What Inclusive Teaching Means For Colleges In An Era of Social Justice Activism
Race is among the socio-economic forces that 2020 has brought into sharper focus. Current events this year have underscored racial health disparities and highlighted excessive use of force by police against Black people and protests against such violence. And there’s a presidential election coming up in a time of unprecedented polarization.
What should faculty who want to teach inclusively consider with all this context?
That’s the question we addressed in the latest episode of EdSurge Live, our monthly online discussion of big ideas in higher education. We interviewed two experts in inclusive college teaching:
- Chandani Patel, director of global diversity education and training in the Office of Global Inclusion, Diversity, and Strategic Innovation at New York University
- Aurora Kamimura, lecturer in education and fellow in the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs and Diversity at Washington University in St. Louis
Listen to the conversation using the player on this page, or read a partial transcript below, lightly edited for clarity.
EdSurge: What does it mean to teach inclusively? What are the basics of that for a classroom instructor?
Aurora Kamimura: I often think about what it means to be inclusive or to create an inclusive space. And to me the meaning of that truly is about allowing each one in the space—I know we often say a classroom, but right now we're in this virtual classroom space—allowing each person, including yourself, to be seen, to be heard and to be validated for the experiences that they bring to the table. Regardless of discipline or topic, it's important for learning that everyone feel validated and seen and heard individually.
To me that requires two basic concepts that I'll just put it out there. It requires humility and understanding that we don't have all the answers and that collectively, as groups, our experiences create more robust information, more robust discussions and more robust answers. And it requires authenticity. I have to authentically believe that each one of my students has the potential to grow, that I have the potential to grow, in this space from their knowledge. And I'm very forward about that in that I'm a co-learner in the space.
Chandani Patel: I think of it as a foundational framework for teaching in our globally connected society. And I'm also coming from NYU [where] we have a global campus community. So we're also thinking about the myriad backgrounds and perspectives and identities that they're bringing to our learning environments because they're so varied. NYU, for example, has a international student population of almost 25 percent. And so we're thinking through, How can we validate them? And it's, it's hard. It's an ongoing process. And it requires humility and authenticity as we're showing up.
It also requires instructors to recognize how our own cultural frames of reference and our biases are impacting the ways in which we might be able to include all of our students—all of their expertise, all of their experiences—into that space.
I'm sure that many of you have read Christine Hocking’s work on inclusive teaching, but I really like her definition. She touches on all three aspects of teaching—pedagogy, curriculum and assessment—and the ways in which all of those are interplaying in the classroom space.
So I always ask faculty members to think about the expectations that we have for student behavior and performance and how those expectations align with students' expectations_and how we're creating those opportunities for the students to take ownership of their learning as well.
Is inclusive teaching only for classes and faculty who research or teach about topics like gender or race, or is inclusive teaching for everybody who teaches anything?
Kamimura: From my perspective, inclusive learning belongs in every classroom and every learning space. … Teaching and learning as we know, is a social interaction. And what that means is that our social identities and our students' social identities come into play every day. ...
In one of my previous positions, I was in administration prior to coming to the faculty side. And one of my positions was in a STEM area. And the faculty would often say, “Oh, well, I don't have to teach about diversity. Diversity has nothing to do with my class.” And I would always ask them, “does diversity not walk into your classroom every day?”
Patel: The goal of higher education is student learning. And in order for our students to learn, we need to acknowledge that they're whole human beings who are bringing with them not only their skills and experiences, but also their worries and anxiety. So I'm thinking about teaching and learning right now during this pandemic. I know that many of our most marginalized students, our most vulnerable students, are worried about how they're going to pay for school. How are they going to access food? Many of our students are encountering systemic violence, they're navigating microaggressions, and all of that is impacting their ability to thrive in our classroom spaces or on our campuses.
In addition to new, online methods of teaching and learning, we have had something come to the forefront that is of course not new, but perhaps newly on some people's minds or newly revealed to some folks. And that is race in America, and how it intersects with health in the pandemic, how it intersects with access to educational resources. And I'm curious in 2020 whether the importance of, or the methods of, or reactions to inclusive teaching have changed for you or for colleagues?
Kamimura: I don't think anyone can deny that we are in quite a unique time in history. [Instructors should be] recognizing when something has happened, actually verbalizing it and saying, “Hey, this was a horrific incident that happened over the weekend. And I want to give some space to talk about it.” Let's take 10 minutes and—kind of time it, so it doesn't take up the entire teaching period—but giving students a moment to reflect and to share how it's impacting them is so powerful. Oftentimes we are never given that space.
Patel: I work in a diversity office, and I think one of the shifts that we've seen is with police brutality and violence being made more visible. We know it's always been there, but we are confronted with it in a more ongoing and newer way than in the past. And I think that one of the things that I have noticed is that because of that—because of the uprisings and the movement for Black lives and recordings of this brutality—we are now actually talking about race in a way that we hadn't been for a long time, especially in higher education, where we were expected to leave those more difficult conversations out of academia, or it was only in an intellectualized way that we were talking about race. ...
When I'm thinking about race and inclusive teaching, I'm thinking about what students are expecting. They really want an acknowledgement that racism is a thing that exists. They are processing and confronting and working through maybe their own awakening to the systemic structure through which racism operates. For many of our students who are traditionally college-aged, this might be new for them. They are learning this is not just an interpersonal issue, but something that's baked into the foundations of our societies. And that is hard for them to grapple with.
What I've heard from students over and over again is that, “I just want my professor to acknowledge that it's going on. I don't expect them to have all of the answers, because no one person is going to have all the answers.”
You need to acknowledge that it's going on. And depending on your disciplinary context, maybe you're able to make space to talk about it and connect it with the content and the curriculum. Maybe you don't have that opportunity. And you acknowledge that as well.