Making Inclusion Personal

Seventeen years ago, around this time, I stepped onto a university campus for the first time ever. I can still remember those feelings of anxiety, being overwhelmed and extreme nervousness. As a first generation and low-income college student, I didn’t know what to expect and had zero acquaintances to lean on. Over the next six years, I struggled to pay tuition fees and rent, keep up with homework while working full time, and all the while acquiring a ridiculous amount of debt. Admittedly, I was late to class quite a bit over the course of those six years. Reasons varied from being cut late from my shift, or perhaps I just needed to skip that class because working that day meant making rent. My department professors easily categorized me as a mess up and slacker, and I was treated as such. I think, at the time, I held such resentment towards them for giving me those labels that I didn’t feel it even necessary to “complain” about my situation. I still wonder if things would have been different if I had said something. More often I wonder why no one said anything to me. I think about these missed opportunities, on both the side of the student and teacher, and I very much hope I can fill this gap where moments of connection can happen. The road to inclusive pedagogy, for me, starts with my ability to connect with each student, which is a challenge. Maybe inclusion begins with empathy. And hopefully with empathy comes the ability to create and foster an inclusive environment.

5 thoughts on “Making Inclusion Personal

  1. Hi Cristina,

    Your perspectives bring home the reality of the ‘unseen majority’, which I am part of. As you rightly stated, empathy and connection are the gateways to inclusion in general, and pedagogy in particular. Such empathic connections are not automatic, they are deliberately cultivated. It takes unconditional positive regard and a proactive commitment to social justice ability to step out and reach out to others who are around yet unnoticed.

    Also, your post helped me think deeply about how my economically challenged upbringing constituted unnoticed impairments. What every faculty factored in the exclusion that occurs when students financial situations are not considered when assessing academic engagement and performance. A hungry student who is unsure of the next meal or next rent can be considered for a deadline extension and task reduction without minimizing the integrity of those task expectations. Inclusive pedagogy can mean using language that normalizes economic impairments. For example, not assuming that all graduate students have laptops or can afford certain fee-based software.

    I appreciate your post and have learned more about inclusion from the lens of socioeconomic status and identity.

  2. Hi Cristina,

    I appreciate and relate strongly to your post. I also come from a generally lower income area (Appalachia) and was not afforded the educational background as others I went to undergrad with. As a entering college freshman, I was SO not prepared for what college was and what I had to do in order to stay. Basically, I had my ass absolutely handed to me and had to claw my way out of the deep, dark hole that I was in. I feel like colleges do an excellent job at recruiting a diverse background but do a pretty terrible job at providing the right educational resources at helping those students. Furthermore, I feel like most faculty aren’t ever aware of the “unseen” minority. I agree, I think this class is an excellent pathway towards better empathy between faculty and their students. I feel like there should be better training of faculty in the resources that are available to students who are in a different situation. And training towards recognizing those in need.

  3. I really appreciate you speaking up, even years later. I think your voice is powerful and what you have to say is meaningful. I am glad someone like you plans on going into academia. I agree that empathy certainly is the first step to making people from all walks of life feel welcome in higher education.

  4. Christina,
    Great blog! And I definitely connect with you on your story. I too was a first-generation student who had moved across the country to start my academic carrier. I worked two jobs with the hopes of saving up a decent amount of money to pay off my student loans (didn’t happen). I distinctively remember my first semester as a Freshman. I had failed my first test, a first for me, and I was utterly devastated and didn’t know how to handle it, particularly because it was a mandatory course for my field of study. I remember meeting with the professor to gain advice on what to do, and his comment back to me was “maybe you aren’t cut out to be in this line of work.” In one sentence, my hopes and dreams had been shredded. Fortunately, I refused to let that sentence define me, and thankfully my father wouldn’t let me drop out unless I completed one year (it was part of our verbal contract). If I had let it define me, I wouldn’t have become the person I am or done the things I have. Words matter, and faculty should be conscious of that fact!

  5. That was a sad story to read, the way you managed your studies while working fulltime is inspiring to me. On the other hand, I believe it has turned you into a stronger person. I am sure that by sharing these sort of stories, you can help us to reconsider the way we think about others and try not to be judgmental. Finally, I think if you could let the instructors know about your circumstances, they would have probably understood and helped you. I totally understand the feeling you had for not talking to them about your issues, but they needed some clues or hints to think about you in the correct way.

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