Addressing Elections in Your Course

As most know, teaching and learning doesn’t occur within a vacuum. One best practice for inclusive teaching is acknowledging the impact of external factors. This can prove especially true when it comes to elections and similar events. This guide provides advice for addressing such events within your courses even when conducted remotely.

Be sure to stay nonpartisan. View this slide from the Badger Vote Coalition for non-partisan voting information you can share. Please remember university employees may not engage in political campaign activity during work time and may not use state resources for political campaign activity at any time; employees also may not solicit political contributions or services from other employees while they are performing their official duties. For more information, please read this guidance.


1. Acknowledge the impact of current events. In election season, consider the following when addressing elections and other current events in your course:

  • Acknowledging real-world events and situations can foster a trusting, safe and inclusive learning environment. Be aware that tensions around the elections and other current events may occupy students’ attention before, during and after election night.  If you regularly communicate with students via video recordings or Canvas Announcements, acknowledge the impact of current events in those communications.
  • Recognize that election night may be long, and everyone may be tired. People may have strong emotions from a variety of perspectives,  and it may be hard for students to focus.  
  • Give students a chance to write for a minute or two to process their thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge the difficulty of focusing and of controlling strong emotions, and let students know they can feel free to step out of class if they need a minute to refocus.
  • Consider providing ways for students to express their preferences about engaging further. Example: Conduct an anonymous poll asking students if they wish to discuss the election in class that day, at a later date, or not at all. Share the results of the poll with an explanation of your plans.
  • Consider engaging students individually. Examples: Send a short email to a student to express care and concern or invite a student to virtual office hours.

Source: Returning to the Classroom after the Election. University of Michigan, Center for Research on Learning & Teaching

2. How to engage in discussions around the election. If you plan class discussions on a high-stakes or controversial topic like the election, these suggestions may help:

  • Identify a clear purpose for the discussion.  (more)
  • Establish ground rules to follow.  (more)
  • Provide a common basis for understanding.  (more)
  • Create a framework for the discussion that maintains focus and flow. (more)
  • Include everyone in the discussion.  (more)
  • Be an active facilitator.  (more)
  • Summarize the discussion and gather student feedback. (more)

Source: Guidelines for Discussing Difficult or High-Stakes Topics. University of Michigan, Center for Research on Learning & Teaching Other Resources: Tips for Online Asynchronous Discussion – The Discussion Project, University of Wisconsin-Madison

3. What to do if tensions escalate. Souza (2018) offers a communication framework to prepare faculty for addressing tense moments that occur in their classroom; the ACTION framework:

  • Ask clarifying questions to assist with understanding intentions
  • Come from curiosity, not judgment
  • Tell what you observed as problematic in a factual manner
  • Impact exploration (explain potential impact of statement or action on others)
  • Own your own thoughts and feelings around the impact
  • Next steps: request the appropriate action to be taken

Source: Responding to microaggressions in the classroom: Taking ACTION. Souza, Tasha. Faculty Focus. April 30, 2018. Other Resources: Speak up at School, Teaching Tolerance

Further Exploration