Guidelines for post-election dialogue

The Center for Civic Engagement recognizes that politics in general can spark deep feelings and emotions, and that it is important for students, faculty and staff to have space to process them in a safe and supportive way. These conversations may include opportunities for students to process within their own identity or political groups, as well as through broader dialogue across differences. We also acknowledge that political issues affect us in different ways based on our identities, our feelings about the outcome of an election and our involvement in political issues, and that some people may not want to engage in these conversations immediately following an election. 

Regardless of the outcome of an election and individual political views related to this outcome, the collective experience of the election season means that some students will look for spaces to process and move forward together. Election seasons often extend beyond election night, as officials take the time needed to process results of contests at every level. This can lead to heightened anxiety and uncertainty. We also recognize that voting in an election is not the end of our collective political experience, and that students and others will look for opportunities to continue their civic engagement in a variety of ways. 

Recognizing that these conversations may be difficult, we recommend that opportunities for dialogue occur in smaller group settings in which students feel a sense of connection and belonging to safely share their experiences and feelings. These spaces may include courses, living communities, campus offices and student organizations. Faculty, staff and students know these communities best and can structure conversations in ways that make sense. This resource is intended to provide general guidelines for facilitating dialogue on difficult issues. 

Conversation ground rules: 

Before beginning a dialogue, it is helpful to establish ground rules that the group collectively agrees to follow. Some suggestions for ground rules include:

  • Be aware of how much space you take up in the conversation and especially how that intersects with your privileged identities; share the air time with others.
  • Listen for understanding, not to “win.”
  • What is said in the room stays in the room; no recording allowed. 
  • Do not expect that we will all agree.
  • Critique ideas, but avoid personal attacks; dehumanizing others and making personal attacks will not be tolerated. 
  • Challenge yourself to learn something new and ask questions when something is unclear.
  • Look for common ground when possible.
  • Create a space for students to speak honestly and openly, but also a space for students to acknowledge when someone’s words are hurtful. 
  • Take ownership of the impact of your words, regardless of intention. 
  • Allow space for group members who need to leave the conversation or not participate; don’t make assumptions or judgments based on an individual’s level of outward participation.

Discussion formats:

  • Consider starting the conversation with a common reading, short video or audio clips, images or other content that will provide some common ground for discussion. 
  • If the conversation is taking place in a class, consider how the topic relates to your course content or the discipline more broadly. 
  • If the dialogue is taking place virtually, consider taking advantage of digital tools such as anonymous polling, word clouds and use of the chat function. These tools will allow flexibility for students to participate in ways that are comfortable to them. 
  • Depending on the size and dynamics of your group, it may be helpful to break students into smaller groups where they are more comfortable sharing. However, be mindful of how you will monitor the conversations, especially in virtual settings. 
  • Take time in advance to reflect on your role as a facilitator and the extent to which you want to share your personal views or try to maintain “neutrality.” If you do choose to share your own views, be aware of your own power in the space and whether students are comfortable disagreeing with or challenging your views. Even if you take a stance on political issues, you should still remain nonpartisan and not tell students which candidates or parties to vote for. If you prefer to stay “neutral” consider whether this will make the conversation feel inauthentic or impact students’ desire to participate.  

Sample discussion questions:

  • What was your experience as a voter? What motivated you to vote and did you find the process difficult or easy?
  • Reflecting on your own identities, privileges and biases, what life experiences have shaped your attitudes toward politics and civic participation?
  • Why don’t some people participate in elections? What barriers might they face?
  • If you are pleased with the election results, can you imagine why others are not?
  • If you are disappointed in the election results, can you imagine why others are not?
  • What voices or perspectives are missing from the room?
  • Reflecting on the issues that matter most to you, what are some ways you can take action outside of voting in the presidential election?
  • What are strategies to stay engaged beyond the election?
  • If you were disappointed in your candidate choices, how can we create a system that better represents the views of the people?
  • Where do you get your news and information? How do you think this impacts your views? How can we identify mis and disinformation? 
  • How can we care for ourselves and avoid fatigue or burnout?
  • What would our best democracy look like? What should we do to realize this goal?
  • How does voting and politics affect the issues discussed in this course? 

Additional resources: