Resources for student/family Thanksgiving discussions?
November 15, 2016 7:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm on the faculty at a small liberal arts college, and I'm hoping you can point me toward resources to help students get through this post-election Thanksgiving break.

After helping with a post-election roundtable for students last Wednesday morning, I've been nominated to help facilitate a session later this week to give students some strategies and resources for their first Thanksgiving in Trump's America. Many are feeling anxious - some downright scared - about going home to Trump-supporting families, emboldened racist uncles, gloating grandparents, etc. This is particularly an issue for students from marginalized communities, who feel like our university is the safe, supporting environment that their home no longer is.

Note that for most of the students I've talked to, this isn't about winning arguments, proving that Steve Bannon is a white supremacist, changing their parents' minds, etc - it's simply an issue of needing tools for self-preservation to get through what will likely be an extra stressful family gathering.

(Unfortunately, staying on campus isn't an option. We're on a term system, and when fall term ends next week, the residence halls close until January.)

I think I was nominated for this because students see me as a caring, safe ally who will listen, but the truth is that I have zero expertise on this issue. I'm reaching out to colleagues on the faculty, as well as the university's counseling and health center for backup, but I'm wondering whether anyone here has resources to recommend, either for me to read or to share with students.
posted by brozek to Human Relations (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Here is a funny-but-real guide to post-Trump thanksgiving. Although it suggests actionable steps, even just having these labels to mentally assign to relatives may be helpful.

They may also be able to go elsewhere for at least the Thanksgiving holiday--I've personally invited people to ours who don't want to/can't keep their usual plans over exactly this.
posted by mchorn at 8:16 AM on November 15, 2016

Just to underscore--I get the impression you both want resources for students to have productive or at least less-stressful conversations, and resources for self-care for the students to help them deal with the stress imposed by their environments.

On the first: did you see this recent Ask? I especially enjoyed reading the document linked by the original poster, a report compiled from research on effective language choices/communication methods by Australia's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. It's a short but really good read. There's also the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Speak Up" document, which is longer but has specific sections and suggestions which may be useful.

Hopefully, someone else will be along with particularly good resources for the second.
posted by spelunkingplato at 8:40 AM on November 15, 2016

Some tips I've heard, all in anecdotal conversations, not just election-relevant:

- Helping with doing things (especially stuff that doesn't lend itself to political discussions) can help - tasks that have you in and out of a converation, helping with small children, staying near an older relative who wants to mostly be quiet while everyone else goes and does something else.

- Deploying distracting topics. Encouraging the person with strong opinions about football (or whatever other topic is agreeable) explain them at great length. Having a safe topic to switch to - this will vary by relative and situation, but usually having one or two things to ask about is enough.

(I have been known to make people laugh by pointing out that my safe digression topic with my mother is Richard III, but it's been working for over a decade! We have enough points of difference to make it an interesting topic, but it's not one I take personally.)

- Do they have allies in the family (or can they identify some) where they can all have each other's back? (This might not just be for reasons of politics: it can be a "Can you keep Uncle Joe off my back about Trump, and I'll distract Aunt Jill if she starts going on about how you ought to have kids right now?") Finding an excuse to go off with the other family members who don't want to talk politics can help too, even if it's just for half an hour or an hour. (and even if those people don't agree with you: you just need the agreement to not talk politics.)

- Are there activities they can do that discourage the more active complaining? Cooking where there's asking for advice or how to do something. Puzzles, if people take that seriously. Games which discourage a lot of random conversation. Etc.

I have friends who have complicated-looking knitting projects they don't care about for just this reason - it gives them something to furiously concentrate on, an ability to look up, and say "I've just gotten to a really complicated bit, and need to count, sorry!" blithely, and keep going. (The 'don't care about' is in case you mess up anyway because people keep talking to you. If you have relatives who are skilled lace knitters, adapt appropriately.)

- This is a season where I'm seeing a lot of people considering deploying minor but annoying illnesses so they may plan to go to something, but then retreat with a headache/upset stomach/feeling lousy, sorry when the conversation gets too much.

- Scouting out friendly or neutral places to check out near where they're going to be - this doesn't help for Thanksgiving proper, but can help for surrounding days. (Local library in the town, interesting historical site, random graveyard they wanted to look up while they were in the area: Wikipedia and FindAGrave can help a lot with reasons someone might be curious that fit with "It came up randomly in one of my classes, and since I'm here!") I bet your college librarians would be delighted to help with this kind of thing if they need help.

- For students who are going to be home for a bit, finding volunteer options - if they're home between now and January, I bet there's a bunch of collecting toys for children programs going that could use an extra pair of hands, or soup kitchens / food pantries / etc. (Stuff that doesn't require a lot of training up front). That can get them out of the house, doing something in line with their priorities, and also give them something to talk about maybe.

- As a professor, can you give them a list of "Here are 20 books that it'd be awesome if you read in our field" so that they have a sort of official sounding list of things they should be doing over the holidays they can reference when they need a break from relatives. "Oh, gee, I'd love to stay and talk another three hours about X with you, Aunt Whatever, but I really want to get through some of this reading so I can do a great job next semester!" Ideally at least some titles that are actually useful, but will not provoke major discussions themselves.
posted by modernhypatia at 11:33 AM on November 16, 2016

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