Building an Inclusive Learning Environment

Your assumptions are your windows on the World. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”― Isaac Asimov

This week we are talking about Diversity and Inclusion in the context of Pedagogy. In this 21st century world, we are increasingly exposed to different culture and people from different background. Like the prompt said, the learning environment is getting increasingly complex and diverse with everyone bringing some visible as well as invisible identities. There is no straightforward way to define Diversity. As a Graduate student and having experience doing multi-disciplinary research, when I think about diversity, there has always been a distinction between  Intellectual and Nonintellectual diversity. Even though, these two are inherently related when it comes to the growth and development in an academic environment.

Intellectual Diversity: It is similar to the concept of “Diversity of expertise” and “Informational diversity” mentioned in Dr. Katherine W. Phillips article where individuals/scholars working in different disciplines collaborating, bringing in and integrating their specific disciplinary knowledge and perspective to improve upon the existing ideas. Inclusion of this kind of diversity enhances innovation and creativity.

Nonintellectual or Identity-based Diversity: Non-intellectual diversity mostly arise from the state of being diverse across human identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and expression, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion etc. I do not know if there is any evidence-based correlation between these kinds of diversity in enhancing creativity or innovation. However, an inclusive environment would help  make everyone feel welcome rather than feeling like “an ugly duckling”, even with all the differences and heterogeneity that are brought along. Inclusion of this kind of diversity ensures an atmosphere where someone can truly be themselves to contribute towards innovation and creativity.

In  other words, Productive contribution from the students in academia or in a classroom settings can be ensured when we acknowledge, accept and celebrate every form of diversity. An important aspect of human nature is that the validity and acknowledgement from the surroundings helps a person to find a sense of belonging and vitality; which can further help him to flourish and be more productive.  There are a realms of study tell us that diversity is “good” for innovation and creativity. Acknowledging the fact that there will always be debate regarding the external and internal validity of studies (usually what I do being someone studying correlation and causality in policy making), as a future educator, I want to ensure an environment where all of my students feel safe and supported to be themselves and have access to a learning environment that produces and disseminate knowledge which is open to different viewpoints.

Is that going to be easy? Probably not! Finding a way to ensure inclusion in a diverse academic setting can often be challenging.  It would take a lot of patience and dedication from the educators to experiment and then cultivate a practice with strategies of what might work and what might not work. Then it can be having a set of tools and using them when it might be useful. Personally, I know that I have certain prejudices or biases that often cloud up my judgement or thought process. Being a human, we are vulnerable to our biases and assumptions. There are no obvious remedy to that. However, I try to be mindful in any (to be honest in most of the) situation and to take a pause to ask myself the following question and reevaluate my stance:

What are my values? What perspective do I have in this situation?

Do I have any assumptions or inherent bias that has been affecting my judgment?

How would I feel being similarly judged by someone ?

Is there a way I can be more understanding? How can I have a better approach to handle the situation?

Being an international student, with obvious language barrier and being an awfully introverted person, I can understand the challenges, struggles and reservations we bring along. Often time, it is hard for student like me, to speak up, to raise voices, even engage in any discussion. One thing, that has always worked for me, is to be (or “try” to be ) open with my professors about my struggles as well as my expectations. As an educator, my goal is to developing a greater sensibility in understanding complex issues raised due to diversity. That warrants the importance of reminding myself to scrub of the windows of my existing assumptions and to maintain a clear perspective. Only then, I can welcome my students in a safe and nurturing space, help them find a belonging and grow in their unique potential.