Why Fit in If We Were Born to Stand Out?*

Diversity is everywhere, no matter where you go. That’s the amazing thing of this world! Don’t you think? I had not had the opportunity to be around a lot of people from different countries, cultures, ethnicities, languages, abilities, backgrounds, beliefs, religious, etc., “on a daily basis” until I came to Virginia Tech. This was a completely new experience for me!

As Katherine Phillips discusses in her article, it is really powerful when people with such diversity work together. It is not only the background what makes a big difference, there are the experiences and philosophies what bring to the table different perspectives and information.

I love being different and I do not want to appear something that I am not just to fit in a place or a culture. However, sometimes I feel that everyone is looking at me just because I do not look like a typical American student. Sometimes, even I do not feel comfortable speaking because I know that my English is not good enough. This, sometimes, may affect students’ performance. There are several questions that come to my mind. Do the professors really care about diversity in the classroom?

I am taking a course this semester in which the professor, at the beginning of the class, posts trivial questions to engage students. We use i-clicker to answer those questions. From my point of view, this does not engage students at all or at least it does not work for me. I do not know any of those answers because all of these are related to movies/series of the United States. There are more than 150 students in that class and I would dare to say that there is a lot of diversity in that classroom. Could not he be more inclusive?

So, my questions for you are:

Are you promoting an inclusive environment in the classroom? If not, how can you do it? And, are you taking advantage of all the benefits that diversity groups may have on students’ creativity, work, and interpersonal interaction?

It is time for an inclusive teaching and learning!


*Quote taken from Dr. Seuss

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8 Responses to Why Fit in If We Were Born to Stand Out?*

  1. Vanessa Guerra says:

    Thank you for raising such insightful questions. I agree, the debate should not focus on acknowledging diversity only, but it should mainly focus on how are we benefiting from that diversity. Recognizing that diversity in the classroom is an advantage in higher education is the first step on promoting it.

  2. Nicole Arnold says:

    Diana – To address some of your questions and concerns, I do believe that the majority of professors care about diversity, however I think there is often a lack of education (especially for older generations) in how to create an inclusive classroom. Surely the statement above is more of an assumption based upon my personal experiences. Some of the things that professors do that can be deemed as exclusive, and sometimes inappropriate, can come from a place of ignorance. Now does this mean they get a free pass? No. If you didn’t know texting and driving was illegal and you were caught doing it, would that make it right? No. I do think that finding a way to steer individuals of authority (as well as those that are not) in the right direction in a sophisticated manner is important – or else they will continue to take the same action. May I suggest using the professor evaluations at the end of the year to describe how this activity made you feel? I think it is also helpful to provide the professor with suggestions (like Bethany’s comment).

    • kgculbertson says:

      wouldn’t it be great if students could provide informal feedback to instructors/professors on practices, such as the one Dianna described (irrelevant trivia polls) prior to the end of the semester? It seems to me that would go a very long way to fostering a community of inclusion and acceptance while engaged in the class. There isn’t much that can be done to improve the present relationship(s) if the only way to address the issues is after the fact.
      It’s not like there aren’t ways to easily do this – especially at a large R-1 institution with a robust tech. communication infrastructure.

  3. Armani says:

    Thank you for your post. I don’t think many professors know how to take advantage of diversity in the classroom. I feel lucky to have experience on being an international student. In this way I can understand the needs of international students in learning. For example, it’s not easy for me to take notes, pay attention the lectures, and understand the content all in English at the same time. So, I would appreciate those professors who can post their lectures and notes online after the class so that I can focus on one thing in class! I also think in some courses discussion can stimulate local American students’ curiosity for other cultures.

  4. Zach Gould says:

    The title here gets at the difference between individualism and individuality. Individualism which stresses that the needs and value of the individual is paramount (ultimately every man or woman for his or herself) prevents us from seeing the value in diversity and bringing groups of people from different backgrounds together. Individuality, on the other hand, is something that distinguishes one person from the next, especially when it is strongly marked, and has synonyms like uniqueness, originality, and distinction. This idea of individuality must be embraced. There is a pride in individuality that suggests diversity can be embraced and shared and used to make us all better. Individualism (like many other isms) seems to be bred from fear and survival and competition- things we should all do our best to keep out of the classroom.

  5. Amy Hermundstad says:

    Thank you for your post! I think you pose a lot of great questions! And I think Bethany provided some good ideas for ways to make some of those activities more inclusive. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the questions that you asked at the end. Are there ways that you could make your classroom environment more inclusive for the students who are in that class?

  6. I agree that using trivia as an ice breaker activity in a class might not actually be a good way to “break the ice”. I am an American student and I am terrible at trivia because I don’t stay up to date on TV and movies and sports teams. But I think that you can make this type of activity more inclusive. An ice breaker question I had to answer several months ago was “what was your favorite Nickelodeon (this is a children’s TV network in the US) cartoon when you were a kid?”. My mom didn’t like the channel so I had only seen one show out of the thousands we can up with from memory; so an even more inclusive question would be “What was your favorite show or movie to watch as a kid?” Even if you were the kid who didn’t watch very much TV (I was that kid sometimes), there is still a chance to share what you go to watch instead (lots of black and white movies).

    One thing I have tried to do in my teaching, not necessarily for diversity but to try and spark a creative thought or two, is to ask open-ended questions I don’t know the answer to and that do not have right or wrong answers. When I asked these questions I got more participation from students who are normally quiet in class. I have also tried to start including examples that relate to my field (soil fertility) from other related fields that students come to my class from, to help them connect what they are learning to what they know. As a discipline and within my own class, there is still so much work to be done toward more diversity and inclusion.

    • kgculbertson says:

      Excellent idea, Bethany! And that’s fantastic that the introverts in your class responded to the open-ended questions. I’m going to have to keep that in mind as I work with teachers on developing effective communication techniques.

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