Hope and grief in the human geography classroom

Publication Name

Journal of Geography in Higher Education


Human geographers engage students in learning about a world characterized by environmental and social disarray. It follows that our students are exposed to deeply confronting topics: climate change, global inequality, food insecurity, and racism, to name a few. Prompted by scholarly debate on the effects of painful emotions elicited by public climate change communication, we asked human geography students at the University of Wollongong about their experiences of our teaching. Via focus group discussions, we invited them to consider which emotions “belong” in our classrooms and how difficult emotions might be managed to minimize harm. The students explained that they expected to feel distress as part-and-parcel of their chosen area of study and found being confronted a productive experience. With regard to pedagogical practice, they considered the responsibility for managing difficult course-related emotions to be distributed, and identified a range of strategies to prevent painful emotions from corroding their wellbeing. Some of these strategies, particularly making room for difficult emotions–by acknowledging, holding onto, and working through them in our classrooms–will be challenging as more universities turn to online teaching.

Open Access Status

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Link to publisher version (DOI)