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Class Observation/ Notes

The Unknown's picture

Class started later because people were eating  and my meeting instructions were confusing and last minute . Many had to sit on the floor. We began the class by talking about people’s discomfort with silence. Then we moved on to the topic of consensus. We were conflicted the other day by wanting to respect people’s wishes, moving forward with the class agenda, so we could talk about what we read and other issues, and the importance of efficiency.

How do we address when someone feels uncomfortable in a space? What is everyone’s role in making sure others feel comfortable? In-terms of consensus and morals, how do we evaluate someone’s level of comfort and reasoning?

The incident the other day about deciding whether or not to turn off the lights that were strung in the dorm room triggered many emotions and thoughts. We not personally mind the lights, associating the lights with home, belonging, and comfort.

How many people can be offended by a symbol? There are so many meanings for each symbol across the spectrum of positive and negative.

Lights are often put up in college dorm rooms. How do we honor someone’s emotions when we think his/her/their argument is invalid? Should we always honor someone’s emotions? We said that when people feel uncomfortable it is important to act and make decisions based on whatever hurts less people.

Then we went on to discuss what the lights symbolize. We associated the lights with festivities and also oppression. We said that the lights symbolized home and comfort, faith, traditions, and time spent with family. Removing the lights took away the homey, cozy feeling in the room.

The idea of not coming to consensus and leaving room for disagreement was raised. We do not need to come to a consensus and we should leave room for disagreement. This went along with the notion of “agreeing to disagree.” If we are saying that are goal is to come to a consensus, it  can remove the meaning, conflict, and edginess in the discussion.

Another issue was the challenge of balance. Often we comfort the majority (white, upperclass, Christian, straight, men), but should we take more time to include the wishes, customs, and considerations of the minority?[1]

One of our final areas of  discussion was, “What comes after ‘agreeing to disagree?” There are tensions even within people who identify as “liberal.” We have political debates with our friends and we do not always agree, even though generally their morals and principles are extremely similar.

How do we quantify and weigh pain vs. pleasure? Whose  discomfort?

Then we talked about what is considered “appropriate” to discuss in a classroom.

How do we decide the point at which discomfort is no longer a learning experience? There is a learning opportunity when conflict occurs, when people feel uncomfortable.

Later we discussed the role of an agenda or a plan for the day in structuring the classroom and discussions. We were attached to the agenda when the issue of whether or not we should turn off the lights and we ignored what was going on to talk about the readings. We also got up and turned off the lights.

Then we debated intentionally exclusionary research and presentation. Accessibility is not obvious and universal. It is difficult to write in complex ways. There is more depth in longer, more poignant words. Some experiences are so complicated that they cannot be easily explained. It is laborious to understand a story.

People use complex writing  to discuss complex ideas. People should have trouble with writing. How does accessibility, comprehension and our ability to understand play a role in how people write?

What is the role of guilt, confusion and anger in complex texts? If we are feeling these emotions and struggling to understand were the texts successful? What is the purpose of the texts?

People were lying down and/or slouching and their computers were next to them or in front of them.

Are we entitled to understand everything in a text? Why do we assume that we will be able to comprehend everything without working, challenging ourselves to understand? Why should ideas or cultural practices be understandable to white people?

Is there some value in making language and customs accessible to many or the majority? How do we humbly acknowledge the limits of our understanding of other cultures/ religions/ races/ ethnicities/ classes?  We should also give ourselves credit that we have the ability to understand more complex ideas.

It is harder to make something relatable. We discuss people who talk from a place of superiority. What is their part in this complex continuum of accessibility vs. comprehension?

What if the connections will be made and we just need to wait for them? We should think, take time to reflect and sit with the complex ideas.

We were pushed to other topics and some ideas were not shared.


✪ I wanted to add that I was testing out a political, social, racial, gender writing experiment here. I understand, appreciate, and value our individual perspectives, thoughts, and ideas, however we have been discussing the importance of finding the connections wherever we see them. I think that the issues that were raised, though may have effected people differently or/and more or less intensely, I thought it was fair to say that it was a tense and moving conversation. I am still struggling, honestly angry, upset, confused, grateful, joyed, disappointed, and encouraged by what was said. I tried to not assign opinions and emotions to people, but instead see this discussion and conflict as a joint issue/problem that though we might feel differently about and experience differently we all must confront. I am aware that we have different experiences and we make decisions based on those as well as our beliefs, and morals. On the other hand, at least on a personal level I think when we see people’s struggles, conflicts, and things that they are battling, even in their mind, as a collective undertaking to bring about justice, equality, and growth, then we risk being more involved and more culpable for anything that happens to them or they feel. I hope this will drive us to action and dismantle these systems of inequality. Also, I have left out/ I missed a lot of what people said. I encourage you all to comment and give me feedback or contribute what I missed.

✪ On another note, but in the same vain, I am a white, upper-class womyn. I am aware that there are people in the class who do not identify with any of these labels and some identify with some but not others. I also realize that historically atleast a white, upper-class perspective has been mainly heard, written about, and recorded. My skin color represents oppression. In this exercise, I am claiming people’s ideas, I would like to think, not as my own, but as unowned, and flowing in through, between the collective. However, this does not mean that I have any “right” to do this. I am extremely open to people’s thoughts, ideas, and feedback.


Options for Teach-In

 A walk in Morris Woods where we learn about the biota that lives there and use texts to branch out ideas. An improvisation workshop- relationships w/ each other, connecting w/ the ground and then connecting w/ each other, warmup, partnering. This workshop will take 15 minutes. Walking around outdoors. Doing something exciting with trash outdoors, creating something practical.  Focus exercises: counting. We have a lack of physical, emotional connection to nature: include one part of each person’s connection to the natural environment. Combine outside and inside postings. We could create/make something tangible, physical. We could “bring the inside outside”- invading nature. Another idea was draw/write telephone,  which is the exercise where someone draws something and the next person describes it in writing or one word, and then the next person draws a picture based on that word or phrase. This will take 15 minutes. Math magic tricks, where we make the complex tangible, make something not accessible, accessible. This will take 5-10 minutes. We could walk to different people’s own “creations.” We don’t care so much about trees, but we do care about emotions. We could do some incredible drawing. We were thinking of presenting on one day.

[1] I just wanted to add here that I do not think of myself as a minority, but we talked about dominant cultures and people and that is why I added these identifiers.