Navigating Disruptive Speech in the Classroom

Quick Summary

  • DEI launches "Dialogues Across Difference" initiative
  • Questionnaire asks faculty to share their experiences
  • ‘Powerful project’ for improved climate and retention

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is asking faculty and other instructors to share their experiences with disruptive speech in the classroom, lab or in the field — with the information to be used for a project funded by a grant from the UC Office of the President’s Advancing Faculty Diversity, or AFD, initiative.

UC Davis, which has received four AFD grants since 2019, all for improved climate and retention, is using this one for a program titled “Dialogues Across Difference: Solutions to Disruptive Speech in the Learning Environment,” which advances faculty retention by addressing the negative impact of disruptive speech in learning environments.

Explaining the project

Video above features the principal investigators: Lorena Oropeza (pictured) and Raquel Aldana. Oropeza, former associate vice chancellor for academic diversity, is continuing with this project even after departing UC Davis last year for Berkeley, where she is a professor of ethnic studies (after having been part of the Department of History at UC Davis). Aldana is a professor of law and former associate vice chancellor for academic diversity.

Disruption’s impacts

Learning spaces can be disrupted when faculty or students use or experience speech as harassment or attacks on identities or lived experiences. “Dialogues Across Difference” explores how disruptive speech negatively affects our students and faculty from historically marginalized backgrounds and explores faculty-driven solutions to address the problem without infringing upon the free exchange of ideas that is foundational for university learning.

What we hope is so powerful about this project — especially in the current context of controversies surrounding academic freedom and free speech across the country — is its objective to give faculty and students the tools they need to maintain a productive learning environment. We want to keep open lines of communication among faculty, students and administration to address concerns, context and histories, and to allow for authentic action when anyone in a learning environment feels harmed, unsafe or unwelcome.


Our first objective is to gather and document a wide range of stories so that we have a clear, deep and broad view of the nature of disruptive speech and problems that arise from it in the learning environment.

We are collecting this information with a questionnaire for faculty and other instructional staff (for example, teaching assistants). Watch the video above with the principal investigators to learn more about “Dialogues Across Difference,” including how we define “disruptive speech” and the end goal of the project. Please help us by completing the questionnaire.


  • Faculty Retention and Inclusive Excellence Networks-Designing Solutions, or FRIENDS — This initiative brought together 40 or so faculty members, mostly associate professors, to discuss and address some of the most pressing and difficult problems of faculty work life.
  • Dialogues Across Difference — An idea that grew out of FRIENDS.
  • Professors Leveraging a Community of Engagement, PLACE With CAMPSSAH (Center for the Advancement of Multicultural Perspective on Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities) — PLACE, another outgrowth of FRIENDS, promoted the development and retention of faculty by providing resources and programs in three areas: community, leadership and recognition.
  • Faculty of California United in Scholarship, or FOCUS — Providing expert grant proposal and manuscript publication support to help faculty advance their research and careers at UC Davis.

Thomas O’Donnell is a principal analyst in the Office of Academic Diversity, in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

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