Week 8: “You’re So Diverse!”

So, my classmates and I were given a mission: create a diversity statement, and if we needed some help doing that, there were several resources to get us started. One of the things that stuck with me about the readings was the emphasis on the difficult conversations that inevitably arise in learning environments where many diverse backgrounds are represented. It was something that stood in stark contrast to the often celebratory tone with which diversity is discussed in the public sphere (“diversity is good!” “we want a diverse incoming class!” “as part of our strategic planning initiative, we’re hiring a diversity coordinator/liaison/officer!”). Increasing diversity in formerly homogenous environments is certainly a good thing, but I can’t help but think of the underlying issues that are bound to lurk beneath the surface of these gestures of goodwill, especially with regards to the feelings of individuals, which are much more difficult to navigate than an institutional stance. Fortunately, our readings brought this issue to the fore with the introduction of implicit bias into the discourse. I thought long and hard about how to send the most inclusive, empathetic, and transparent message I possibly could in my diversity statement while fulfilling a few implicitly stated criteria as per the Georgetown Teaching Commons site (demonstrating my “commitment to diversity” in my past, present, and future as a faculty member). However, when I found myself unable to do both without having an impersonal statement that was several pages long, I decided to speak my truth as it relates to diversity with as much clarity and precision as I could muster. Here is the result.



My biases, I did not know of

If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way that they learn.

Ignacio Estrada

I was not planning on writing the blog post this week but after reading several blogs, I had some questions and several thoughts which I would like to pen down through this post.

When I was reading the post titled ‘How the hidden brain does the thinking for us’, I was reminded of an incident in one of my classes (Grade 1) where we were awarded a ‘Red Star’ when we did well in a class test and were given a ‘Black star’ when we did not. Although the intention of this exercise was not bad i.e. to encourage students to perform better in class. But it did create a bias early on in my and my classmates’ mind that getting a black star is not good. And that bias might have impacted my decisions several times in my life. I would have gone on an auto-pilot mode without even thinking that I might be doing something which may hurt someone’s feelings.

Another incident which comes across my mind is that when I was around 7 years old, playing with my cousin who was a year younger. One of our relatives came to visit us and brought gifts for both of us. They bought a car and a kitchen set. Who do you think got the car and who do you think got the kitchen set?  Well, the guest just kept the gifts without mentioning which gift is for whom. My brother, who was younger to me, wanted to go first, although I was not very happy with him choosing first, I let him do so. However, I did this for a reason and that is I was very sure that he will choose a car and the kitchen set will still be mine. But it did not happen the way I thought, he chose the kitchen set instead. And rest is history (We settled our scores without involving the elders and may not be relevant for this post). But my point here is that who told me that he would chose a car and not the kitchen set? Well no one directly, but, most of my family members indirectly.  This was another bias created by most of my family members by bringing in toys which were related to home decoration, home-building, barbies, etc. for me. While my cousin brother had toys which were mostly cars, guns, etc. But the readings for this week have taught me about something which may be important for knowing to be a teacher but is also important to know otherwise.

When I read these posts, I realize how difficult it is to overcome one’s biases and make a class, a place which is safe for each and every student in there. The readings have made me more respectful towards the teaching profession and I would like to thank them for creating an environment which is open and safe and where we can speak up without being judged or discriminated. I would like to conclude by saying that discussions on such topics should be done more often and with people having an opinion not similar to yours. This will not only educate you on some of the issues you were unaware of but also understand their perspective.




Inclusive Pedagogy

As I go to write this, I am having a hard time picking an article to base my thoughts around—this week highlights and dives into so many important aspects of education. So, if this feels a little rambly, it is because I am having a hard time picking just one angle.

I ended picked “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces” by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. The title originally peaked my interest because a colleague of mine was talking the other week about how they were not necessarily a fan of the word “Safe Space”. Sadly, I did not get a chance to really dive into this as we both had meetings to get to. I have seen “Safe Space” in both my undergraduate institution and now in my graduate institution. Originally, I was excited that they were implementing this initiative when I first learned about it back in my undergrad—I thought it was a great thing to do to show that people that they were cared for and they had someone to turn to. I thought it would really show those who wanted to act in an “ally” capacity. However,  I have been learning that this notion of “Safe Space” can actually be exclusionary and just perpetuating privilege. I guess this is just my own point of privilege that I hadn’t done more of a deep dive into this and examined it from more angles.

This article really made me think and reflect about this concept and the experience the authors had. In this day in age, I think it is vital that we are learning about how to facilitate tough discussions with students who share opposing viewpoints, ideologies, beliefs, and life experiences. I think it is so important that we are teaching students how to have these conversations and really lean into the idea of being ok with being uncomfortable in some situations.

A salient point that stood out to me in this article was that it talked about how when doing activities like the privilege walk, how some students will just shut down and dismiss the point/concept and just state that they are not going to change their mind so why continue to talk about whatever it is. I think that if we just accept that every time that we are never going to learn and grow if we only stick and not listen to other viewpoints. College is supposed to be a time to widen your horizons and be exposed to new things. I want to learn how to better facilitate these conversations and also be more ok with being uncomfortable while creating the best space for all students— not further alienating students.

Inclusive Pedagogy

The notion that diversity “makes us stronger” is such a powerful idea. While at this point it’s almost cliche to say that being exposed to people who are different that you broadens your perception and changes the way you view the world, this notion should definitely be kept in mind when teaching. The relationship between student and teacher, in some classroom situations, is definitely one of ebb and flow. The instructor imparts information upon the students, and from personal experience, the instructor learns a lot about different personalities and learning styles, and how to properly dispense this information in various manners that can accommodate those who wish to learn.

Since teaching in Grad school, I have been exposed to a diverse array of different students, each with different backgrounds, beliefs, and viewpoints. Each of whom, although different, desire to learn, and the ability to adapt to and identify these differences is key to being a successful instructor.

With this in mind, the article “How Diversity Makes us Stronger”, mentions that diversity can be difficult, and although all the sentiments mentioned above ring true, I can’t say it is always easy, or that the instructor will always know how to act and react in the best way, but that it’s always important to be mindful of these differences.

Demonstrating the value of diversity

This topic (Phillips’s “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” in particular) made me really think about how I prepare for and approach academic spaces and problem-solving. Phillips describes that diversity not only increases the amount of information that is brought to the table, but fundamentally makes us work harder to prepare for discussions. When I think about how I would approach and prepare for academic work in diverse versus non-diverse groups I must admit I would see some stark differences in myself.

If I know everyone in my group will be approaching the situation the same way I will and is coming in with similar sets of information as I have, I wouldn’t feel the need to do very much preparation. We would all present our points of view and the best plan of action moving forward, all of our opinions would come close to lining up from the start, and none of us would be stretched very far in our own thought processes. None of us would grow from that encounter. None of us would be faced with the opportunity to learn from vastly different opinions and perspective than our own.

If, on the other hand, I was in a group where I knew people would be coming into the conversation from vastly different perspectives I would spend lots of time thinking about what my opinions was, why I held that opinions, what opinions others may hold, and why I might agree or disagree with those. I would come to the conversation more prepared and by that point I would have already expanded my knowledge and exposure just in preparing more broadly. Then, I would continue to grow and learn by interacting with that diverse group.

I would be interested to see how many students are aware of that difference, because I wouldn’t have identified it on my own. I think it would be cool to conduct my own little experiment to demonstrate the value of diversity to my students from this perspective. For example, I could give two group class assignments that both required teamwork and discussion: one with groups assigned based on similarity and one with groups assigned based on difference and diversity. After both group assignments, I would ask the students how much preparation they put into each assignment. Based on my own experience and the readings on the value of diversity, I would hypothesize that they had to prepare more, would have more intense discussions, and would have learned more for the diverse group assignments.

If we can find ways to actively demonstrate the value of diversity to our students instead of just telling them diversity is valuable I think we can have a stronger and more lasting impression on how students value and seek out diversity moving forward.

Inclusive Pedagogy

Inclusive pedagogy, is a good approach as it might give students equal chance to learn, to succeed and to aspire to better future. In environment where cultural identities are determinant factors in many aspects of life, it is very helpful to integrate technics and approaches that facilitate collaboration and promote better performances. However, to me, promoting inclusivity in an academic level is something good but should have not been a subject of discussion or extra work for educators and leaners. These kinds of issues should be handled at lower levels where children are more apt to learn and keep lessons forever. If that was the case, the kinds of crises (derogatory words, racial issues…) that are making people now more willing to integrate concepts such diversity and inclusion would not need to take place in higher education. Likewise, listing all the diminishing worlds, or narrating all the nasty past to children of color or from a minority group that would frustrate them forever or even limits their performance is a waste of time. Better make them believe in themselves, proud of who they are and proud of their values can help them navigate through the obvious hurdles that they will have to face in life.  Children, when they are born, they are innocent and kind human beings. To my view those who change (stay good, become bad, weak, strong not racists, inclusive, bias, complex…) when they become adult do so because of the education, the information they have received at an early age. Universities to me are places where peoples should focus on scientific matters that can make the world a better place not concepts that to me come with another set of problems.

What is that set of problems?

  1. The diminishing aspect. The fact of willing to make someone fell that he is part of the group to me is already diminishing. That is why it was painful for me to go through some the readings of this prompt.
  2. More work for teachers. Creating an environment that will need to be entertained because if one day things do not work well that will lead to more worrying situations. So as an instructor you have to have an opened eye and be ready to intervene in case of problems. Isn`t this an exhausting task?
  3. We are all coming from different environments, have different backgrounds and different cultural identities. Concepts that are welcomed by people who have experienced racism or discrimination might be disturbing see shocking for students from a different horizon. Personally, I am not comfortable with those words neither with attending event organized for such purposes as to me it more makes the person feels different than making him feel included. Derogatory words, stereotypes and racist expression become a problem when you know what they mean. I remember that having read some books that talk about issues for the purpose of some courses had made me learn more about what black, natives Americans, Hispanics, etc have experienced. But that also made me be aware of things that I would not care about earlier.

I think what would better help students to learn in an environment while respecting one another will more come from our authenticity, our passion and desire to give the best of us. To me, it would be more valuable to integrate how the university wants diversity and inclusion to be handled and the probable consequences if an individual does not follow the rule than willing to control some adults.

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.


Avoiding Inclusive Education at the Expense of Marginalized Groups: The Educator’s Role in Brave Spaces

Content warning: This blog post details my some of experiences as a gay educator and includes slurs and microaggression I’ve experienced.

Working in student affairs, I have attended many trainings around diversity and inclusion.  With content consistent among many presentations, I’m always excited to be introduced to a tool I’ve never used, a way of explaining a concept that students will understand, or a new nugget of information.  While I may not remember every detail of each training, an indicator of a good training is the one or two main takeaways that stick with me.

Last year, I listened to a speaker (whose name I cannot recall) and remembered her mentioning that education on diversity always comes at the expense of someone, and that it should be our goal to minimize that expense for those in marginalized groups.  At the end of the session, one of my peers asked whether this education could come about at no one’s expense, and the presenter responded with a firm “no.”  Though it was a bitter pill to swallow and difficult to process, the more I reflected, the more I realized it held true in my own experience as a gay man on the path to becoming an educator:

When I first moved into my college residence hall and was still in the closet, I watched the residents on my floor constantly insult my straight suitemate by calling him gay.  I didn’t say anything.

When I came out to a religious friend in a study group, she told me I didn’t have to live that way and said she’d pray for me.  We never discussed that interaction again.

When I came out publicly on Facebook, some people I called friends just seemed to fade away.  I let them.

During my first round of training as an RA, the prompt I was assigned in a role play scenario said that I had recently broken up with my significant other.  I specified boyfriend, but I awkwardly corrected my partner who kept saying girlfriend instead.

When a resident found out I was gay, it became a game of twenty questions.  Some of the questions assumed I was an expert on all things LGBTQ+, and others were very personal.

Through the a wall, I overheard one of my residents say his RA was a faggot.  I never addressed that.

When I off-handedly came out to another resident after he had said something to the effect of “no homo,” he became wide-eyed and backed away.  The follow-up was only slightly productive.

That was all during my first two years of college, and though I was wildly unprepared to educate others, I became a part of that process simply by being gay.  However, as time went on, things changed.  The microaggressions and slurs didn’t stop and if anything, I was asked more questions, but I learned more, discovered some language to use, developed more confidence in my queer identity, and got a lot more “practice.”  At 18 or 19, I was not ready to have those conversations, so I ignored opportunities to have them or gave them a go, unprepared as I was. However, at 23, as difficult as those conversations still can be, I’d rather engage in them than allow that education to happen at the expense of someone who is not ready.

That said, I think it naïve in concept and unhelpful in practice to think that we could prevent all marginalized learners from having experiences where they must educate others about their identities.  Students have experiences away from formal learning environments where these issues are bound to arise, and rising to meet the challenge of educating others is a developmental opportunity I would not want to remove entirely.  However, I think we can be allies by creating a brave space to contribute to a learning environment that is suitable for all and modeling interaction in that brave space.

Before one can create a brave space or model bravery, knowledge of different forms of power and privilege is required.  In order to educate about groups different than one’s self, one must have knowledge of those groups, and that learning is an intentional process.  By simply being gay, I learned about issues that affect gay people.  However, I realized that I didn’t know what it was like to be a woman, be transgender, live as a racial or ethnic minority, have low socioeconomic status, or live with a disability.  To learn about those experiences was important, but it was also vital to consider how to do this learning with minimal expense to those who are vulnerable.  I found that a combination of internet research and dialogue with advocates has been helpful.  Without this knowledge, one cannot engage in an informed conversation.

Using that knowledge, one can then challenge non-inclusive practices and model dialogue in a brave space.  Even in discussion of topics unrelated to inclusivity, it seems important to have these conversations as they naturally arise.  Whether these conversations are planned (or at least easily anticipated) in a history, literature, or political science course, or unexpected when a controversial comment is made in a math class, it is important to use these opportunities to model respect, challenging ideas without attacking others, agreeing to disagree, and not taking things personally (concepts from the work on brave spaces of Arao and Clemens).  In the moment, this might be standing up for the marginalized groups who otherwise might not have a voice, but it also models these skills for students so that they may feel more prepared to engage in dialogue outside of the classroom.

Lastly, I think it’s key to never let expertise of inclusive practices hinder us from interacting with learners as humans.  A mentor of mine once said that it was strange for her to learn and grow while her students were perpetually 18 or 19.  I find this important to remember when working with difficult topics around inclusivity.  While I’ve learned and grown, able to throw around words like “microaggression” and “intersectionality” and willing to show more vulnerability with greater confidence in my own identities, I still work with young people who do not have those experiences for the most part.  Whether students are part of the majority group – totally new to the nuances of diversity and inclusion – or part of the minoritized group and requiring support when faced with structures of power and privilege, they all are facing a difficult issue.  A true willingness to engage in dialogue and learn with and from these people will go farther than a formulaic approach to inclusion.  The process is undoubtedly difficult, but intentionality on our part can make the process easier for those who are most vulnerable.

Implicit Bias: Measuring It and Its Origins

While I found the implicit bias tests interesting, I couldn’t help but wonder how they designed these tests… Perhaps this wondering is more of a result of my training as a graduate student, but it led me to some interesting tangents…

First off, the tests. I noticed that they never explored all permutations of the test conditions in any one session (i.e., good left + bad right, bad right + good left, Thing1 left + Thing2 right, Thing2 left + Thing1 right, good/Thing1 left + bad/Thing2 right, good/Thing2 left + bad/Thing1 right, bad/Thing1 left + good/Thing2 right, bad/Thing2 left + bad/Thing1 right… the idea of permutations is reflected in the image below). Therefore, I couldn’t help but wonder if results might be skewed because they never tested all of these combinations, leading to implicit bias imposed by the test-makers themselves! Or perhaps they actually tested this and learned that only a subset of these combinations are necessary to detect implicit bias (which I would definitely be interested to read about! I love this kind of research. This might also be accomplished using an idea similar to counterbalancing from usability engineering, but I didn’t see any evidence of that between the multiple IATs I took).

Similarly, I couldn’t help but wonder how they take mistaken keystrokes, misread words, and previous “training” into account. First and foremost, mistaken keystrokes could be just about anything (e.g., finger twitch), but I would guess it’s safe to assume that they’re meaningful given the intent is to measure people’s instinct or gut reactions. However, this brings me to the other two… For example, more often than not, when the word “Terrific” came up and in the split second I started to read the word, I would often just take the first half of the word (“terr”) and assume a negative word (e.g., “terrible” or “terror”). This meant that, more often than not, I would classify this word as “bad,” even though “terrific” is a good thing. That is, my judgement of this word had nothing to do with any biases I had (believe me, I categorized it with bad/left and bad/right very consistently) and more to do with the implied time pressure; I was reading the word too fast to get an accurate judgement of what it said. (On that note, would their results be different with a vocabulary of words that are 5/6 letters or less? Or at least a vocabulary with more consistent lengths of words?)

Moving on to the “training” aspect, the first two sessions of any test trained good on one side + bad on the other, and Thing1 on one side + Thing2 on the other. This “training” certainly give people practice for what the tasks are (and may also be used for baseline results– who knows), but it also makes future tasks that mix these orderings more difficult; simply put, by the time that the left/right orderings have been switched for any particular variable, participants have already gotten significant exposure to and practice for the ordering being the other way around. This would definitely impact results… Do the test-makers account for this?

Image result for training

So, all of that aside, I also began wondering where implicit bias comes from… We all definitely have it, at least on certain subjects to some degree, but how do we “get” it? It seems to me like it’s something that is learned somehow… But where? Family, upbringing, and neighborhoods seem like obvious choices; they certainly have a heavy influence in how we all form our opinions and become the people we are. But what about less obvious, perhaps even more sinister, things?

Here, my mind took a turn to associations and how we learn them. For example, a child might learn from parents that stove = hot (and should not touch), but this lesson is often not truly learned until the hot = ouch association is learned (usually though touching it, just like mom told you not to). So, just how far can these associations go? In what ways do they play a role in how we interact with and understand the world? Take colors for another example… What’s your favorite color? Bet you just thought of one. Maybe several. Why are they your favorite colors? Might take you a second, but I bet you can think of a reason. Can you remember when that reason became the reason why your favorite color is what it is?

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Ok, now, what about light vs dark? Think back to just about every book, fantasy story, sit com, cop show, or anything else you can think of. Light = good, hope, success, happiness, and dark = bad, dangerous, scared, evil. (On that note, can you think of an example of a color used to signify poison that isn’t green or purple? I’m getting away from the point here, but I also think color associations are fascinating…) This means that from our infancy, we were taught that good things are light and bad things are dark. (You can usually tell in an instance whether a character in a movie or TV show is good or bad based on this, even if it’s just the color of their hat that’s different, and even if the character hasn’t said or done anything yet.) This idea is continuously reinforced. Everywhere. How much of an influence does this kind of “training” or “teaching” have on how we perceive people with lighter-toned skin vs people with darker-toned skin? (Ignoring the long, dark history behind this prejudice, social upbringing and family influences, etc. that probably have a much greater influence over how we perceive lighter-toned people vs darker-toned people… But I can’t help but wonder, just how much influence does it have? Where and how do we learn these prejudices?) How much influence does this have on the Skin-tone IAT? Would people whose favorite color is black perform differently on this IAT (or maybe the Race IAT) than someone else whose favorite color is white (but is equal in as many other aspects as possible)? (Although, now that I think about it, I’ve heard of people’s favorite color being black, but never of a favorite color being white. Where does that difference come from??)

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(Another tangent: I wonder if some of these associations are why there is so much attraction to certain things, simply because you’re not supposed to like them on some level. The “bad boy.” Villains, even ones like Elphaba or Dr. Horrible or Malcolm Reynolds that are the star of the show. What about satire and certain types of humor? Adults liking children’s shows? Hmmmm…..)

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