By Lucy Berrington, MS
Diversity awareness has increased on college campuses, yet many students of color routinely experience interactions and incidents that make them feel unwelcome. This potentially harms their academic prospects, according to a 2014 study by Harvard University’s Voices of Diversity project. Sometimes, those experiences take place in the classroom—including during programming seemingly intended to expand students’ perspective and thinking. In a recent survey by SH101, students provided numerous examples, like these:
“My friend’s teachers often ask for ‘a different kind of view,’ but only look at the [people of color] in the room.”—Third-year undergraduate, Gonzaga University, Washington
“I don’t look First Nation so I often have the opportunity to be a fly on the wall. People are just generally unaware of how exclusive they are being. I was in a class recently where everyone, including the professor, used language like ‘we’ and ‘they.’ We just don’t know, based on the color of our skin, who is part of what ethnic or cultural group.”—Third-year undergraduate, Trinity Western University, British Columbia
For an exploration of how race-based bias and discrimination shows up in college, how it affects student, and how we can handle this differently, see Students get real about race—and how to help each other (SH101, February 2017).
Strategies for developing inclusive classroom content and experiences
- Review your approach to discussing privilege and exclusion “Ask, what is the underlying perspective of this exercise? Is this designed to be gender- and ethnicity-neutral? Was there a particular kind of student in mind?” says Keith Jones, an advocate for access and inclusion related to race and disability, based in Boston, Massachusetts.
- Incorporate a multitude of voices Varying points of view can come from many sources outside the classroom. Acquaint yourself and your students with biographies, blogs, and film. The cultures and experiences of people of color are vastly complex and distinctive; avoid positioning any single source as representative of a racial or ethnic group.
- Anticipate and prepare for common roadblocks in conversations about race For example, consider requesting that everyone speaks from their own experience and avoids playing devil’s advocate or using hypotheticals. Seek out tools that succinctly address specific points of dissent, such as comedian Aamer Rahmen’s three-minute discussion of “reverse racism.” (These examples come from Katherine Kirkinis and Sarah Birdsong at Quartz.)
- Help your students find ways to connect around their shared identity Group projects and class discussions provide opportunities for students to share intellectual interests and school-based experiences, rather than leading with questions about each other’s racial/ethnic origin or religion.
- Help your students think about stereotypes and exclusion in ways that aren’t framed as racial Your star football player, the jock, wants to be taken seriously as a physicist. How does that feel? Have you joined a fraternity or sorority? Why is being part of that group better than being part of any other group? (Examples from Keith Jones.)