"What divides us pales in comparison to what unites us." -Edward Kennedy-
Keeping Diversity and Inclusivity in Mind
During my Higher Education pursuits, numerous social events have occurred that call attention to the inequalities that affect the threads of our society and democratic republic. Although much progress has been made in these United States in equity efforts, much is left to be desired. These events juxtaposed with the famous passage embedded in the Declaration of Independence, that “All Men [and Women] are created equal,” is something that continues to engage my life and duties as an educator and citizen of my community and nation. As a white man not from the south, I consistently encounter the challenges of diversity in higher education and beyond.
In my short career, I have attended and taught at multiple universities across the nation. Some were mostly homogeneous (predominant religious affiliation, racial make-up, or high levels of wealth); others had more diversity in terms of ethnicity, class, or income. As my career has progressed, I have become more conscious of our students’ ever-increasing disparities and needs. Recognizing my opportune and privileged upbringing, it has become vital for me to assist and empower our students and community in addressing these disparities.
I believe that inclusivity and openness need to be present in the classroom to overcome inequality disparities. I approach my classroom and students with opportunities to engage the material and their learning environment in a personal, meaningful way and bring about a greater awareness of their role in the community. While higher education may have traditionally been emphasized and focused as preparatory for a career, I believe that it can assist in bettering life.
One such approach that I have in most of my courses is the use of reflection assignments. The role of such works is twofold: First, it allows students to recapitulate what they have learned thus far. This portion of the project enables me to gauge their understanding of the materials and their associated discussions. Second, students are then asked to take the principle or concept they have studied and asked to seek/reflect on it in their lives. Reflection requires students to focus on the relationships they have in their community and beyond. Such examination allows students to “see” the role of the material in their lives and how it is much more complicated than it appears. Topics for these assignments range from race, gender, perception, critical theory, problem-solving, and conflict management. As a result, students explain the relevance of the material in their lives and have shared how they would approach the world differently.
Another aspect of inclusivity I attempt to foster is encouraging an open environment for classroom discussion. I structure my class by emphasizing the importance of respect when it comes to the sharing of opinions and ideas. Not everyone will agree with one another, but to have an environment that enables students to be open and inclusive allows for real discourse to occur. Personal testimonies, feelings, and strife have all been openly shared and engaged in these settings. This approach enables students to connect and understand one another better. Only in such an inclusive environment can problems be approached, and solutions be created.
The recent events of the pandemic in the world have also revealed how multifaceted inequality and disparity is. For example, the continually growing technological gap that exists amongst our populations. As education transitioned to digital means, I was exposed to the reality that many students do not have adequate access to computers, tablets, or even the internet. For those who have felt frustrated or disenfranchised based upon their gender, race, or economic status, the pandemic’s influence further alienated their ability to succeed. This reality brought to surface the (what many calls) the invisible consequences of inequity.
The University of Pikeville continues to provide opportunities to address inclusivity and close the gaps of disparity between our campus and our local community. My attendance workshops and continual attempts to engage and educate have empowered me to influence change to better our students in the classroom and beyond.
My experiences thus far in my doctoral have continued to make me mindful of the ever-pressing issues of diversity and inclusivity. As a result, I have seen my position as an educator and researcher evolve to acknowledge and address these issues to foster a more inclusive educational environment.