Thoughts on Diversity

Diversity seems to be a very very very  SERIOUS issue in US. As an international student and a minority in this country, sometimes I feel I don’t quite understand the key points of this issue due to the lack of knowledge in American history. Also, I’m lucky that I’ve had very good experience with people from different cultures so far! Therefore, when it comes to the question of students wearing a shirt with a confederate flag, I may not even notice what’s the problem with it….

Last week I attended a diversity seminar that discussed about “micro-aggression”. I’ve learned about this topic from the PFP class last semester. So, my attention was not on the presentation. Instead, I was observing the reaction of the audience. Since this is a seminar required by the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, there were probably half of students who are American sitting at the center and front of the classroom, and the other half are international students who are from middle east countries and Asia, sitting at the back side of the classroom. When the speaker asked us to have a small group discussion with our neighbors, unfortunately, there were not so much interaction between the international students and the American students. In my opinion, to achieve the purpose of this seminar, diverse students should be in the same group and listening to the opinions from each other. Furthermore, I understand the importance of the topic of micro-aggression but if it is overemphasized, it will sabotage students’ curiosity on different cultures. I even started to think that this might be one of the reasons why American students seem to have no interest in other cultures although they are living in the big melting pot!

I believe that teaching students how to respect each other starts from understanding each other’s cultures. We need to recognize the differences of individuals, instead of ignoring it or trying to treat everyone “equally”.  Prejudice is inevitable at the first place. But as long as we show our curiosity and good intention to ask others’ about their cultures, and being open-minded to listen others’ opinions and learn from each other, I believe students can benefit from the conversation and broaden their horizons.

In my classroom, I would like to provide examples of technology from different countries. For example, I’m living in Taiwan where lots of earthquakes occurs each year and cause a series of engineering problems such as landslides while here in the US students have no such experiences and might not notice the importance of the related technology and research. Similarly, lots of stories can bring to the class by students from different countries or who have lived in other countries. I believe this type of discussion can help students develop their global perspective in engineering and will stimulate their curiosity in other cultures. I also would like to create a group project. Each group will be focusing on one engineering problem from a specific country, and they will need to present and share their works with all students.


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6 Responses to Thoughts on Diversity

  1. Hi Armani, I think another issue in discussing micro-aggression among student groups of the same background is that we might not acknowledge our own prejudices, whether we are Americans or international students. I have experienced micro-aggression not just from locals, but also from other international students. I think it’s only fair to say that we all need to reexamine our biases and be aware of how we perceive others who are different from ourselves.

  2. “I understand the importance of the topic of micro-aggression but if it is overemphasized, it will sabotage students’ curiosity on different cultures.”

    I appreciated that you mentioned this because I think this is happening too. Having a heightened awareness of being “politically correct” and micro-aggressions, makes it feel really hard to even start having discussions about politically or emotionally charged topics. But, if I already know the background and viewpoint of the person I’m talking to, likely because we share the same opinion, it is easier to have these conversations. It’s definitely not an excuse, but something that I am now aware of in my own behavior and interactions, because I don’t that to be the case.

    One of my teachers this semester, in a class about leading discussions with students, that as teachers in STEM fields we have a unique opportunity to help students learn skills in how to discuss and debate difficult subjects. We have this opportunity because we have many multi-sided, open-ended topics that are not at all or very loosely connected to politics. I am going to put this into practice in my class this week, where I am going to ask students to think about an issue from a perspective other than their own. I hope that through this activity they can gain some new perspective on that topic but also try listening to each other, or if it fails to experience how it feels to not be listened to.

  3. Amy Hermundstad says:

    Thank you for your post. I think it is really important to continue to engage in conversations and to listen to other perspectives, both when learning about different cultures as well as when talking about microaggressions. I think that in both aspects, we need to continue to have conversations and to listen to the views of other people. Like you said, engaging in these conversations can help broaden perspectives.

  4. Qichao Wang says:

    I like this statement, “furthermore, I understand the importance of the topic of micro-aggression but if it is overemphasized, it will sabotage students’ curiosity on different cultures.” I feel maybe we focus too much on the techniques of avoiding aggression and forget to mention the core in those contexts: respect and goodwill.

  5. Your experience in the seminar where there wasn’t much diverse interaction is really unfortunate. You’re right in that to learn more about diversity, we need to get out of our silos and start listening to one another and each other’s experiences. How do we get students to care? We can ask people to attend seminars or participate in workshops. However, if they’re forced, the chances are they won’t have a good attitude and won’t be open to learning.

  6. Yang Liu says:

    The phenomenon you mentioned in class is general in the class discussion section, which the group member from the various cultural backgrounds. Sometimes is a different personality, while, the leading causes is the structure of knowledge in diverse cultural and educational background and experience.Respectation is necessary for all classes. At the same time, the biggest challenge for the international students is present the voice and personal ideas confidentially.

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