Help! All of My Students Look and Act Differently: Revisiting Progressive Diversity Education
“Sharpening the saw.”
Stephen Covey (2004) identifies this phrase in his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; it connotes the need for all of us to engage in self-examination regarding our teaching skills, behaviors, attitudes, and coping skills – when we encounter change. What kind of change?
“There is an international student in my class from a country that I never heard of.”
“This male student in my class hands in his homework with a woman’s name on it.”
“There are almost double the number of women in my Physics class this semester.”
“I have a student who told me he enrolled in the SPECTRUM program.”
“One of my students is in a wheelchair and I don’t know if he needs any special services or help.”
Whether we are faculty or staff, we all realize at some point that the students we serve, as well as the colleagues with which we serve, are changing in terms of their demographic factors. The challenge is that, when time is short, we perceive our resources to be short, and do not know who to ask for help in developing our own skill sets to help our students and offices become successful.
Enhancing our understanding about the growing complexities of diversity in our world(s) is not only about work, but it is about relationships – and that requires practice. It requires practice in a safe environment with people from different demographic backgrounds, other than our own, to:
- allow us permission to ask questions
- learn from our conversations
- role model helpful behavior that bridge differences.
During the past thirteen years, RIT has been one of the unique universities to sponsor a community-based program to help create and bridge meaningful diverse partnerships in its community: Partnerships in Pluralism.
This collaborative program, builds campus relationships; it enhances a collaborative and personal understanding of diversity, which can make our members more effective - in a safe and interactive manner.
The program pairs faculty and staff of (unlike) demographic backgrounds* from within RIT, who:
- might not otherwise be able to easily connect with each other; and
- experience opportunities to become more familiar with each other (professionally and culturally).
As people are paired (mis)matched, they receive announcement letters which invite them to the kick-off event on Wednesday, February 28, 2018. Then, throughout the Spring semester, they meet as a pair to either follow structured dialogue questions, or engage in other dialogue-based programs involving race, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity, international status, veteran status, etc., thus enhancing their understanding of the other’s cultural background. Participants report that the experience is “enriching;” and “[finding] common ground.” In the words of Maya Angelou, “we find the how much we have in common, and how little we are different” (N.D.).
If you have any questions, contact Dr. Michael D’Arcangelo, Director of Diversity Education, firstname.lastname@example.org