Creating Respectful Spaces to Debate Uncomfortable Topics: Allowing all Voices to be Heard in a Curriculum that Requires Socio-Political Exchange in an Era of Contentiousness

Concurrent Session 6

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

In many of the social sciences, dialectical debate and exchange of philosophical ideas is part of the curriculum. In the current context, ideals have become polarized and debate in public forum is often personal and attacking. In this session we will explore how to create safe online debate forums.


Imre Emeric Csaszar was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary. Prior to the communist regime change he immigrated to the US in 1989. He has been living in the states the last 23 years and became a U. S. citizen in 2006. He has earned his undergraduate degree in behavioral sciences and pastoral counseling at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. He holds a master’s degree from Stetson University in Florida in Marriage, Family, and Couples Therapy. He started his PhD program at the University of Central Florida in counselor education; however he decided to switch to administration and earned his doctoral degree in Higher Education Administration at LSU. Dr. Csaszar is a licensed professional counselor and counselor supervisor in the state of Louisiana and also holds a certification as nationally certified counselor. His experience includes working in mental health triage, substance abuse counseling, and experiential, adventure based therapy with at-risk youth. His main focus is teaching and education administration although he has a research interest in stress reduction, holistic wellness and meditation: particularly loving kindness meditation.
Jennifer R. Curry, Ph. D., Professor, has taught for 10 years in the counselor education program at Louisiana State University, She has published over 40 peer reviewed articles and four books, 'P-12 Career Counseling' published by Springer, 'African Americans Career and College Readiness: the Journey Unraveled', co-edited with M. Ann Shillingford-Butler, and 'Integrating Play Therapy in Comprehensive School Counseling Programs' co-edited with Laura Fazio-Griffith. Her fourth book was published in spring 2017, 'Career and College Readiness Counseling in P-12 Schools' (2nd ed.). She has presented her work nationally and internationally at over 50 professional conferences. She recently worked with the Colorado Department of Education to develop Mindsets and Behaviors for Career and College Readiness and career conversation starters for school counselors to use with parents, students, and community partners. She is the recipient of the Roger Aubrey Northstar award, the Louisiana Counseling Association’s Advocacy Award, and ASERVIC’s Judith Miranti Lifetime Service Award.

Extended Abstract

In the social sciences, debate about policy, philosophy, and the exchange of philosophical ideas is a standard part of curricula. In traditional classrooms, students are expected to debate ideas and to provide sound ideology, theory, and data to support concepts presented in the context of debate. Most curricula based debate is meant to create synergy of ideas on topics relevant to students’ learning in a particular course or content area. Students’ discussions and debating of ideas is to be established on the foundation of sound research, preparation, and focus on critical elements of data, audience, and strategy. The importance of debate in policy work, legislative activity and advocacy, and public education is critical; therefore, it is a seminal part of social science curricula.

However, recently, public debate forums have become focused on personal attacks, negativity, and the exchange of insults over ideas. This is disconcerting given that future professionals are learning from watching this behavior. In order to mitigate this negative effect, it is critical for instructors to set parameters for discussion and debate that is healthy, focused on research, data and strategy, and that is meant to facilitate professional expression rather than digressing to emotional insults, bullying, or childish name calling. In this session, we will explore how we have set up these types of exchanges in our courses and share how we establish, and enforce, such parameters. Attendees will also have the opportunity to share how they focus on ensuring safety in their own classrooms. This session is meant to promote an exchange of ideas and strategies that can be taken back and implemented in online classes immediately.

Session Outcomes are as follow. Attendees will be able to: (1) describe current socio-political trends in public debate; (2) describe dialectical learning as pedagogy; (3) identify 3 ways in which negative social exchanges disrupt learning; and (4) list 4 strategies for creating safe spaces in discussion forums and reducing the risk of personal attacks.