Last week, I did not raise my hand when asked if I felt like I could teach a diversity and inclusion course. This was not because I believe myself incapable of teaching a course like this. It has more to do with the fact that I wondered whether people would take me seriously in teaching a diversity class, as I am a white woman. I wondered whether my outward appearance of not being a minority would make people wonder about my qualifications to teach about diversity and inclusion. I am not exactly sure why I felt this way, as both Christian and Dean DePauw are more than qualified to teach this course (and do an excellent job!) – and they are both white.
Regardless, I felt that way. I asked the class how they felt about this. Would they take an African American Studies class seriously if it was taught by a white person? What about a Women’s Studies course taught by a man? Or a Native American Studies course taught by someone with no Native American background? My initial thought was that it would be harder to take the professor seriously. After all, if you are not a member of a given minority group, it is not truly possible to know exactly what it feels like to be a member of that minority group (not that that is anyone’s fault). At first, it seemed to me that students would take the attitude of “why should I listen to you, when you don’t even represent what you are teaching?”
However, it was really interesting to hear about another side of the story. The other view was that if a man teaches a Women Studies course (for example), it brings more credibility to the topics discussed in class. For if a man (in this example) is teaching about the history, issues, etc, women have and do face, it is more likely to be seen as true. If a woman teaches it, perhaps male students (in particular) would feel it was just the teacher expressing opinions and pushing these opinions upon her students.
I could see how this could happen. But I can also see the side that I thought at first. Personally, I believe that this is largely a very individual topic. Some students may feel one way and others another. Regardless of which stance someone takes, I believe that teachers in general typically need to “prove” themselves to their students in order to be truly successful at teaching. “Proving” oneself as a teacher could include demonstrating extraordinary knowledge on the topic, being able to handle difficult situations within the classroom, being able to relate to the students and the questions they have, etc. The figure below gives a good description of how teachers come across as being credible to their students.
What are others’ thoughts? Which side would you be on in this case? Or would it completely depend on the specific teacher and specific class? What can teachers do to overcome feelings of incredibility in the classroom?