Trends and Issues in Higher Ed

November 18, 2015

Faculty Diversity Scholars Support Inclusive Teaching

Faculty Diversity Scholars from the three UW campuses help colleagues tackle issues of race and equity in the classroom

Faculty Diversity Scholars (from left to right): Ralina Joseph, associate professor of communication; Sapna Cheryan, associate professor of psychology; Joyce Yen, program/research manager for UW ADVANCE; Robin Evans-Agnew, assistant professor in Nursing and Healthcare Leadership programs, UW Tacoma. Not pictured: Anu Taranath, senior lecturer in English and Comparative History of Ideas (CHID); and Wadiya Udell, associate professor of community psychology, UW Bothell. Photo: Ignacio Lobos.

“How can a quantitative class, such as a course with chemicals and test tubes, actually change inside a pro-race-and-equity framework?” Dr. Robin Evans-Agnew, assistant professor in Nursing and Healthcare Leadership programs at UW Tacoma, poses this question as part of his role as a Faculty Diversity Scholar.

Such questions and more are central to the role of the Faculty Diversity Scholars, selected from across the three campuses for their expertise in race and equity pedagogy for a pilot program developed by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) for the 2014-15 academic year. With the advent of the new diversity requirement, Faculty Diversity Scholars acted as resources for other faculty members who were adapting, developing or reframing courses to align with the new diversity course requirement.

The Faculty Diversity Scholars supported curriculum transformation and inclusive teaching across all three campuses in multiple ways. From serving as panel participants and advisors for department events to working one-on-one with a department’s staff, faculty and graduate students, Faculty Diversity Scholars helped different departments learn to assess climate issues and find ways forward toward an inclusive learning environment.

The scholars have responded to questions and requests for assistance such as:

Am I ready to facilitate a tricky classroom discussion myself?

Take a little time to prepare yourself and become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, recommend the scholars. “Know your own touchy spots,” suggests Dr. Wadiya Udell, associate professor of community psychology at UW Bothell. “Faculty members who successfully engage in these discussions are those who anticipate conflict, are comfortable managing conflict within the classroom and can work with extreme opinions on the topic without shutting down discussion.”

What do I do if I think a microaggression happens in my classroom?

“Faculty need to interrupt any iterations of racism, sexism, classism and homophobia in the classroom. Such interruptions should happen firmly, but with kindness and compassion for all in the room,” says Dr. Ralina Joseph, associate professor of communication and director of the Center for Communication, Difference and Equity.

I’m still confused about why inclusive pedagogy is necessary in my class.

“Inclusive pedagogy should not be thought of as pandering or lowering standards. Inclusive pedagogy acknowledges human diversity,” says Udell. “People are different. Not everyone in a classroom learns the same way or engages in the same manner. It is important that faculty attempt to teach to the broad range of students in a course, not only those who fit their preferred learning and teaching style.”

How do I know if my department needs a climate assessment?

“If you’re even asking the question, you probably do,” says Dr. Anu Taranath, senior lecturer in English and CHID. “Ask around, ask as many people as you can. Listen between the lines, between the silences, read the frustrations, the hopes for what might be possible. And if some people say ‘no,’ ask yourself why they might say that, what’s at stake.”

The pilot program has been renewed for another year to build on this work and meet demand. The CTL is receiving a record number of requests for consultations on equity and diversity pedagogies. All CTL consultants also respond to requests with the support of the Faculty Diversity Scholars, as well as offering various CTL resources, consultations and workshops on inclusive teaching.

With a focus on action to bring equity to a diverse classroom, Evans-Agnew acknowledges the many complexities. “This is a work in progress. I certainly feel like my challenge is that my privilege blinds me from what I can see and have a perspective on,” he says. “We have to live in that challenge, be OK being uncomfortable and figure out a way to provide some actions that may be incomplete, partial solutions for things.”