Inclusion: Walking the Walk

I like the word inclusion. It means action. It forces needed change to take place. I think we can understand the importance of diversity and multiculturalism. We should assume heterogeneity. It is necessary to be knowledgeable of differences and prejudice and bias. But, inclusion is tougher. It requires work and discomfort and time to do. One cannot claim they are an ally for a certain group without doing something to demonstrate allyship. (See this article for a commentary).

As instructors, it is our duty to recognize and respect diversity in the classroom and to promote inclusion. The Diversity in a Global Perspective course at Virginia Tech and the Connected Courses have overlapped with the latest Unit (Unit 4), so we’ve had many discussions and ideas come up lately that I think are very applicable. One of the best ways that came up is to first recognize our own privileges as teachers. I recognize I am a white, cisgender male from a middle class background. My students come from completely different backgrounds. So, I need to recognize and acknowledge what I have and address it with the class. Once I am able to do that, I can also educate myself on diversity issues within a class in order to know how I can be inclusive. What are the historical difficulties of being a woman in engineering? How does socioeconomic status influence our ideas of technology and innovation? What does culture or race/ethnicity mean in the field of psychology?

Once I know more, then I need to bring it up in the classroom. Will it be easy to do? Absolutely not. But it should be an ongoing conversation that is interwoven throughout the semester. I have a lot of problems with the “Diversity Lecture” aka the one day where you bring up these topics and never talk about it again. That is unnatural and unrealistic. To be truly inclusive, diversity issues should be consistent and continual.

I recognize that people are trained to just “teach the material.” What can we do to encourage inclusion in all settings? What incentives are there, because of the way the system is built most people just want to teach the discipline? That is something we need to examine and change.

One idea is to have a mentoring system, where people work with others on recognizing microaggressions in the classroom and learning how to address them. Or to learn ways to be disappointed and have disagreement and to make mistakes related to inclusion. Absolutely nobody is perfect, but it is being okay with knowing we don’t know everything related to differences. We could model for our students what inclusion looks like so they can take that away into their lives. Having a mentoring system could allow us to model making mistakes or changing out minds in the classroom without having to be the “all-knowing professor.”

I obviously don’t have all the answers to how we can be inclusive, but it is our responsibility as instructors to do as much as we can. Educate ourselves, recognize our own privileges and position, and constantly address diversity are just a few ways to be inclusive.

For some other ideas, definitely check out the University of Wisconsin Washington page on inclusivity in the classroom.


Category(s): CoLearning, connectedcourses, Diversity
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