that always vexes me. On one hand, yes, there are ways to make a person feel less “attacked” when they are being told something they said was ignorant or unexamined. One can make sure to speak calmly, prioritize explaining why the statement is wrong without labeling the person, et al. These are all important strategies that have their time and place, and I absolutely advocate for trying to “call in”, particularly when a member of a privileged group is pointing out issues in something another member of the same privileged group has said (e.g. a white person pointing out racism in another white person’s statements, an abled person pointing out ableism in another abled person’s work, etc.).

      However, I think it’s also important to point out that “calling out” and labeling often come from a place of marginalized people dealing constantly with the same statements and views over and over. A racist statement, even one said with no malice and completely out of ignorance, still hurts people. So, it cannot be totally the responsibility of the one doing the “calling out/in” to make sure that the person saying something ignorant/unexamined is comfortable. It also has to fall on members of privileged groups to respond with openness and understanding to being called out/in, even when that is done frankly or bluntly. So, I think entering conversations with the understanding that being told youre wrong or that you have said something ignorant or even racist may well happen, and it is normal to experience guilt and anger at oneself, but it is equally important to respond openly and reasonably and work to examine what one said and how one can change it without turning that guilt and anger outward onto others or apologizing excessively and making others shoulder one’s own feelings.

      I do not know if that is a satisfactory answer to this question, and, as I said, it is one that always vexes me. Of course I want to advocate for kindness and understanding always, but we also cannot place the responsibility for reasonableness and calmness entirely on marginalized people who are often doing the bulk of the work in “calling out/in.” I hope, if nothing else, this can be food for further conversation on the topic.

      1. This is sort of tangentially related, but I’ve noticed that many people (often much older than us) often take a statement like, “you were being racist” as an insult when I really meant it as a statement of fact (i.e. “you were making a bigoted statement”) and I always found that really interesting–I was really trying to start a conversation explaining why something was racist, but they sort of take it as an insult-hurling contest from then on.

        Anyway, that’s definitely a faux-pas my social unawareness has had to learn not to do, but I do think that it’s a little interesting that it illuminates how the exact line between “calling in” and “calling out” are different for different people. As a result, I think that maybe it’d be productive to have a conversation about exactly where we draw the line as a community–for example, would my example count as calling in or calling out? Does my intention to start a conversation matter more, or does my bluntness mean that I was calling out? etc.

    3. Above all, it is important to remind ourselves of intent. This is not to say that intent makes a difference in the effect (in fact, being well-intended is irrelevant from harmful affects), but that we should allow intent to at least influence our responses to views that are “problematic or unexamined”. That is, we should operate under the assumption that such views, while harmful on the whole, are not targeted at individuals. Beginning from such an assumption facilitates open and honest discussion. Nor should the burden of explanation of harm be on any one person, especially not those who may have been affected by a view or statement, but we as a class need to be constantly aware of potential micro- (and -macro) aggressions and prepared to respectfully talk about the affects of such views as we encounter them.

      1. This is an important point. Yes, intent does not cancel out effect, but I think there’s a difference between saying something harmful without realising that it would come across as harmful and saying something while knowing that it might be harmful. And like Alexander said that we should assume that problematic views are not targeted at individuals, I think it would also be good to assume that a problematic view expressed unintentionally does not constitute that person’s whole identity. Everyone is racist at some point or another, and so if someone does say something that’s harmful we don’t want to just completely think of that person in a negative light but understand that they can learn and do better

    4. I believe that comfort is not necessary for learning to be actively anti-racist. Growth and change does not come from a place of comfort. I believe that there is some benefit to recognizing one’s discomfort as a necessary part of unlearning bias. This is not to say that we should make each other uncomfortable, or shouldn’t emphathise and be patient with each other as we learn. But I think that this is a space in which we should be alright with some discomfort. We should point out (respectfully) if someone makes a claim that is not fully thought out or is harmful.

  3. Prompt Three: Respecting different experiences
    Our conversations about race and the field may affect different students in different ways. Even as we move into thesis workshop presentations, we’ll all bring different experiences, histories, and beliefs to these conversations. Some of the material we discuss may evoke traumas we ourselves or people we know have experienced. Even when the objects of our investigation are not traumatic, our own lived, embodied experiences will shape the way we respond to and interpret the ancient evidence. How can we be respectful of the personal histories of our classmates and the ways those histories inform their experience of this class? How can we balance our desire to support and protect one another with our desire to understand the full lived experience of pre-modern people?

    1. The best way to be respectful of people’s experiences and histories is simply to listen to them. If someone tells a short story about an event in their life that relates to a topic being discussed, the rest of the class should be sure to listen and reflect on their story and use it to learn a little bit more about that person so that we can get to know each other better and understand at least some of each other’s different backgrounds. And if someone in the class asks us to not talk about something, or to not say something in a certain way, then try to honor their request and do so (unless it’s something that’s necessary to talk about). It also might be good if students are able to get up and step away if something is being talked about that might remind them of something traumatic, with the expectation that they will not be judged by other students if they do. We don’t want to tease someone for being sensitive about something, or even for not knowing some piece of information that we might think everybody should know, because not everyone knows all of the same things. One way to create a more accessible discussion, which was used in a class I was in last spring, can be that if you mention a figure or a place or a certain myth etc. you provide a very brief explanation in case other students haven’t heard of that specific name or story, so that everyone can still understand what you’re talking about.

    2. I agree that a policy of allowing students to step away without being asked questions is important, and making it clear that people can get up and go without asking (for any reason) is important. I also second the importance of being receptive to how students ask for things to be talked about. Words do have power, so being willing to change the way something is spoken about is important, regardless of whether or not everyone understands why. Also, I think we all understand that this course will have discussions of difficult material that might surface trauma for some people, but additional warnings if a reading or assignment will be particularly fraught can also help prepare people to be able to engage with it in a safe way.

      In terms of balancing safety and understanding, I do not think these things have to be in conflict. It is possible to engage critically with something while also prioritizing safety. That may sometimes mean that someone needs to step out, ask to discuss in different ways, talk one-on-one instead of in a large group setting, etc., but this kind of safety does not mean that we can’t seek to fully understand the experiences of pre-modern people.

    3. Firstly, I think it is important to understand that we do not really know each other, and what we have been through. What one person may seem as a harmless conversation could in reality be a painful one to someone else. Because of this, it is important for everyone to follow social cues, and make sure that if someone seems uncomfortable with the discussion of a certain topic that is respected. It is also important to listen closely to other people as they discuss their experiences, if they choose to, to ensure that they are heard and respected in any situation that might arise. Being comfortable in a classroom is directly related to learning and engaging well, so it is the responsibility of everyone to ensure that they make everyone as comfortable as is possible.

      1. Like George said, we don’t each other well, and this unfamiliarity obviously has its drawbacks. I think it’s really important to be aware of the language we use around sensitive subjects and things we may not ourselves have experienced firsthand. Actively engaging with each other and something as simple as taking a step back to listen can make a huge difference in de-escalating a situation and avoid causing harm where it was not intended. A big piece of this could be avoiding situations like playing the devil’s advocate. When it comes to topics like race or gender, it is essential to be respectful of everyone’s individual experiences both positive and negative–something I think can quickly be lost when arguing the opposing viewpoint.

    4. As many people have said in this thread, no person has experienced the exact same situations/events as another person, so we can never assume that a topic that may not bother us will not be harmful or traumatic for another person in the class. I think not making these assumptions or generalizations will help us work to respect the experiences of others, but it’s also important to be careful during these difficult conversations. If someone seems uncomfortable with a heavy topic, don’t question or press them further. If we notice that the conversation is going in a direction that is harmful to another person in the class, redirecting our discussion or taking a break can also help make the classroom a more comfortable place for everyone. There’s not really a definitive answer for this question due to the variety of lived experiences each person in the class has, but making an effort to be as considerate to others as you would want them to be with you is a good first step.

  4. Prompt Four: How can we create a safe and equitable classroom?
    As the questions so far have probably made clear, I want our classroom to be a space where all students feel safe. This emphatically does not mean that it will be a space where we are never offended, where we never confront anything challenging or traumatic, where we never have to question our own beliefs or assumptions. In fact, I want the opposite: a classroom where we feel safe enough to risk sharing our own ideas and interpretations, to disagree in a productive way, to confront even the most disturbing, problematic, or challenging aspects of the material we’re studying. What can we do to ensure that our classroom is a safe place for these difficult conversations? What techniques, key terms, or rules can we establish to make ours a safe classroom?

    1. Creating a safe space for challenging discussion means accepting people for who they are and approaching all conversations with sympathy and compassion. This creates a community that is comfortable enough for individuals to express differences or opinions without fear of harsh judgment.

      1. It is also important for us to pay attention to the voices we’ve heard so that everyone has a chance to speak. If the same few keep jumping in to respond, our space may begin to feel more like a lecture than a conversation. Additionally, it is important that we are open about what we do not know. Pretending to be an expert prevents you from learning and makes others more intently focus on how little they feel they know.

        1. I agree with you, Elise! We are all here to learn and share knowledge, and it’s important that we be aware of our classmates as we chime into discussions. We should do our best to collaboratively make space for different voices to contribute to the conversation. If we always expect to hear a range of opinions in class discussions, we will be more comfortable expressing our own opinions and less likely to react in an unsafe way when disagreements do arise.

    2. It may sound simple, but knowing the right times to listen and speak are an important part of creating a classroom that every person can feel comfortable in. There are times when sharing experiences with each other and making comments on what other students have said will contribute to the conversation and make individuals feel more comfortable, but there are times when listening to what someone is saying without commenting or interjecting is the right call. Additionally, knowing the best times to speak/listen will also avoid creating pressure for students to take part in conversations that will not be healthy or beneficial for them, and it will leave room for all voices to be heard without the risk of interruption/being talked over. As it was mentioned in previous comments on this thread, coming to class with shared goals and an open mind will go a long way in allowing us to have productive and meaningful conversations in a place where we can all feel comfortable to contribute.

    3. I think it’s important to remember that Classics is encompassing of a wide array of interests (as I’m sure we’re all aware even just looking at the Thesis idea posts!) and therefore what we individually may consider common knowledge to Classicists may not actually be that. Making sure that we are using accessible language and not operating under the assumption that everyone knows what you are referring to would definitely be helpful in ensuring that no one feels left out or unwelcome.

      1. I totally agree with this. I think that we need to be concious of including a broad range of Classics experiences in our discussions, and try to avoid highly specific jargon when possible. Even though we are building expertise in our respective areas of study, most of the people receiving and commenting on our work will not be experts, and so it’s good to practice accessible language about our projects. I’ve been in situations where people try overly hard to be “scholarly” and end up alienating a lot of their audience. I think that we’ll all feel more comfortable sharing our ideas and topics if the language we use to describe them is widely accessible.

  5. One thing that can be easy to forget is the extent to which lived experiences and interpersonal relationships shape and affirm our viewpoints. A particular idea may be considered by one to be the only reasonable conclusion, the acceptance of which is barred only in so far as the explanation proposed in favor of it has thus far been inadequate in its delivery, a lacking that can be remedied by further and more vehement arguments, even as that same idea is inadmissible to another on the basis of their own perceptions of the world as inevitably shaped by their own lives. As such, it is important to bear in mind that disagreements, while potentially rooted in personal emotions, need not in and of themselves be taken personally, and in fact recognizing the significance of an opinion in the context of a broader life lived outside the realm of Classics and academia, and in such a recognition actively identifying some of the ways in which one’s academic life is inseparable from one’s personal life is key to respectful disagreement that does not cross over into disrespect.

    1. I think that it is important to remember that people may have personal connections to the academic discussions taking place and be respectful of everyone’s experience. I think that listening with understanding is one of the most important skills of conversation that we can practice. I agree that it is important to acknowledge that on some level all of our opinions and ideas are in some way shaped by personal experiences and to take that into consideration when entering a discussion. As a result, we may recognize our biases and experiences while also being aware of and respectful of other’s. We may challenge other’s and our own biases in a thoughtful and respectful way that asks for further investigation.

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