Diversity + Inclusion in Higher Education, part 1

Welcome listeners to the first installment of our Diversity and Inclusion crossover series, bringing together This Anthro Life with Brandeis University. For those of you who are new to the show,

This Anthro Life

(TAL) was launched as a scholar-practitioner program designed to bring anthropological and social science research and thinking to interdisciplinary and public audiences. The original idea behind the podcast was to use our skill sets and toolkits  as anthropologists to translate and socialize data, cultural patterns, and research into accessible open format dialogues and conversations that provided solutions for social impact and actionable insight.

 With the Diversity and Inclusion Series, we are opening a semester long podcast series about diversity and inclusion in higher education and beyond. Here, our inspiration comes from anthropologist Ruth Benedict’s claim that anthropology’s job is to make the world a safe place for human differences. One small step in doing so is to have conversations on tough topics, and that is precisely what we aim to start with this series.

Conversations matter. This conversation is about opening questions on, what does it mean to engage diversity in an academically grounded way, in the context of critique? What do students need in order to do this well? For Dr. Janine de Novais, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, some answers come from her dissertation research which demonstrates the power of conversations in classroom settings. She focused broadly on the dynamics and possibilities of learning about race in the classroom by comparing two different courses on the subjects of slavery and black political thought. What she concluded was that students “became more intellectually brave, and displayed greater interpersonal empathy” when classrooms settings were safe to express intellectual issues even on difficult and emotional subjects.

A central problem we address through This Anthro Life is that people of different disciplines, industries, or walks of life share the human condition but lack the time, skills, or knowledge to talk across and learn from difference. In a world where inequalities, power differentials, and endemic privilege continue to impact the fabric of university communities, these conversations provide a needed starting point. We aim to address concerns surrounding LGBTQ equality on campuses, cross-cultural diversity, religious pluralism, as well as race and ethnicity in contemporary US life head on, using 21st century social technologies like podcasting to reach the widest possible audience.

With our first episode, we begin with some essentials on diversity and inclusion. First, rather than reiterate a history on the development of the current movement, we begin from a foundation which recognizes that diversity and inclusivity are issues impacting different industries and professions today, especially the university system. The question isn’t one of definition but action. What can any of us do to bring diversity into the classroom or foster an inclusive learning environment?

Several professionals in and outside of universities have sought to address these concerns with actionable steps. Dr. Diane Goodman’s work illustrates what some positive actions could be by way of recognizing and understanding microaggressions and developing cultural competence. Goodman understands cultural competency for social justice as the ability to live and work effectively in culturally diverse environments and enact a commitment to social justice (see Brandeis University’s stance on social justice). The emphasis here, echoing the charge of Ruth Benedict above, is that students (as well as faculty and staff) feel safe, have their needs met, and have the ability to fulfill their potentials. To promote equity and inclusion for cultural competence, Goodman details five critical skills to nurture: self-awareness, understanding and valuing others, knowledge of societal inequalities, skills to interact effectively with a diversity of people in different contexts, and skills to foster equity and inclusion.

It’s important to keep in mind that university settings, especially in the classroom, can be great environments to teach diversity. This is one of the major points Trudy Bourgeois discusses in her Huffington Post article, The Role of Education In Advancing a Diversity and Inclusion Breakthrough: Linking Education to the Workforce of the Future. There, reflecting on current trends to bring more diversity and promote inclusion in professional settings, Bourgeois points out, that “diversity shouldn’t be taught in the workplace, it should start being a concern at a much earlier time in one’s life.” Her point is certainly well grounded, but there are several factors which prevent this from taking place.

Lisa M. Rudgers and Julie A. Peterson detail Seven Key trends for higher education in 2017 which certainly remain relevant in 2018. Among the trends, they list sliding enrollments, cost and access, as well as questions on the value of one’s upper level education. In general, college enrollment continued to decline in 2016 across the country. While this historical moment is characterized by increasing visibility on issues of diversity and inclusion in the university setting, it is troubling that many who would benefit most from these movements may not have access or recognize its value.

The subject of diversity and inclusion is as difficult as it is complex. As this series continues throughout the Spring 2018 semester, we’ll be building an ongoing conversation that becomes enriched through guest experts, educators, students, and more. We also hope to integrate answers and messages from listeners who are compelled to add to the discussion and address some of the questions we raise. For this episode, we ask: if you are a teacher, how do you establish the norms and practices of inclusion and diversity in your classroom? We feel it is important that this series is taking place in collaboration with Brandeis University because of its history. Diversity and Inclusion at Brandeis at Brandeis University is predicated on the charge of social justice. Historically speaking, Brandeis University sits on the grounds of Middlesex university which, while it was running, was the only school that did not impose a quota on Jewish students. At the time, in the early 1940’s, this was a progressive move for an American university. Brandeis University carries much of the legacy of its former counterpart as it opened its doors as a Jewish university that sought inclusivity – being open to students of all religions, ethnicities, and social statuses. This charge, carried from its founding, remains important today.

Links mentioned during the episode:

Christine Walley – Exit 0

Georgetown University Addressing its History of Slavery

Upcoming Events at Brandeis

Contact Adam and Ryan at thisanthrolife -at – gmail.com or individually at adam -at- thisanthrolife.com or ryan -at- thisanthrolife.com

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This Anthro Life is an official collaborator with the American Anthropological Association, The Society for Applied Anthropology, SAPIENS, and EPIC. Be sure to check them each out for more insightful and thought provoking anthropology content.

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