Best Practices: Teaching Sensitive Course Content
Introduction to Sensitive Content
Students in higher education routinely explore knowledge in depth and from many perspectives, building their foundation of lifelong learning and understanding to prepare for future challenges in a continually changing multiracial and multicultural world. Like many colleges and universities, the University of Minnesota’s guiding principles emphasize striving to maintain a high-quality learning environment based on mutual respect and open exchange of ideas, viewpoints, and contexts, free from racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice and intolerance.
Teaching and learning in colleges and universities are not for the faint-hearted. Addressing sensitive content is integral to higher education. Sensitive content includes trauma, violence, racism, sexism, classism, rape/sexual assaults, and any other topic that a student might find upsetting, unpleasant or disturbing. Given the wide diversity of student experience, faculty and instructors may not always anticipate what students will interpret as sensitive content. Both planned and entirely unexpected sensitive discussions may arise in educational settings at any time, which emphasize the need to effectively facilitate and manage sensitive course discussions.
Applying best practices in teaching and learning, especially when dealing with sensitive course content, can not only help elevate both planned and unexpected class discussions, but also minimize conflict, and create inclusive and enriching learning environments. Faculty and instructional staff who purposefully teach sensitive content and plan for the unexpected can create truly transformational experiences for students.
This site, divided into the following two sections, contains comprehensive information of best practices and concrete strategies to help faculty and instructional staff effectively plan and deliver sensitive course content.
Below are a few additional resources, including free UMN educational opportunities about effectively teaching sensitive course content:
- UMN educational opportunities:
- Center for Educational Innovation upcoming workshops
- Responding to Students in Distress: The Four Rs
Students with conditions impacting their mental health now enter colleges and universities in unprecedented numbers. Recent research identifies mental health concerns as the number one public health issue that students face. Not surprisingly, faculty and staff are increasingly confronted with challenging situations and student crises that require effective responses and timely action.
This interactive workshop will provide participants a simple framework to skillfully recognize and respond to students in distress. Using relevant case studies and focused group discussions, attendees will review and apply collaborative ways to effectively respond to a range of distressful student situations. Unique considerations for international students and scholars will be addressed along with considerations for accessing disability resources. Additional resources on the campus website www.mentalhealth.umn.edu will be highlighted.
This training is available upon request for University departments or academic units.
- Teaching Sensitive Topics, Learning & Teaching Office, Ryerson University
- Sensitive Topics in the Classroom, Berkeley Center for Teaching & Learning
- Controversial Subjects in the Classroom, Teaching Tolerance, Southern Poverty Law Center