All posts by Debra Metelits

Sharpening Divisions, Pronounced Tribalism

In 2014, in an editorial in the New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote about the unfortunate financial situation college students often find themselves in, but went on to describe other aspects of college:  “While these [financial] goals are important…there’s another dimension to college, and it’s one in which students aren’t being served, or serving themselves, especially well. I’m referring to the potential — and need–for college to confront and change political and social aspects of American life that are as troubling as the economy.  We live in a country of sharpening divisions, pronounced tribalism, corrosive polarization. And I wish we would nudge kids — no, I wish we would push them– to use college as an exception and a retort to that, as a pre-emptive strike against it, as a staging ground for behaving and living in a different, broader, healthier way.”

Do you agree with Bruni? I do. And I think our students are at a special disadvantage here, since so many are struggling really hard with financial issues and multiple jobs, live with their families, stay in high school groups, don’t mix in a dorm, and are not exposed intimately to people different than them. I encourage students to go ethnic events on campus and offer extra credit for it, but some are disinterested and many simply do not have the time.
Recently, the students interviewed each other for an introductory essay of the other person. In brainstorming questions to ask each other, one student asked tentatively, ” Can we ask them how they feel about politics?”  I agreed this is an important issue in our country today, and answered that they did not have to ask this question or answer this question, but that it was an appropriate question to ask if asked respectfully, such as “How do you feel about the state of America today? What do you think would make things better?”  We discussed importance of being agreeable even if we disagree.
Do you have strategies you use to help students reduce the “sharpening divisions and pronounced tribalism” of our society?


Greetings! Not as in “Greetings, Earthlings!”, but as in “Good Morning, Students!”  I am teaching a late-start ENG101 class, so it is the beginning of the semester for me. I know we were all taught to stand in the doorway of the classroom, greeting each student, and shaking their hands as the semester begins. I do that the first day.  I also try to individually welcome them every day, though often I am welcoming them as a group. I always write on the board, before any information, “Welcome Back!” What prompted me to write this post, though, was that I recently read that it is a spiritual act to initiate greetings and smile at as many people as you can, every day. The initiation, rather the passive reaction, is considered very important, as it is a signal to the other that you see him/her as a unique person deserving respect and honor. Since I read this, I am increasing my initiation of greetings on campus, smiling at people I don’t know instead of shyly narrowing my focus to where I am going, and the response has been so positive. As I believe most of us do, I try hard to pronounce the student’s name correctly, not settling for “however you want to say it”, but working hard to say it correctly. (I do this not only to show respect, but also to re-enforce the importance of words. )Even if the student smiles at my bumbling attempts, it seems to be appreciated. Though most students respond positively to a hello and their names, I always have a few students who look right past me and do not respond; as a result, I sometimes stop addressing them in this way. However, today I was determined to keep up the practice, even if ignored! And the student who had been ignoring me actually gave me eye contact and a slight smile! So hello to you, my fellow posters! Please send me any other tips you have for starting to build community and trust at the beginning of the semester.