Empathy in action: Developing a sense of belonging with the pedagogy of ‘real talk’


  • Wendy Keyser Fitchburg State University, Massachusetts
  • Wafa Unus Fitchburg State University, Massachusetts
  • Jonathan Harvey Fitchburg State University, Massachusetts
  • Sean C. Goodlett Fitchburg State University, Massachusetts
  • Danette Day Fitchburg State University, Massachusetts
  • Kisha G. Tracy Fitchburg State University, Massachusetts
  • Scott Tyner Fitchburg State University, Massachusetts
  • Eric Budd Fitchburg State University


Typically underrepresented students, Real talks, Alternative lessons


A collaborative group of interdisciplinary faculty-researchers at a regional comprehensive university in the United States implemented two pedagogical practices, real talks and alternative lessons (together called the pedagogy of real talk), and investigated students’ sense of belonging in classrooms using these practices. Real talks are planned interactions wherein faculty share human stories from their lives on a universal theme and invite students to share their own stories on that theme. Alternative lessons are faculty-designed learning experiences that build upon understandings of students’ worldviews and experiences. Survey data from over 30 student classes across two semesters in 2021 were compared with university-wide climate survey data to posit that sense of belonging in these classes was higher than that in the university as a whole. Case study data selected from a repository of faculty descriptions written between 2020 and 2021 further fleshed out examples of specific real talks and alternative lessons. The authors found these practices are particularly significant in their impact on typically underrepresented students, who often contend with feelings of exclusion in their pursuit of higher education.


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How to Cite

Empathy in action: Developing a sense of belonging with the pedagogy of ‘real talk’. (2022). Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 19(4). https://open-publishing.org/journals/index.php/jutlp/article/view/592