Inclusion and Diversity in the Classroom

Inclusion and Diversity has been confused on many occasions by practitioners, using same as a single concept as well as separate terms. As a result many persons engage with the concept without appropriately digesting its purpose. For context, I first define the terms as I conceive them.

  • Inclusion: consists of embracing, accepting and respecting differences; that is accepting our diverse make-up/characteristics and instituting actions to embrace our differences.
  • Diversity: consists of the differences in characteristics/make-up of a group or persons, etc.

The goal of inclusion and diversity is to therefore, to institute actions that enable groups/persons from diverse backgrounds to function within the same space amicably. This includes recognizing the differences and supporting the group by creating opportunities and activities that share in the experiences of all. The terms work hand in hand. Once there is diversity, the purpose of inclusion becomes a necessity to support all group members. Practically, the terms advance the same goal.  In theory, the terms appear different; however, the terms make more sense as a single concept. The difference is in role specification. Thus, the focus of practitioners should rather hinge on the overall purpose of inclusion and diversity.

In higher education (my area of discipline), the focus is on servicing post-secondary education. Irrespective of the exact area of function (teaching, administration, research, etc.), the overarching goal of higher education is to serve students and enrich their experience as we train them. That said, classroom experiences; the fundamental engagement with students- the manner in which students are taught must embrace their diverse backgrounds and experiences. This provides the basis for inclusion and diversity in the classroom through pedagogy. This includes a departure from the traditional ways of teaching that presents power dynamics and portrays the faculty as the sole authority. This brings me to the point of faculty sharing space with students for the co-creation of knowledge.

In keeping with my experience, it is important to share the space with students and clearly articulate to them that you see yourself as a facilitator and respect their voice. These must be structured in the syllabus and the language of the syllabus must also be students-friendly. Second, students are from different backgrounds and their prior knowledge experience will normally not be the same. As such, it is important for faculty to be willing/create the mechanisms for students to discuss the syllabus; express and incorporate their expectations of the class so as to help them succeed. This may also include joint creation of the norms of interaction and modification of traditional assignments/instructions with real-life problems related to students. By this, the faculty gets a rich understanding and may know how to best support the students. This leads to the creation of an instructional climate that allows students to develop their voice, gain further interests in the class, feel comfortable, and avoid impostor syndrome.

4 thoughts on “Inclusion and Diversity in the Classroom

  • September 9, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    I really appreciated your last paragraph of your blog. Professors that can mold or at least be flexible with their syllabus and/ or assignments to capture the real-life experiences and responses of students is an incredible unique approach that I wish my professors had done for me. One thing that I would add to this, which was something I truly loved from professors that offered it, a one-on-one with the professor. A couple of my professors made it an “assignment” that I meet with them to have a one-on-one conversation. The concept was to allow the student and teacher to connect more directly and discuss things that the student may not feel so comfortable to speak on in a group setting. It created a bond that not only lasted through the semester, but in some cases, for years to come.

  • September 11, 2019 at 8:51 am

    Well said, the fundamental issue is what happens inside the class room. I too feel its really important to be adaptive. It becomes necessary to change the instruction method or syllabus to an extent based on the students because the syllabus is ultimately built to serve the cause of learning for students. There is no point if someone who is already familiar with something to relearn it or for someone who does not have prior exposure to be given an advanced level assignment. Inclusion need not be only based on race or language, any kind of diversity calls for inclusion.

  • September 11, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    This was a wonderful post, Johnny. Your highly developed and well articulated definitions of diversity and inclusion make the importance of such matters to you very clear. It seems that you have a firm grasp on how instructors contribute to the facilitation of diversity and inclusion in the classroom. I am sure your future students/mentees will be very appreciative of the considerations you make for their background knowledge and instructional needs!

  • September 11, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    I like how you defined “diversity” and “inclusion” to start off your thoughts. All too often tension arises when there is a language/understanding gap that prevents people from communicating effectively even if they are trying to say the same thing. I find it interesting that, from an American perspective, that “diversity and inclusion” previously meant “everyone is the same, and therefore should be treated the same.” The classic example of this flawed logic is not acknowledging that someone is handicapped because “everyone is the same,” and therefore not providing them a ramp that allows them to bypass stairs and get where they need to go. I’m glad to see that way of thinking has grown to acknowledging people’s differences on all fronts and understanding that it’s our differences that give us strength when we work together as a group.

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