A look at how diversity informs teaching in a college setting
ETHAN COSTELLO | firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOTOS BY ALYSSA NEPPER
A collective of professors at UW-Parkside have collaborated on a book which was published this year. The book is titled “Diversity in the College Classroom: Knowing Ourselves, Our Students, Our Disciplines.” The book addresses the need for faculty to incorporate elements of cultural diversity into their curriculum. In addition, it calls for faculty to understand their students in order to better teach them.
They tackle this objective by personal narrative and introspection. Each chapter is written by a different faculty member, which addresses their own struggles and understandings within a larger context. Fay Akindes, Ph.D., co-editor of the book and professor of communication at UW-Parkside, said, “Effective professors at Parkside acknowledge the complexities of their students lives, and they’ll teach accordingly.” The chapter-writers span a wide range of disciplines from the humanities to the sciences.
The book was written in the wake of Summer Institute,which began in 2007. Summer Institute is a group of UW-Parkside instructors and faculty seeking to address diversity issues on campus. Summer Institute initially sought to close the achievement gap by increasing the retention rate among African American and Latino students. 37 faculty members from 20 different departments completed the seminar. As discussions addressing diversity progressed, three main ideas emerged: the importance of knowing oneself, the students, and one’s discipline.
Funding the project
Beginning in 2007, the Institute received an average of $45,000 every year from the UW System which includes a $3,000 stipend to all faculty who participated. In the fall of 2010, funding for the Institute was cut. The Institute also sent out a call for chapters from those who completed the course. The Institute staff worked hard over the years with little compensation. They finally received a contract from Common Ground Publishing in the spring of 2015.
The writing process
For many of the contributors, writing their chapters was a unique, difficult struggle. As well as facing public issues of diversity, they also had to come to terms with how their own experiences relate to a broader context. Damian Evans, M.S., Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) wrote the chapter “A Sense of Not Belonging” and said that the process was “quite challenging.” To sum up the general attitude of many contributors, Evans said, “[T]he challenges were both in the work effort and in the sharing of personal stories [which] created a space of vulnerability that I had never experienced.”
Understanding self and students
While writing their chapters, the faculty were challenged and came to a deeper understanding about themselves. Throughout Summer Institute, faculty were introduced to the concept of the “authentic self”. This is the idea that teachers should come to the classroom as an undivided self in order to create a more genuine space for learning.
Knowing the multiplicitous backgrounds from which their students come from is also stressed. Keeping students cultural and economical backgrounds in mind prepares a teacher for effective education.
Considering one’s field of study and being mindful to include questions of social justice, including racial and cultural differences, is the final key message. Farida Khan, Ph.D., professor of Economics at UW-Parkside, wrote “Diversity Economics: Chipping Away at the Oxymoron”. Khan said, “I work with groups here in the US and in other countries, many of whom collaborate to create an economic community that is committed to economic questions related to social justice and create works that others can use and build on.” Even in a field usually perceived as quantitative and neutral regarding questions of equity, Khan recognizes the importance of economic justice for all groups.