December 7, 2023

How to avoid political polarization on campuses – A guideline for schools and universities (From aChord)

How to avoid political polarization on campuses – A Guideline for schools and universities 

Even prior to the horrific October 7th Terror attacks and the following Israel/Gaza War, the polarization and dehumanization of the other in Israel/Palestine was immense. Those sentiments are now worse than ever, and they are increasingly being mirrored on campuses in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. The level of antisemitism, racism, and islamophobia we are seeing evolve is deeply troubling and it can be incredibly challenging to deal with them as teachers, deans, and other people in positions of responsibility.

As an orientation, we have translated a guideline by our member organization aChord, that can help to combat the level of dehumanization and polarization. 



  1. Express Position in Class and on Campus


In a politically charged environment, faculty, staff, and management often grapple with taking a stance on contentious issues. To facilitate constructive dialogues during conflicts, follow these guidelines:

  • Expressing Your View:


Taking a stand on ethical and political matters is encouraged. Ensure your stance includes a well-explained rationale.

  • Class or Team Discussions:


Engaging in debates during tense times demands a professional and impartial approach, regardless of your own personal stance. Note that expressing a view is optional for teams and staff.


  1. Establish Norms for Managing Conversations in the Classroom and on Campus


Verbal and physical confrontations on campus can be unproductive and illegitimate. To define discourse boundaries, consider the Traffic Light Model:

**Red**: Non-legitimate Discourse – Violent, generalizing, or Racist Speech.

– Examples: Statements inciting violence or containing hate speech.

– Response: Immediately stop and publicly disapprove.

**Yellow**: ­

– Examples: Statements showing a derogatory attitude but also raising legitimate questions.

– Response: Differentiate the attitude from the question, clarifying norms and boundaries.

**Green**: Legitimate Discourse.

– Examples: Statements expressing various opinions without hate speech.

– Response: Encourage substantive expression of stance.

Institutional enforcement should include diverse representation and a designated authority for clarifying norms. Remove offensive content, providing explanations. In private virtual spaces, clarify expectations for respectful behavior.


  1. Distribution of a Public Letter:


A public letter from the senior administration serves as an institutional signal for all campus communities, encouraging respect and tolerance.

Recommendations for the letter:

Emphasize that in times of tension and violence, it’s challenging to understand different perspectives, making mutual respect more crucial.

  • Publish this message in both Hebrew and Arabic on all platforms


Exemplary Message to students 

“Verbal and physical violence, incitement to violence, and the spread of discriminatory messages undermine the values of the institution and its regulations. Harming any group from those on campus, threatening them, or inciting against them will not be tolerated. Students, you are not alone. The university is here to support you in difficult times. Have you encountered difficulty, discrimination, or violence? Please contact: [Institutional contact details]”


  1. Providing Support and Emergency Response 


To enhance support and emergency responses on campus, establish support units: The Student Dean’s office and the Diversity Unit, should provide assistance and address complaints. Even if most of the campus community speaks English, offering support in other native languages fosters trust and a sense of belonging, especially among non-native English speakers like immigrant communities or exchange students. This signals the institution’s commitment to everyone’s security and belonging. Ensure that academic and administrative staff are aware of relevant contacts for students and the community. Highlight the staff’s capacity to positively impact students’ sense of belonging and security. 


  1. Recommendations for Administrative Staff


For administrative staff, it’s vital to consider personal security needs due to daily interactions with students and the tense atmosphere. Ensure that you have campus support contacts for additional assistance.

Minimize direct references to each of the groups separately. Promote a collective approach by using inclusive language like “we,” “at our university,” and “within the team.” This emphasizes a shared identity and commitment. 

Engage in open conversations with department heads or coordinators about the situation and their teams’ needs. Encourage collaboration among staff members and establish clear norms for discussions, such as using the Traffic Light Model. 

Remember that the likelihood of improving negative attitudes between different groups when conflicts arise is minimal. Expecting empathy, mitigating disagreement, or seeking a common narrative in tense times may lead to anger and entrenchment of positions. It is advisable to avoid this. 


  1. Classroom Etiquette for Academic Staff


Academic staff play a crucial role in fostering a stable and safe classroom atmosphere. Classroom dynamics persist throughout the academic year and can vary during tense or harmonious times. The classroom serves as a foundation for trust and productive discourse, but it can also become a breeding ground for verbal conflicts that strain intergroup relations and hinder teaching.

Improving negative attitudes between different student groups during conflicts is challenging, even in harmonious classrooms. Expecting empathy in tense times may lead to anger and entrenched positions, so it’s best to avoid it. 

Set clear classroom discussion norms using the Traffic Light Model. Address harmful behaviors promptly and refer to the appropriate authority. Avoid appearing as strict enforcers of norms. For instance, if discussing politics is a classroom norm, allow for diverse viewpoints. Tense classroom discussions can be distressing. Ensure you have contact information for student support on campus. Use inclusive language to emphasize a common identity in the classroom, fostering a sense of belonging among all students. In classes with noticeable convergence, explore complex topics by distancing from the situation in Israel/Palestine and using examples from other countries. This encourages reflection and reduces immediate threats. The choice of classroom content during tense times is a personal and professional decision influenced by the lecturer’s capability, comfort, and stance. Evaluate the alignment of content with the current situation. 


  1. Training and Avoiding Harmful Actions


It is recommended to provide training for academic and administrative staff throughout the year and equip them with tools for managing and improving relations between groups. Different forms of training can be conducted through institutional units such as the Diversity Unit, the Dean of Students, the Teaching and Learning Unit, and more, as well as through external organizations like the workshops offered by the aChord Center.


*Translation by ALLMEP.

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