Preparing for Diversity

Today, many colleges pride themselves on diversity and on having a student body that represents a variety of backgrounds and experiences. However, an important aspect of ensuring success for a diverse student body is to have both a diverse academic system (administration, faculty, etc.) and one that is trained in how to identify their biases and support students from a diverse background.

Several studies have shown that the presence of teachers similar to students can influence students academic trajectory. For instance, the presence of a black teacher can have positive influences in black students’ lives by improving graduation rates and the number of black students identified for “gifted” programs. For female students, the presence of female STEM instructors in high schools can increase their likelihood of entering into STEM fields themselves.

These studies are just examples of how both faculty and students internalize societal norms and expectations, and how the presence of people in students’ lives that break those biases is important for their success in breaking negative expectations. Though we may not all be able to provide faculty diversity through our presence, we can support a diverse student body by acknowledging diversity  by understanding our biases and trying to adjust our actions, and we can bring diverse content to courses.

It is important for all humans, but especially those in positions of power (educators, supervisors), to be aware of their implicate biases. We can do that by being introspective. I believe that it is helpful to discuss our potential biases with others- ideally a diverse group. We are often unaware of the levels of our bias or how our actions and words are perceived as negative by others.. We may know “x people are biased against y groups,” but we may not be aware that we ourselves are included in that x group.

It is unlikely, without aid, that we would be able to determine how our small biases affect students. Ideally, instructors (of all kinds) would be given information about unintentional biases in academia.

Take the time to ask yourself some questions before entering the classroom: What kind of diversity am I likely to encounter in my courses? What kinds of preconceptions could a person possibly have about those diverse groups, and am I particularly vulnerable to any of those preconceptions?

Also, we may be aware that we may be biased against/towards certain groups up students, but we may not be aware of how these biases are demonstrated. Do they impact who we call on in class? How we grade? Types of readings or assignments?

We should think about how we decide on our course content. What biases may the creators of the content have had? Should we select other content? Can we incorporate different perspectives into our course content? Can we try to represent the backgrounds of our students with course content, discussions, or simply by acknowledging biases?

 

 

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13 thoughts on “Preparing for Diversity

  1. Hi,

    The train of questions in your last two paragraphs got me thinking about many things. I can think of subjects that can be offensive but still so vital to the course that would necessitate the terrifyingly difficult task of presenting them in class together with directly confronting its biases. Then there are reading materials that are obviously stale and produced with a monolithic group of readers in mind, those are easier to replace. I have working students on my mind that have to suffer through long hours of classes. And students with disabilities that have to work with sophisticated technology just to be able to read a pdf file. It looks to me that I am striving to reshape my mental image of a student to include all these other identities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think that some courses will have to include “obvious” offensive content. However, I was thinking in terms of more subtle subjects where some ‘standard’ course content may be biased: teaching history of American colonization (pro-American biases, overlooking non-white male experiences); teaching evolution, climate change, or other sciences (needing to provide false equivalence for anti-science views); or literature (focused on works considered ‘classics).
      But you make a good point about how some identities may not be obvious to us. And unfortunately, those are identities that most of are unlikely to aware of – and that instructors may be entirely unprepared for.

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  2. I think you make really valuable points about the way diversity is approached in higher education today, and while you didn’t use this terminology, I think it has a lot to say about the difference between diversity and inclusion. I think the diversity aspect is important, like you described having a student body representative of different backgrounds, but I doubt many of us are going into admissions or working with student recruitment, so that can be hard for us to work toward.

    I feel like we work on the side of inclusion. We can’t determine the demographic makeup of our classes, but we can be prepared to support diverse students in the ways you mentioned. I think that’s vitally important since pushes for diversity through recruitment and admissions initiatives are in vain if we can’t support a diverse student body once they actually arrive at the institution.

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    1. Inclusion is the perfect word. Yes- I think I’d argue that we (as people and instructors) should always work towards inclusion. And the institutions that promote diversity should help teach instructors (and students) how to be inclusive.

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  3. You raise an interesting point. It seems like a million dollar question. People see things differently, so even you think you are not biased, but others would think you are biased. How to prepare that is very difficult….

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  4. I, too was struck by the train of questions at the end of your post. It reminded me of some other questions from our reading, like “if two people raise their hand to answer a question, and one is female while the other is male, which one would you select?” I was flummoxed. On then hand, my knee-jerk reaction to the question is to select the female, because I believe it might be one small step toward supporting the other females in the classroom, who are statistically less likely to get a word in edgewise (I forget where I read the study, but males reported that females “dominated the conversation” when they spoke for less than half of the time while men had to speak for most if not all of it to elicit the same response from females), so there’s that, but I also know that my good intentions can go too far and alienate the males in the classroom, so then I began overthinking the question and second, third, and fourth-guessing myself, which is something I cannot afford to do in a classroom. There’s a lot to unpack before I stand up in front of my students, and that’s one of the *less* fraught questions. I can only imagine how much unpacking there is to do for things that are closer to home or hit any personal pressure points.

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    1. I have also read that study… I think this is where we have to be aware of what the science says and how to counter it without overcorrecting.
      In my ideal world, we would also educate students on the research so that they could try to correct their own actions. (Maybe males would interrupt less, or females would try to overcome and speak in class.)

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  5. Hi, thank you so much for your post, I enjoyed reading it. In my program, we talk alot about how we want to be more inclusive and have diverstiy, but how are we doing that and making it sustainable? As you shared, studies have shown that it is important to have staff/faculty that also look like the student body we are teaching. I especially resonated with the comment about female STEM teachers. While I am not in the STEM field, this brings me back to an experience I had in highschool, no one every once talked to me about entering a STEM field. I always assumed that was “more for boys”. The first female and only engineer I ever met until I came to tech my was my friends mother– I didn’t realize she was an engineer to years into my friendship with her daughter. I never once had someone ask me if I wanted to go into the stem field or explain to me really what an engineer was. I think it is so important that we are getting staff/faculty that is representational of the students we want to attract as well as us a stronger society and university to have people who are different from eachother.

    I think your post asks really great questions that made me reflect on the bias or implicit bias one can bring into the classroom and highlights our need to be cognizant of that. I know that I truly do want to makesure that when preparing to teach a class I am including readings, language, examples, that have the ability to reach alot of the students.

    Thank you so much for your post.

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  6. I completely agree with you that it can be incredibly difficult to detect implicit biases within ourselves. Even once we are aware that we have biases (maybe by taking an implicit bias test), it can be difficult to identify when those biases are playing out. In some ways, I think being willing to be transparent and discussing your teaching and grading methods with a diverse group of teachers may be helpful. That group may be able to make suggestions about how biases may be impacting your students through your teaching methods from their perspective. However, in some ways that isn’t practical. For example, how could we do that for who you call on during class? In that case I’m really not sure, but it definitely will take a commitment to identifying and dissolving those biases over time. It will be a learning process for sure.

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