With contributions from 2020 - 2021 CITLS Student Fellows: Anna DeVault '21, Sharon Engel '22 & Hamna Younas '22

quotes above a crowd of peopleGoal

To provide student recommendations for respectful classroom dialogue during the 2020 election season.


Both students (and their instructors) can be differentially impacted by current events. Adding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice, this current election season is contentious and can be a significant source of stress for our learners. Indeed there is evidence in a study by Hagan et al. (2018) performed on over 700 students at a public institution two to three months after the 2016 election that 25% of respondents reported clinically significant symptoms of event-related distress. “Sex, political party, religion and perceived impact of the election on relationships” were found to be predictors of such stress. 

The 2020 election season is also contentious and the issues at hand can differentially affect students of various social identities and viewpoints. Below CITLS student fellows provide recommendations for what professors can do to facilitate respectful classroom dialogue in the weeks leading up to, and after the election.

Student Recommendations

  • Acknowledge what is happening  – One of the most important things professors can do in any course is to verbally acknowledge that they recognize students may be experiencing a wide range of emotions about the election. Some students may be scared, others worried or anxious, and some may not be as impacted emotionally. Making a statement to the class on these regards can be especially important the day of, or days after the election. 
  • Be flexible and compassionate the week of the election and days following – How students process the election and its evolving results may affect their engagement in class. Students may, for example, prefer to keep their videos off during classes that are held closer to the election. Recognize that this may occur and have nothing to do with students’ motivation to do well in class. If possible, avoid having major assignments  such as exams or other assessments, due around the time of the election as they may not be reflective of students’ best work given the circumstances. 
  • Ensure that any classroom dialogues are well-moderated with clear ground rules – Take the pulse of the class and if it seems appropriate, check in with students and invite them to share how they are feeling, but not necessarily their opinions about the election. Be clear that the goal is not to debate which could lead to different sides arguing against each other.  Also consider other options:
    • Have students go around the virtual classroom and share one word about how they feel about what is happening right now, and pass if desired. This way all students have the opportunity to share if they would like to and class is less likely to become disruptive. In larger classes that use Zoom, consider making a virtual seating chart to facilitate this process, and have students go in the designated order left to right, top to bottom.
    • Give students 5 minutes to write or type out how they feel about what is happening with the election to allow them to process their emotions without having to share them with the class.
  • If a student says something that could potentially be offensive to others acknowledge it – Straddle carefully between not ignoring what was said – be sure to address it – but not attacking or being critical of the student.  Such a scenario could be designated as an “oops” or “ouch” teachable moment and allow students to practice socioemotional learning and be aware of the perspectives of others.  
  • Do not put students in breakout rooms to discuss the election without appropriate moderation – This dialogue needs moderation and professors to act as social buffers. Professors should be present to make sure that dialogue is respectful. 


Hagan MJ, Sladek MR, Luecken LJ, Doane LD. (2018). Event-related clinical distress in college students: Responses to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Journal of American College Health. DOI: 10.1080/07448481.2018.1515763


Lafayette College Counseling Center. Maintaining Mental Health: The Election Edition