Inclusive Pedagogy in Conservation Biology: My experience.

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.

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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.

6 thoughts on “Inclusive Pedagogy in Conservation Biology: My experience.”

  1. Bernardo,

    It seems like you are very lucky. What a great opportunity to experience diverse perspectives in a diverse environment. I truly think that having these types of experiences not only make you more aware, but also improve your creative thinking a lot (since you have to consider so many different points of view when working on something).

    However, unfortunately the reality in engineering is very different. For example, most faculty members in engineering are white males, in some technical engineering majors like electrical or computer engineering you will find a little higher percentage of Asian males. The creates a problem because we always hear that engineers, in order to succeed in industry need to have “soft skills” defined as: creativity, critical thinking, ability to collaborate with others, and global awareness. Interestingly, all these skills are automatically improved by being exposed to diverse populations. Another problem of this situation is regarding role models. Let’s take for example a Hispanic women studying engineering. Who is going to be her role model? The white male that most of the time don’t even acknowledge that she is in the classroom? Is he going to be her mentor as well?

    I think those are key tasks of being a faculty member, so when we become faculty members please consider that you will have different students in your classroom that not only need inclusive pedagogy, but also inclusive role models and mentors.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you for sharing you experiences with diversity in your field. I definitely feel like the more any organization can diversify the more ideas they can get and the better off everyone will be. The evolution of your department will definitely benefit it in the long run. I really like how you tie your research into the importance of diversifying your department. A better understanding of different cultures and socioeconomic situations is definitely needed to solve important problems such as pollution and environmental degradation.

  3. Inclusivity seems to be particularly important in a field like yours. There are different endangered species all over the world, and a conservation biology discussion that is dominated by one set of people will likely ignore a plethora of other organisms. Also, just like in the climate change debates, it is crucial to involve developing or underdeveloped nations where public debates often does not revolve around conservation that might be looked upon as a first-world problem, which is completely wrong.

  4. While your experience is enviable and awesome to say the least, it’s really not the norm. I like Homero’s comments above that we should be aware as future faculty, of systemic problems facing minority/non-traditional students and recognize how diversity improves and enriches our collective learning experiences.

  5. I’ll just add that its gratifying to know that conservation biology has benefited from diversity and recognized that fact — it’s especially important given the challenges facing the world in this area and how interconnected they are. It sounds like this is a case where the unique characteristics of the field facilitated a shift that’s been much harder to negotiate in places like Engineering.

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