Pedagogies of inclusion in a non-inclusive classroom

I wanted to share with you how the situation regarding inclusion and diversity is back in my country. In Venezuela, there is no discussion about diversity at all. We don’t have terms like “underrepresented minorities” or “diversity.” I believe one of the reasons is because we don’t have much international exposure. It is very difficult to find families that are coming from another country. In Universities there are no international students. Most of the people have the same religion and even if they don’t, everyone just assume that people will be catholic.

Institutions don’t recognize diversity as an issue; therefore the conversation is out of the table. There are no policies or initiatives to promote the acceptance of people that think and are different. Our main problem regarding inclusion has been the acceptance of women in universities and the workforce, specially, in engineering schools.

I remember one of my best friends was the only female in every class in mechanical engineering when I was in college. I took a calculus class with her and after the midterm our professor brought the test results and read out loud her grade; she got a 37 out of 100. He not only made her grade public but also told her, in front of a full classroom that she didn’t belong there, that engineering was a profession for men. Situations like that were very common in our classrooms when I was a student. Although the situation has improved a little bit in the last years, because of the successful roles and positions that different women have obtained in the last decade, still there is not an accepted open discussion in administrators or faculty members that this is a problem.

Another very concerning problem regarding diversity and inclusion back in Venezuela is about the acceptance of LGBT’s. After I got tenure I started to openly and loudly discuss issues regarding LGBT acceptance. Soon enough I started receiving pressure by the authorities of the university to avoid talking about a topic that was still taboo. People started to avoid me and some members of the university were aggressive because of my position. It was impossible for them to understand how a straight married professor with a son could be trying to fight for rights of a community that “didn’t exist.”

What was more rewarding was that after being the person that was not afraid to talk out loud about sensitive issues, I started receiving uncountable number of students in my office to come out and was able to help them somehow with their problems (sometimes they just needed to be listened and recognized as who they really are). Even one of my best friends, another faculty member that is gay, was not able to come out in the university because he was afraid his career could be affected.

It was very sad to deal with all this people that is continuously acting and being a person they are not just because a “macho” culture don’t accept that people is different or because they are not able to accept and tolerate other points of view.

How can we create pedagogies of inclusion in classrooms where the problem is not even recognized by the University? Any suggestions?

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3 Responses to Pedagogies of inclusion in a non-inclusive classroom

  1. filot says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this with the rest of us. I am deeply moved by your story, and I’m certain that without it, I would have never learned even the tiniest bit about what minorities in Venezuelan universities are struggling with. It is clearly a profound struggle, and I have immense and unending respect for those few individuals–such as yourself–who refuse to be bullied into complacency. After all, the status quo is a great thing…for those who benefit from it. For everyone else, it is devastating.

    As for your closing questions, all I can say is that (in my humble opinion!) the greatest hopes I have for a new kind of pedagogical (and social) world are in the individuals who are brave enough to realize their own humanity: we are not robots who are produced on a factory line with the exact same interests, abilities, and identities. We ARE different from one another in MANY ways, visible or not, and yet, we all take comfort in the relationships defined by compassion and understanding. If we could only get more of our students/colleagues/etc to admit the idea that the beauty of human life extends across all sorts of people. So one question is, Can we teach students to be as thoughtful with people they don’t yet understand as they are with those they already do? To this, I would say yes, but only if we model such thoughtfulness ourselves–which in turn requires that we learn tactful ways of engaging with students who champion bigotry and exclusion as (the definition of) “Natural.” Being tactful is something I’m struggling to learn, myself, and based on this post, it sounds like you’re much further along that road than I am, having already found much success raising extremely important and potentially risky issues in the university. Keep it up!

  2. tfutrell says:

    WOW!! This is both heart-wrenching and unfortunately very familiar in many regards. I just read an article that speaks about corruption and a lack of “university ethics” as being pervasive across the world. The author spoke about how much we focus on the classroom mis-behaviors, but don’t focus on the things that pertain to our students and faculty outside of the classroom such as race, gender, class, etc.
    How awful for the teacher to humiliate that young lady. One bad test does not mean that she was not smart enough to be an engineer nor was it noteworthy enough to make broad sweeping statements about women. The academy needs an overhaul.

  3. Miko says:

    Thanks Homero for sharing your anecdotes with us. Sometimes we forget about things that happens somewhere else, but they can very insightful. Keep up the great job talking about diversity and inclusion in places where it is absolutely needed.

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