Diversity Discourse in Contemporary College Classrooms

Within the discipline of family science, issues of diversity and inclusion are (or should be) embedded within all of our courses. Consideration of differences should guide our discussions of most topics related to the study of children and families. Examples highlighting the cultural diversity (e.g., race/ethnicity, sexuality, religion, etc.) and family diversity (e.g., single parent, grandparent, military, etc.) of the populations we serve are an integral part of family science education.

The nature of our current societal discourse, namely around social locations and individual differences, is oppressive to many who identify with a marginalized community. Discussions in the classroom may serve to give voice to some while seemingly increase guilt or blame in others. Managing these conversations can be difficult and may even become combative. In recognition that students bring their own biases into the classroom, instructors are tasked with finding ways to respect their students’ lived experiences while also challenging them to be open to new ideas.

After many years of incorporating ‘hot button’ topics and issues of diversity and inclusion in my courses, I have found certain methods to be more effective than others. Some of the things that I use to help guide these conversations include:
  • Experiential activities – Students continue to report the impact that these have on their level of understanding, especially when trying to understand the perspective of another. Activities such as privilege walks, identity wheels, and role plays (just to name a few) help students engage with difficult content.
  • Anonymous polling – To encourage discussion of sensitive topics, anonymous polls (e.g., Poll everywhere, Kahoot!, Plickers, etc.) allow students to provide feedback in a safer and more comfortable manner.
  • Cultural humility – With an overarching lens of cultural humility (read more here), students learn to focus on their own biases and the impact on their personal and professional interactions with others. In addition to learning about diverse populations, students are encouraged to explore their own identities and how they can use their privilege to help others.
In a recently published Family Science Review article, Niehuis and Thomas-Jackson (2019) discussed the role of instructor emotion in teaching diversity within family science. They argue that instructor emotions greatly contribute to the nature of the learning environment. The authors also provide a review of effective methods for teaching diversity and pose questions that family science departments should consider with regard to diversity instruction. To read this article click HERE.

Image credit: School diversity many hands held together by Wonder woman0731. CC BY 2.0



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