Diversity Courses

This week the Diversity in a Global Perspective course I am in at Virginia Tech and the Connected Course have complimented each other quite nicely. One thing on Tuesday in Diversity that we were discussing was how to bring diversity discussions and ideas to undergraduate students. This came up in part due to UCLA College of Letters and Science’s decision on Monday to require a diversity course for undergraduates. You can read more about this decision here. One aspect of this is to challenge students to be exposed to ideas, beliefs, and backgrounds that are different from their own.

One challenge we were discussing with a requirement like this is how to get students engaged in the material if they are required to take it. If students do not want to be challenged to think outside of their world view. We are seeing this challenge currently in the Graduate School with the Ethics requirement. Even with graduate students who have to take an ethics component in different ways, including a one-time seminar, we can see the tuning out and lack of interest. People are not willing to be challenged on ethical behavior for themselves or their future students. So, how do we have undergraduate students take a diversity course seriously and see the benefits of it? Sometimes when we teach courses like this and students opt in to them, it turns into a case of constantly preaching to the choir about the importance. In many ways that is the way it is in my graduate level Diversity course.

A peer who is also in both my Diversity course and the Connected Course suggested that we incorporate diversity into every course. This yet again can be challenging depending on the discipline. For example, how can an instructor in engineering introduce diversity into the classroom? Also, are there ways to do it without hitting students over the head with the information, where it feels to them like we are preaching? That might be part of where we are losing them. I typically teach Child and Adolescent Development and Human Sexuality and these courses allow for a lot of diversity to be incorporated in the discourse without students feeling like that is the entire purpose. Yet, there are still a few who resist the discourse of experiences different than their own.

As I was still processing the discussion on Tuesday from the Diversity course, I was watching the webinar from the Connected Course, Making Teaching with Technology Fair and Open. Around the 34 minute mark, my ears perked up because Dr. Nakamura mentioned including diversity into courses. Part of her argument was that we should not design courses where diversity is only covered one day because students will see it as B.S. and will not take the instructor seriously as being important. I thought that was an important point and stemmed well with my peer’s comment from the Diversity course. Maybe we do need to find more and more ways, no matter what our discipline is, to incorporate diverse views and experiences in engaging ways.

One Response to Diversity Courses

  • Mimi Ito says:

    Thanks for sharing these reflections. I was also struck by Lisa’s comment that diversity needs to be part of every course, not just a box to check off in one section. I too found myself pondering what that would mean, particularly for courses that don’t take on issues pertinent to diversity as an explicit topic. I found it helpful how later on she was describing how as instructors we need to be immediately responsive when racist or sexist discourse comes up on the class, or if a student gets a harassing comment. I took this to be examples of teachable moments where a teacher can be modeling approaches to diversity regardless of the topic at hand. I left feeling that I need to think much harder about how to weave these issues into my topics and talks around connected learning as part of the organic fabric of the topic rather than a more tokenistic nod.

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