5 Tips for Communicating Respectfully on Campus

Posted by Katie Brown on 3 November 2016 |

5 tips for communicating respectfully on campusYou want to foster an inclusive, non-discriminatory campus environment. But, every day you see yet another campus rocked with a hostile demonstration or protest.

How can you help avoid controversy and ensure people on your campus are communicating with respect? Let’s find out.

Recent Controversies on Campus

Typically, campus controversies are fueled by sensitive topics, such as religion, race, gender or sex.

For example, the New York Times recently reported on how statues or symbols of historical figures on campus have led to petitions and protests. Additionally, Inside Higher Ed reported on a Latina student who asserted that her professor acused her of plagerism because a word she used “is not her language.”

Other recent examples included gender inclusiveness and accessibility to restrooms, sexual assault and rape allegations by students, and LGBT-related discussions.

And as diversity among students and faculty on campus increases, it’s likely that race- and culture-related debates aren’t going away any time soon.

What Causes Campus Controversies?

When it comes to the root cause of disagreements on campus, many issues stem from differing viewpoints or beliefs, which more often than not, leads to miscommunication.

According the New York Times’ article,  “Activists argue that the symbols should be removed as offensive reminders of hatred and violence. Many school officials acknowledge the historical complexities, but they argue that a better approach would be to teach students about the morally questionable acts of the past. Still others defend the symbols as harmless traditions.”

When faced with controversial topics, you will usually encounter strong feelings on each side. But the tipping point for when the disscusssions turn from healthy to hurtful generally happens when people use offensive language such as:

  • Stereotypes about a particular religion
  • Racial slang or terminology
  • Incorrect pronouns when referring to members of the LGBT community

How to Implement Respectful Communication Strategies

Regardless of the context discussion and your individual involvement in the issue, it’s important to understand and implement best practices for respectful communication.

To help you get started, here are five strategies you can use right now.

1. Educate your community

As issues arise in the classroom or on campus, use them as educational opportunities. For example, you can use diversity training to teach others about the history surrounding the topic, why it is offensive today and ways to ensure others don’t repeat these actions. Because for many, this might be the first time they have been around people who are very different than them.

2. Exercise compassion and understanding

If gender stereotyping or racial slurs aren’t applicable to you, it’s still important to recognize their impact on others in the campus community. Take the time to listen and understand the reasons why this behavior is offensive and how it impacts others.

3. Don’t jump to conclusions

When discussing sensitive topics, the conversation should always remain respectful and informative—especially when each side has an opposing viewpoint. Treat the person the same way you want to be treated. And never attack or undermine a fellow student, staff member or faculty member.

4. Know the vocabulary

To avoid hurtful or harmful speech and to ensure you don’t cause an issue unintentionally, it’s important to use the person’s prefered terminology. Learn which pronouns to use when referencing the LGBTQIA community, and how to ensure cultural competency when discussing race-related topics.

5. Keep yourself informed

Not only should you know what issues are happening on your campus, but you should actively research what’s happening on other campuses. Learn how other higher-education institutions are implementing respectful language and communication strategies.


In order to foster more inclusive and diverse campus communities, we must all communicate with one another respectfully, regardless of personal religious beliefs, race and cultural backgrounds, genders or other factors.

If you want to learn more about how Campus Answers can help teach your campus community about communicating respectfully, fill out the form on the right to get in touch.

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