I approach inclusive pedagogy as a teaching policy that values human beings equally regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, socio-economical status, or political views. I am certain that education, at any level, must be designed to accommodate human diversity in the classroom. This is particularly true at a university, where the community can be highly enriched at different levels such as: discussion, schools of thought, creativity, problem solving, and thinking strategies.
My experience as a foreign graduate student in the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Department at Virginia Tech has been interesting in this aspect. I am a male student from South America, my ethnicity is mestizo, and have liberal political views. The field of Fish and Wildlife Conservation has been traditionally dominated by white males. However, in the past 15-20 years my field has evolved rapidly, problems have become more and more complex and conservation issues come from different parts of the globe, and in one way or another, they are interconnected. Therefore, the community of professors and students in my department has forgotten about the white male heavy-focus to turn to a diversity of people as an improved approach to educate the future professionals in conservation biology. We have professors, males and females, from: Asia, Africa, South America, and the US. This mix of professors has brought different approaches to education: we learn how to deal with different cultures, different ways to approach a problem, we become more familiarized with issues relevant to global conservation.
Furthermore, there is some diversity in the group of graduate students: about 50/50 split of males and females, some from rural areas, others from cities, and some from other places in the world, like Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. Our department has become more international mixed because of that. In class, we are able to discuss personal experiences about the same conservation issue, but most of the time, the approach differs by cultural background or place where we grew up. Because of this diverse interaction, we now consider other approaches to solve issues that we would have never contemplated before. I have further my understanding of global socio-economical drivers that affect wildlife conservation. I am aware of the needs of some countries to extract natural resources and why other countries need to buy those resources in order to function. I have learned about unique ecological interactions that my professors and classmates use to illustrate wildlife conservation examples. My department and advisor have also allowed me to guide undergraduate students, of different backgrounds, though teaching assistance and helping them developing technical skills. I feel like at the end of my degree I would acquire special skills, other than the “classic” knowledge base of the field, that will allow me to be a successful wildlife conservation professional for the world. And that is how education should be approached.
Picture caption: the author interacting with female and male undergraduate students in a field where white males used to be the majority in the field of wildlife conservation.