Discussion Ground Rules

Following related conversations in other discussion groups about the kind of intellectual culture we want to have and the practices that will help us get there, we have adopted the following guidelines for Clippers. We’ll check in roughly once a semester to see how these are working for us and if we’d like to make any changes.

  • Faculty hold back: The first 5-10 minutes of a discussion or Q&A period are for students. Even after that first time, faculty should pay attention to the balance of faculty-to-student air time and back off if faculty are dominating.
  • Watch your own airtime: Even if you’re not faculty, pay attention to how much space you’re talking up. If you know you’re a talker, set conscious limits for yourself. Consider setting practical rules for yourself, like waiting until three others have spoken before you take the floor again.
  • Embrace the silence: It’s ok if we’re all quiet for a bit. Letting silences sit allows us all time to think and creates space in the conversation for people who have a longer turn-taking pause pattern than others.
  • Turn off your inner critic: There’s no minimum brilliance requirement to speak in this group. It’s ok to share that something resonated with you, or to ask a question that feels obvious.
  • Take it outside: If the conversation has devolved into two people hashing something out, consider whether it’s a useful activity for the whole group. It might be better to shelve the point for now and return to it later offline with just the folks who are interested.
  • Raise your hand: Even if others are just speaking up, you can always use the Zoom raise hand feature to signal you’d like to talk. When we’re back in person, we’ll make sure there’s still a way to do this.
  • Volunteer for a cold call: If you’d like to speak up more and have trouble breaking into the flow, let the organizer know!
  • Watch your volume: Some of us can get loud when we’re really engaged in a conversation. That can be a lot for other group members who are not used to it, especially on Zoom where people are using headphones. Try to remember to keep an even volume.
  • Name names: Use last names or full names when referring to scholars outside the department, so everyone knows who you mean. Similarly, spell out conferences or other acronyms. References others can’t follow can be confusing and may make people feel excluded or ignorant.
  • Keep your cool: Pay attention to your emotions. If you’re getting defensive or upset, it’s ok to take a minute or step out of the conversation. It’s also ok to go meta and name the reaction you’re having and what’s not feeling right about the conversation.
  • Don’t be racist: The linguistics department has committed to fighting racism. We’re also not big fans of sexism, homophobia, classism or other oppressive structures. Learn what you can about them and pay attention to how they are playing out in our group dynamics. Try to call attention to them and counter them when you see them. Remember that we’re not always great at noticing power structures that we’re on the power-up side of.
  • Try not to hurt people: If the topic of discussion includes potentially harmful content like discussions of slurs or other oppressive structures, violent events or other common triggers, balance the needs for clear discourse with potential for harm. Avoid unnecessary harmful content (e.g. in example sentences about some other point) and use mitigating strategies like circumlocutions where possible.
  • Give a heads up: If the strategies above aren’t possible, give a warning about what’s coming, so people can duck out if they need to, for example “In this recording, the person is talking about their thought patterns from when they had an eating disorder”. Remember not to suggest that people with triggers that you lack are weaker or less smart than you. They’re not.
  • Note problematic authors: If a cited author is known to have been credibly accused of problematic behavior, and that author is central to the discussion, the existence of the accusations should be noted so as to avoid any implication (by omission) that the problematic behavior is considered acceptable. For example, if it is well known that a certain author has been credibly accused of sexual harassment, and that fact is not noted at the outset, participants in the discussion could come away with the impression that others thought the problematic behavior was ok (or at least not a big deal). Here though it is important to refer to the accusations factually, e.g. noting whether the accusations are alleged versus proven in court.
  • Speak up: If someone says or does something hurtful or upsetting, it’s ok to speak up in the moment. If you’d rather not do that, you can reach out to that person after the fact, or talk to the organizer.
  • Take accountability: If someone suggests that you’ve caused some harm in the group, try to listen with an open mind and hold your defensive reactions. Apologize and make amends if needed.