Emory James Edwards, Department of Informatics
Diversity is the buzzword of the hour in American higher education. More and more academic positions are requiring diversity statements. Diversity and Inclusion initiatives are sweeping college campuses. The pool of undergraduate and graduate students, TAs, and professors, is (one would hope) more diverse than ever. And yet, what often lags behind this coming diversity wave is necessary critical self-reflection and commitment to equity from instructors and administrators.
Diversity vs. Inclusivity vs. Equity
Diversity is a measurement of difference between individuals in a group. Inclusion or inclusivity is the movement to bring underrepresented, underserved, or vulnerable populations (who have historically been left out of higher education) into classrooms, teaching positions, and decision-making structures.
What inclusivity actually consists of depends on who you ask. For some people, diversity is a sign of inclusivity: if a group is diverse then it means many types of people are being included. For others, the more diverse a student body is, the more inclusivity is important. For them, inclusivity is about more than just who is present (physically included) but also about fostering a respectful or safe atmosphere (feeling included or encouraged to speak).
Equity, the final and least buzz-generating term I’ll be using, is about pushing the conversation beyond what kinds of people are present and if they feel included. Equity is about making sure people from marginalized groups are given the just treatment and opportunities that have been historically denied to them.
A Note on Being Diverse
Remember, a class or a student body can be diverse but an individual cannot. As Kornhaber (2016) and others have discussed, diversity refers to difference seen in comparison to each other. When it is used euphemistically to refer to a person from a marginalized group, saying that individual is “diverse” implies that they are different from some obvious and universal norm.
You as an instructor, regardless of your race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or any other social identity, cannot be diverse. So what is your role in fostering diversity and inclusion in the classroom?
Inclusivity and Positionality
Talking about inclusivity does not automatically make for an inclusive classroom. It must be structured into the format and use pedagogical approaches. Being open about respecting diversity is definitely important but there has to be more than that.
Part of it can be general use of more active, democratic teaching activities and styles.
Part of it is attitudinal: instructors have to be genuinely open to learn, receive critique, and grow beside and from their students. This takes practice. Just like learning any new skill, or learning to take critique from anyone, learning to take critique from your students based on things that you feel reflect your character, is hard. Practicing, failing, and then humbly returning and trying again, is key.
Part of it is personal. Instructors must reflect on the unique set of identities, values, and experiences that they bring into the classroom. This set of social dimensions is called one’s positionality. As Knight (2011) argues, for a teacher, confronting one’s positionality can be about considering what preconceived notions you have about your topic, your peers, and your students. In a diversity statement, as Golash-Boza (2016) suggests, that means telling your own story, acknowledging how you and your background fit into the classroom. Only when we confront our own positionality as instructors can be begin to address the injustices we might see, or unknowingly participate in.
Golash-Boza, T. (2016, June 10). The Effective Diversity Statement.
Knight, S. D. (2011). Using narrative to examine positionality: Powerful pedagogy in English education. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 10(2), 49-64.
Kornhaber, S. (2016, January 26). A Person Can’t Be ‘Diverse’.
Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on December 2nd, 2019.