As a faculty member at a rural, open-enrollment technical college, I have had the pleasure of working with an extraordinarily diverse group of students over the last several years. I believe that when we think of (and act on) the issue of diversity, we must do so from an intersectional standpoint. Every student has a unique experience of the world, and good pedagogy should be unapologetically and courageously responsive to all the factors that influence the lives of our students. I have an obligation to respond to students individually, as well as to foster a learning environment in which diverse life experience is celebrated, honored, and shared with others.
Most of the students I work with are first-generation college students, and many are from economically depressed rural communities. Our institution does a great job at helping students succeed, but recently, several faculty members noticed that too many students were unaware of the supportive resources available to them. We brainstormed together, and in response, one of my recent design classes created a campus resource guide to highlight things like the on-campus food pantry, emergency grants, mental health counseling, free physical wellness classes at the gym, and many more. I believe in advocating for students and connecting them to resources that can help them be well and feel like a welcome, supported member of a diverse community.
In my classes, I often use dialogue and discussion as a way to develop community and learn from one another. These exercises, while potentially heated and contentious, are also wonderful opportunities for growth. When I am facilitating class discussions, I recognize the importance of recognizing my own biases, demonstrating a willingness to challenge those assumptions, and making genuine connections with those who are different from me. I encourage students to do the same. In addition to dialogue, my class activities often include storytelling. When my students create and share phenomenological communication artifacts with classmates, I often see them connecting with one another more deeply because of some shared experience that they might not have otherwise known about.
Finally, as a white, middle-class, non-disabled, cisgender male, I recognize my position of incredible privilege. I believe it is important to constantly challenge my own set of beliefs and learn from those who can teach me what it’s like to exist in a parallel version of the world. This position also comes with a duty to become an ally, to speak up against inequality, and to work toward justice.