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The faculty and students at my small minority-serving institution think of our environment as being supportive and cooperative. This is very important in CS, since programming is a team sport, and students are expected to seek help from each other (and TAs and me).

I have heard recently from two unconnected students about other students ignoring or being rude to them (such as walking away mid-question). The complainants don't give names, and I have no idea who they're talking about.

Almost all of the students in our program belong to at least one demographic underrepresented in CS and/or in the US. The students who have been mistreated belong to multiple such demographics and think that may be a factor. I have no way of knowing if they're right. Each is the only student of their cohort in their demographic.

What can I do to encourage students to better treat classmates? Some have been at the institution much longer than others. The ones who feel mistreated are newer arrivals. While my top goal would be changing students' behavior, we all know it isn't always possible to get people to change. If I can't get people to change, how can I know who should deserve bad citizenship grades or to not get letters of recommendation? I am not interested in furthering the careers of people who mistreat others.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to [cse.se]. Sorry to learn that you've got such an issue in your class. Seems completely counter to the school's purposes. Unfortunately, while it does involve the a CS classroom, it's not really about CS education per se. I cannot think of any other place in the network where it would fit either. Of course, I'm no expert on every site here either. Glad to have you here on our site, nonetheless. $\endgroup$ – Gypsy Spellweaver Mar 30 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ Is ignoring someone always bad behaviour? And what does the student mean by rude? $\endgroup$ – ctrl-alt-delor Mar 31 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ You could try asking this on Academia SE $\endgroup$ – tatan Apr 1 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ In discussion with the other moderators, we have reopened this question so that it can receive answers again. When there is time, I will open up a meta about it; my view is that this is completely topical, but clearly there is some discussion to be had. If you do choose to post it at Academia anyway (which I would understand), please delete it here since questions are not supposed to be asked simultaneously in more than one SE forum. That said, I hope that the question does well here. I think it's an important one for this forum, and one that needs to be considered in this context. $\endgroup$ – Ben I. Apr 3 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Embarrassedtenuredprofessor When some one won't leave you alone, ignoring them can be the politest thing you can do. You may tell them, but they don't listen, then you ignore them, then you escalate. $\endgroup$ – ctrl-alt-delor Apr 5 at 6:57
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I have a couple thoughts of how I'd handle it:

  1. Address it with the bad actors 1-on-1, but don't assume bad faith. We might not know the whole story and there might have been a good reason to walk away from a situation or it is possible that the bad actor has poor social skills. Give them the benefit of the doubt, but explain why that kind of behavior creates a hostile environment that is not good for education.

  2. Discuss in class what makes for a good working/learning environment. Not necessarily directly mentioning the situation, you can still emphasize a need for students to take agency in being part of a nurturing environment. I haven't had the exact same circumstances, but I have found it helpful by acknowledging that most jobs require interpersonal skills and that I've known even talented developers who have been passed up for good jobs because no one wanted to put up with their attitudes. In that same notion, I tell my software engineering students that I expect them to behave like professionals and like the class is a part-time job. That includes treating others with respect, even if they don't consider each other friends.

If you find it is a continuing problem, you might consider working into your assessment plan some way (even as a small percentage of the overall grade) to evaluate individuals' professionalism in-and-out of the classroom.

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This guy's teaching is the best I've ever found on conflict-reducing communication: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Enriching-Education-Communication-Performance-Relationships/dp/1892005050

In summary, keep observations separate from judgments and communicate on the level of needs. Also, empathize first, before expressing yourself.

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First, as Kevin Buffardi pointed out, don't assume bad faith. Poor social skills may be playing a role, and it's also the case that everyone finds people who just rub them the wrong way from time to time. No one is universally liked. Unless you have a strong reason to believe that there is specific vindictiveness or some sort of "-ism" at the heart of the trouble, you would not be justified in direct penalties (such as poor grades). It is also the case that some people have chips on their shoulder from their own experiences or disadvantages, and this may manifest as inappropriate reactions to others.

Additionally, since the students on the receiving end of this behavior won't name names, there is no ethical way for you to discover who the offenders are.

What is available to you, then, is to speak communally about the importance of being respectful to one another, and affording everyone basic dignity. You can remind students that the world is small, that the community you are in together is tiny, and that everyone should be pulling for the same team. Everyone is there with goals, everyone there is human (with all of the faults and flaws that that entails), and everyone needs the space and safety to try new things, grow, and learn.

You can mention that there have been reports of some bad behavior, and you are trying for the moment not to punish, but to appeal to their deeper senses of self: they are simply capable of being better people than that. That is what you expect from them, and that is what everyone needs in order to learn and feel safe.

Finally, reiterate that you are always available to anyone if they would like to speak privately.

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