Call-Out vs. Call-In

Sometimes called “cancel culture,” the use of “calling out” instances of harm and oppressive or politically contentious language and behaviour is a widely used strategy in social and political spaces, particularly when a marginalized group is addressing those in positions of power (e.g., politicians, authority figures, etc.)

Call-outs are justified to challenge provocateurs who deliberately hurt others or for powerful people beyond our reach. Effectively criticizing such people is an important tactic for achieving justice. But most public shaming is horizontal and done by those who believe they have greater integrity or more sophisticated analyses. They become the self-appointed guardians of political purity.

Loretta Ross

Call-outs can also emerge in the classroom, directed at fellow students, faculty, staff, and guest speakers. The practice of calling out is usually deployed as an intervention in manifestations of (intentional or unintentional) violent, harmful, or oppressive behaviour. The goal of a call-out is to interrupt harm that is currently occurring or to hold people and institutions accountable for past harm(s). Call-outs may be effective political strategies, but they can also be used against people with little access to power in ways that can shame and undermine transformation, learning, and conflict resolution. As such, there is a risk that call-outs can be used as a tool of lateral violence.

Calling-In

Calling in is sometimes suggested as an alternative to calling out, which involves inviting people into conversation in a supportive manner to encourage accountability and transformation of behaviour. This is usually done in a more private setting, making the task of calling in a technique for helping people change rather than mobilizing public scrutiny, critique, or shame to demand accountability. Instead of seeing either of these strategies as better or worse, it can help to consider ‘calling out’ and ‘calling in’ different strategies for different circumstances.

Because the classroom is an environment where students cannot be expected to come with the same levels of knowledge, experience, or skills in navigating politically charged material, calling out is generally discouraged in the classroom, except in circumstances where overtly violent or continuous harmful language and behaviour persists after attempts are made to encourage modifying this behaviour. When call-outs are directed at a teacher, the cause may be that students can have greater expectations of faculty to model inclusive language and behaviour, and thus call-outs may be directed towards teachers for not meeting student expectations or requests for modifications in class.

Calling in has been proposed as an alternative to calling out: calling in means speaking privately with an individual who has done some wrong in order to address the behaviour without making a spectacle of the address itself. In the context of call-out culture, it is easy to forget that the individual we are calling out is a human being and that different human beings in different social locations will be receptive to different strategies for learning and growing.

Asam Ahmed


Strategies for Managing Call-Outs

Call-Outs Directed at Students:

Deindividualize the call-out
Discourage a back-and-forth debate between students
Share in knowledge-building
Encourage and model self-reflexive practices
Introduce the concept of “calling in”

Call-Outs Directed at Faculty:

Take a breath
Give yourself time
Think about the call-out
Follow up
Be transparent
Respect their boundaries
If the call-out is unrelated to the course materials
If the call-out is related to the course materials

Call-Outs Directed at Students:

Deindividualize the call-out

Unless a specific student has intentionally caused harm, a call-out can be a learning opportunity for all students in the classroom to collaboratively reflect on how oppressive systems take shape in our everyday interactions.

Discourage a back-and-forth debate between students

Intervene in a highly personalized discussion by asking students to course materials. Pause personalized debates and invite relevant parties to discuss this further with you after class.

Share in knowledge-building

If external concepts, ideas, or resources are brought into the discussion, ask students to share referenced ideas and the texts rather than assuming common knowledge is shared in the class. This can help deindividualize the discussion and encourage peer learning.

Encourage and model self-reflexive practices

Encourage and model self-reflexive practices, like apologizing if we make mistakes, recognizing the limits of our own knowledge and experience, helping to understand individual experiences within systemic and structural terms.

Introduce the concept of “calling in”

Introduce the concept of calling in to help continue addressing the problems raised in the call-out in a more supportive environment to help bring about resolution and change.

Call-Outs Directed at Faculty:

Take a breath

Don’t get defensive. Use your response to being called out as an opportunity to model respectful classroom behaviour.

Give yourself time

You have every right to give yourself time to think about what has been said and reflect on what happened in the class. For example, “I hear you, I need some time to reflect on this, I want you to know that I’m going to think about this and will follow up with you a little later.” Ensure you return to this in class after thinking it over.

Think about the call-out

Spend time thinking about the call-out, put yourself in the student’s shoes:

  • Why might they have reacted to you this way?
  • Is there something in your own behaviour in the classroom that students are reacting to that you can adjust?
  • Is the call-out not really about you but something larger (e.g. a feeling of urgency related to a social event or movement)?
  • Is there a way to engage with students to facilitate open communication rather than calling out?

Use this reflection to help shape your response rather than predict the cause of the call-out.

Follow up

Make sure you follow up on being called out. If an apology or accountability is necessary, make sure the relevant parties receive your response as soon as possible, or let them know when they can expect your follow-up.

Be transparent

Offer transparency and explanations for your responses and reflection. How you respond can encourage engagement in class or lead to students checking out because their concerns were not taken seriously. You don’t have to agree with your students, but you should be open to discussing why you might disagree with them and help come up with a pathway for moving forward in class together despite this disagreement.

Respect their boundaries

Sometimes a person who calls you out is not interested in following up with you or does not want to hear your apology. If this is the case, thank them for their intervention and respect the boundary they are setting (i.e. do not pursue or insist someone talks with you further or hears your apology.)

If the call-out is unrelated to course material

If the call-out is unrelated to the course material or how you’re conducting class, ask the student(s) if they would be willing to speak with you more about this after class, so that class can continue.

If the call-out is related to the course materials

If the call-out is related to the course material, invite students to engage with the material of the call-out in relation to the course readings, redirect to the course readings and materials/topics to help frame the call-out in pedagogical terms (e.g. a student finds a text racist, which may be an opportunity to analyze how racism can function through subtle forms in language, get the class to dissect the text).

If “calling out” is a norm in your department, develop strategies for encouraging call-outs to be redirected into accountability, analysis, critique, and dialogue through class activities, readings, and exercises.

Abuse of “call-outs”

If you suspect that call-outs are being abused in your classroom as a way to bully, intimidate, or harass another student or yourself, seek support from your colleagues, chair, administration, etc. However, just because a person may feel intimidated by a call-out does not mean that they are being harmed. Reflecting on the power dynamics at play in the call-out can help identify whether this is harassing behaviour or holding people responsible and accountable.

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Better Practices in the Classroom by Natalie Kouri-Towe and Myloe Martel-Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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