This semester’s Teaching at Yale Day orientation, held on Monday to induct new Teaching Fellows, introduced breakout sessions focused on handling difficult conversations about race and gender in the classroom.

The new addition to the biannual orientation program, held by the Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale, comes in the wake of growing concerns about inclusivity on campus after a white graduate student called the police on a black graduate student sleeping in a Hall of Graduate Studies common room in May. The orientation program also featured a panel that addressed “inclusive teaching,” just as it did in fall 2017.

“We also address inclusive teaching during small group breakout sessions toward the end of Teaching at Yale Day,” said Suzanne Young, director of Graduate and Postdoctoral Teaching Development. “The CTL Graduate Teaching Fellows who run these sessions see inclusive teaching as excellent teaching and give advice about how to create community — learn students’ names, find out about their interests, diversify the materials you share with students, establish ground rules for discussion and be transparent about expectations and make yourself available for office hours.”

The breakout sessions used case studies to launch discussions about “difficult conversations” surrounding race and gender, according to Young.

Alex Sandomirsky GRD ’24 said he thought the breakout sessions were useful and addressed certain important teaching strategies, such as not letting one person dominate a conversation and ensuring that no student speaks over or interrupts another.

According to Hannah Bossi GRD ’24, during the sessions, the students discussed specific scenarios in which implicit bias could occur and brainstormed how to navigate such situations.

“The most helpful suggestion was when Professor Helen Caines was talking about problems that she’ll assign her students and being more neutral with the pronouns,” said Caitie Beattie GRD ’24 “I thought it was a good way of being realistic about the fact that in science classes we are not talking about social issues but that social issues impact science classes.”

Still, Ridge Liu GRD ’24 said he felt that the sessions could have been more detailed.

“I will say that we were in there for four hours, but even then these discussions can get pretty involved, and I feel like any one session is not going to cover all the bases,” Lui said. “They probably could have gone more in depth. But we’ve only been here a week and a half, and there’s only so much they can do in a limited time.”

Lui added that the orientation leaders attempted to cover the basics and help the graduate students understand their responsibilities.

And Sandomirsky said that while the sessions could have been more comprehensive, the orientation leaders did the best they could in the allotted time.

In addition to focusing on inclusive teaching practices at the recent orientation, the CTL Graduate Teaching Program ran a day-long teaching forum on “difficult conversations in the classroom” in April 2018. Young said that similar pedagogy workshops for graduate students run throughout the year promote inclusive teaching strategies.

“I would say that as a center, the CTL has emphasized inclusive teaching for many years now but that we have recently added programming and refocused existing programming to make sure that the message ‘excellent teaching is inclusive teaching’ reaches all instructors at Yale,” Young said.

In fall 2016, the Graduate School made Teaching at Yale Day a requirement for all Teaching Fellows new to teaching at the University.

Jever Mariwala |