What if we were to talk about it? Engaging controversial topics in the classroom

Event Date & Time

  • May 4, 2018
    9:30 AM - 12:00 PM

Event Description

Against a background of societal divisions and growing tensions, the classroom can become a site for expressions of deep differences. As instructors we may witness an emotional flaring up of conflict among the students in the classroom, or we may face serious challenges to our own ideas, subject matter or ways of teaching. Often we experience these as comments that come from the left field: the racialized students who criticize the euro-centrism of our course readings, the religions students who object to conversations they see as contradicting their beliefs, the climate change deniers and those who wonder out loud whether colonialism might have been well-intentioned. There are many reasons – ethical and pragmatic – why as instructors we may decide not to engage these conversations within our classrooms every time they arise. “We don’t talk about that here,” we may find ourselves saying. But there may be others times when it is appropriate to “talk about it”, and the main limiting factor is our skill and capacity for facilitation or containing such conversations. This experiential workshop introduces participants to a tool for engaging controversial topics, should they choose to do so. Presentation will be followed by a conversation about if, how and when we might use such a tool.


Dr. Aftab Erfan joined the UBC Equity and Inclusion Office in March 2017 in the newly created position of Director, Dialogue & Conflict Engagement. Within this role, Aftab builds the social and institutional infrastructure to enable members of the UBC community(s) to work with their conflicts as they naturally and inevitably emerge. Previously, she spent four years working as an international consultant, professional facilitator and conflict practitioner, holding space for contentious conversations on four continents within the public, private, academic and non-profit sectors. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences (and a minor in Fine Arts) from UBC, a Masters in Urban Planning from McGill University, and a PhD in Community and Regional Planning from UBC, where she has also taught graduate level courses since 2009. Her award-winning dissertation reflected on three years of action research in a small First Nation community on Vancouver Island.


SCI 331, 1177 Research Road, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada