Diversity as an Asset in the Classroom
Contributed by: Mari Rodriguez
The second week of fall quarter presentations in the Graduate Teaching Community is geared toward using diversity as an asset in the classroom. The objectives of the presentation are for participants to familiarize themselves with the backgrounds of UC Davis undergraduates, define inclusive classroom environment, and consider strategies to create inclusive classrooms. To achieve these goals, I started the session off with a warm-up activity. I asked participants to complete an identity map, using their hobbies, interests, characteristics, and goals (and anything else they could think of!) to fill in the blank spaces. This activity led to a discussion on how we define ourselves, as well as the recognition that one’s identity is an extremely complex and limitless concept; just as we bring varying expectations and experiences to our meetings, undergraduate students enter the classroom with a whole range of identity characteristics. Who are UC Davis undergraduate students and how can we leverage their different backgrounds to establish an inclusive and diverse classroom?
UC Davis undergraduate students are diverse not only with regard to their age, race, and ethnicity, but also in terms of their experience to learning. For example, 26% of UC Davis undergraduate students in 2015 were transfer students, 42% were first-generation students, and 10% were international students (UC Davis Undergraduate Admissions and UC Info Center, Fall 2015). While similar data on faculty members is not available, there are significant gaps with respect to racial and ethnic representation between faculty members and undergraduate students. Since UC Davis outlines several goals for creating a diverse population of scholars by 2020, including Hispanic Serving Institute aspirations, it is crucial that we, as TAs, establish welcoming and inclusive learning environments.
Inclusive classrooms are “classrooms in which instructors and students work together to create and sustain an environment in which everyone feels safe, supported, and encouraged to express his or her views and concerns” (Saunders & Kardia 2016). But how is this environment achieved? The GTC discussed a variety of ways in which we can create welcoming learning environments, including allowing space to declare preferred pronouns, offering multiple modes of learning, and accommodating students with familial responsibilities. To reinforce these concepts, I gave participants a slip of paper with either a classroom bias or a solution to overcome the classroom bias. I asked participants to find their “match” and discuss how they might improve the proposed solution. The GTC did a great job of recognizing why the classroom biases were potentially harmful to students and brainstorming how they could improve the suggested solutions!
Saunders, Shari and Diana Kardia. 2016. “Creating inclusive college classrooms.” University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. Available at http://www.crlt.umich.edu/gsis/p3_1.