WORKSHOP: Teaching Sensitive Topics and Managing Politically Charged Classroom Conversations (40 Minutes)


  • Yasemin Ipek George Mason University



Mason's diverse student body has growingly been impacted by rising political and social polarization in the US and across the globe. In various Mason core courses and elective courses across humanities and social science disciplines, students have increasingly become vocal in sharing their experiences of marginalization and expressing their political opinions. The university mission to be an "inclusive academic community committed to creating a more just, free, and prosperous world" can only be realized when both instructors and students can effectively engage sensitive issues such as refugees, migration, or racism, which are by nature politically charged. Nevertheless, many faculty members and other instructors understandably struggle with teaching and addressing sensitive political issues. Politically sensitive issues might lead some students to suspect that the instructor has some political agenda or make some of the students feel uncomfortable for other reasons. On the other hand, avoiding those discussions is almost inevitable in many courses, particularly when more and more students actively request that those issues are engaged in their classes.


Building on my experience in teaching courses on refugees, the Middle East, nationalism, and racism, globalization, I would like to offer effective techniques and strategies for managing sensitive issues in large or small classrooms with a diverse student body. I had an opportunity to lead many class sessions, where I observed that productively discussing politically sensitive issues might become an essential tool for successful academic learning and enhancing inclusivity. A conversation over productive methods of teaching on sensitive political issues would be beneficial for all the Mason community and foremost for graduate instructors.

  • Participants will better understand what type of political and social issues are considered sensitive by Mason’s diverse students.
  • Participants will expand their awareness regarding how certain students with specific backgrounds might self-censor themselves during classroom discussions.
  • Participants will interactively discuss productive strategies and techniques for creating a class environment in which diverse groups of students can comfortably engage polarizing issues such as racism, xenophobia, migration, refugees, and right-wing populism.
  • Developing effective ways of handling politically sensitive topics will ultimately help instructors “create an inclusive learning community” and enhance "self-reflection, mindfulness, or well-being into learning," among the two major goals promoted by Stearns center.


Author Biography

Yasemin Ipek, George Mason University

Yasemin Ipek is an Assistant Professor in the Global Affairs Program. Her research is informed by her long-standing interests in transnational humanitarianism and NGOs; activism and social movements; and everyday enactments of ethics, Islam, nationalism, and sectarianism in the Middle East. She is currently working on two projects. Her first project, based on her fieldwork in Lebanon between 2012 and 2015, examines how the Syrian refugee crisis has transformed national identity and post-civil war efforts towards peace-building in Lebanon. In her new research project, tentatively titled Islamic Humanitarianism: Transnational Care Networks in the Middle East, she studies Muslim aid workers in Istanbul and Beirut, and explores how piety interacts with secular and cosmopolitan discourses to shape global migration, refugees, and humanitarianism.





MONDAY 2:00pm-2:40pm