This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Experiencing a Safe Classroom: A Critical Phenomenological Study of Graduate Teaching Assistants in Counselor Education who Teach Diversity and Social Justice Courses




Guffin, Jennifer

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Special Education, Rehabilitation, Counseling


The classroom is a gathering of individuals with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. When course content focuses on diversity and social justice content, discussions can invite dialogue with the potential to damage perceptions of psychological safety in the classroom. As Counselor Education programs continue to emphasize diversity, equity, and inclusion educators must navigate critical dialogue and ensure classroom safety. This research sought to understand the experiences of GTAs (graduate teaching assistants) in Counselor Education who created safe classroom environments while teaching content focused on diversity and social justice. Using a critical phenomenological framework of qualitative inquiry, the research found that GTAs felt confident to create safe classrooms when they received sufficient training and support for teaching diversity and social justice content. When GTAs felt confident to create safe classrooms they acted as involved instructors that practiced self-awareness, maintained boundaries around classroom discussions, and navigated nuanced moments of conflict. GTAs reported using self-disclosure of personal experiences as a tool for creating feelings of classroom safety and using classroom discussions as a measurement for cohesion and learning. Special attention should be paid to support GTAs who hold marginalized identities and who may experience microaggressions while teaching. Findings from this research may be used to inform how doctoral students and GTAs in Counselor Education are trained to educate counselors-in-training on diversity and social justice content.