July 3, 2020

Finding Power in My Voice: The importance of a Diversified Curriculum

The UCalgary Psychology Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Blog

Author

Lorena Solis

I consider myself a radical scholar in the making. For me, being a radical scholar means being an agent of change. This is a scholar who challenges the status quo and places social justice and activism at the forefront of their research. This is who I aspire to be, always. However, there was a time in which I did not embrace this identity so easily. As a Brown Mexican-American woman, I worried that my passion for diversity and equity research would be associated with my ethnic identity and as a result, I would be discredited as an expert. I was afraid that my ethnic identity would be used against me and that people would view my stance on diversity as self-serving rather than credible. And, while these fears are always present, I still have a passion for this research because it has helped me find a place in academia. 

I began to find liberation from my fears in the work of diverse scholars, that include Black, Indigenous, Chicana/o/x, Latina/o/x and People of Color and Women. Some of these scholars are Taylor Cox, Jr., Ella L.J Bell Smith, Enrica Rugg, Derek Avery, Adam Murry, Anthony Abraham Jack, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Tukufu Zuberi, Gloria Anzaldúa, Eve Tuck, Joshi Aparna, Alison Konrad, Nancy Ditomaso, Lisa Nishii, Jennifer Feitosa, Cara MacInnis, and many more[1]. These scholars have influenced my research in diversity management and have equipped me with language and frameworks to be a better advocate and researcher. In their work, I found affirmation and acknowledgment, and most importantly power in my voice. They wrote about diversity and inequality in ways that I wanted to, and they helped me develop a deeper understanding of diversity.

My passion for diversity stems from the activism and advocacy that I am able to engage in when championing for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). I particularly study racial and ethnic diversity, and in studying these phenomena I have come to learn some very valuable lessons. While my knowledge stems from both passion and writing a dissertation – which requires a thorough understanding in the area of study – I believe that diversity should be incorporated in our curriculums, course discussions and research practices. When students are provided a more diverse curriculum, they are introduced to perspectives that they would have never thought of or come across with. 

In the following section I would like to share some insight that I have developed in my journey of becoming a radical scholar that continuously advocates for diversity.

Diversity requires looking beyond obvious characteristics. 

What is diversity?

  • Diversity does not just represent obvious characteristics such as race, ethnicity, and gender. Diversity considers both the visible (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender) and less visible (e.g., socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, mental health) characteristics of groups of people in shared spaces within an institution. We find diversity in many aspects of a university setting, such as research labs, classrooms, departments, and overall campus life.

Visible and Invisible Diversity

  • To determine the diversity level of these spaces, we rely on the hypervisibility of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and Women. However, it is the less visible characteristics that are often disregarded or neglected. Further, these characteristics can overlap, and as a result, individuals who appear to belong to the same group membership may still experience and/or perceive situations differently. Therefore, it is important to recognize that diversity does not simply consist of the obvious characteristics but rather a set of experiences that influence ones’ world perception under the spectrum of various characteristics (e.g. race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, SES, disability). Thus, our attitudes, values, and beliefs are influenced by how we have experienced our group membership(s). For a more thorough description of diversity see Ninan, Feitosa, & Delice, (2019).

Takeaway: Assuming that there is diversity present based on the hypervisibility demographic characteristics alone undervalues the importance of inclusivity. Representation in academic spaces by underrepresented groups is not the same as having environments in which the individual feels included. Creating welcoming environments for all individuals requires understanding what diversity means. Having an inclusive environment requires us to ask ourselves: Who are the voices missing in our conversations and why haven’t we heard from them yet?

Creating Inclusion in the Classroom

Being deliberate about the content presented in class is a critical first step to creating inclusivity.

  • Being inclusive in classroom can begin with the type of content presented to students. Traditional approaches used to study psychological phenomena in relation to race, gender and ethnicity are often rooted in claims of using objective research practices and methods (Zuberi & Bonilla-Silva, 2008). Traditional approaches are more likely to discuss the experience of marginalized group members as merely statistics of poor outcomes (e.g. lower cognitive abilities, incarceration, poverty). Further, the reporting and discussion of these statistics can mask inequalities and conceal racist assumptions. When these topics are presented in class and are discussed in such ways, minoritized students in classes can experience epistemic violence (for a review on critical race theory of statistics see Gillborn et al., 2018; for a review on Epistemic Violence see Teo, 2010). 
  • Instead of using content that is driven by traditional approaches, look for the content that centralizes the voices of groups that have been historically marginalized. It is important that the work reflects perspectives that challenge the status quo and incorporate the perspectives and voices that are often the object of study. Specifically, when it comes to the study of gender, race and ethnicity, privilege should be granted to the work of women and BIPOCs over white scholars. Often, their work is illegitimized as a result of their questioning of dominant narratives in these fields and methods used (Turner et al., 2008). Providing content that is different from the dominant narratives can introduce students to different perspective that they are less likely to come across. Further, students that are typically underrepresented in classes can find a connection to the literature and feel represented rather than erased by a curriculum that embodies white supremacy.   

Takeaway:  Having a more diversified curriculum can help encourage the discussion of diverse perspectives. However, these are a couple of things that one must be aware of when encouraging the sharing of diverse perspectives. Students have been socialized into structured relations of oppression and privilege (Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2014) and therefor, their perspectives and experiences have also been influences by these factors. It is important to note that certain perspectives are rooted in dominant ideologies that have a history of violence, uphold white supremacy and deny the existence of social injustices experienced by certain group member in society.

The Final Punch Line

Managing the discussions in the classroom is another important step in creating inclusivity within the classroom.

Underrepresented group members (e.g. BIPOC and women) are more likely to have dissenting perspectives. It is critical to create the environment in which these particular members feel safe to disagree. Below are some things to keep in mind when facilitating discussions. For an in-depth discussion on principles on managing class environments, rooted in social justice pedagogy see Sensoy and DiAngelo (2014).

  • Creating an equitable environment may require you to question and/or critically address perspectives that are rooted in oppression.
  • Rather than create common guidelines on “respect for differences in experiences and perspectives”, create strategies that will interrupt power relations embedded in classrooms. Dominant perspectives tend to hold more institutional weight and the sharing of these perspective can conceal discriminatory assumption, even when unintentional.
  • Bring awareness to the importance of thinking critically about the presentation of dominant narrative as they are often presented as neutral, universal and objective.

Conclusion

I am proud to be a Brown Mexican-American woman in academia, and yes my identity has influenced the research that I pursue and my activism. However, that is not a valid reason to diminish my knowledge in the field. I am knowledgeable in this field because of the experts that have come before me. These experts have provided me with the tools to be a better researcher and social advocate. These are the experts that have paved the road in the field for students like me. While it may seem small, presenting students with a more diverse curriculum and scholarly work can ignite passion for social change: that’s how it began for me. You may have radical students ready to challenge the status quo – and we have a duty to provide them with the tools to do so.

    “The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” _ James Baldwin

 

References:

Gillborn, D., Warmington, P., & Demack, S. (2018). QuantCrit: education, policy,‘Big Data’and principles for a critical race theory of statistics. Race Ethnicity and Education, 21(2),            158-179.

Ninan, P., Feitosa, J., & Delice, F. (2019). 17 Developing an Effective Diversity Training            Intervention. Advancing Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Through Human Systems         Engineering, 247 – 265.

Sensoy, Ö., & DiAngelo, R. (2014). Respect differences? Challenging the common guidelines in             social justice education. Democracy and Education, 22(2), 1-10.

Teo, T. (2010). What is epistemological violence in the empirical social sciences?. Social and      Personality Psychology Compass, 4(5), 295-303.

Turner, C. S. V., González, J. C., & Wood, J. L. (2008). Faculty of color in academe: What 20     years of literature tells us. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 1(3), 139 - 168.

Zuberi, T., & Bonilla-Silva, E. (Eds.). (2008). White logic, white methods: Racism and     methodology. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Additional Resources:

  • Avery, D. R., & Thomas, K. M. (2004). Blending content and contact: The roles of diversity curriculum and campus heterogeneity in fostering diversity management competency. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 3(4), 380-396.
  • Fine, M., & Barreras, R. (2001). To be of use. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 1(1), 175-182.
  • Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, education & society, 1(1), 1-40.
  • Ruggs, E. N., Hebl, M. R., Law, C., Cox, C. B., Roehling, M. V., & Wiener, R. L. (2013). Gone fishing: I–O psychologists' missed opportunities to understand marginalized employees' experiences with discrimination. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 6(1), 39-60.
  • Van Dijk, H., van Engen, M., & Paauwe, J. (2012). Reframing the business case for diversity: A values and virtues perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 111(1), 73-84.
  • Lorgia Gárcia-Peña, PhD and Mordecai Lyon. Decolonizing Academia. https://bostonreview.net/race/lorgia-garcia-pena-mordecai-lyon-decolonize-university
  • Alyshia Gálvez, PhD. How I've implemented an anti-racist approach in my teaching. https://www.alyshiagalvez.com/post/how-i-ve-implemented-an-anti-racist-approach-in-my-teaching

Acknowledgment:

I would like to express my appreciation to my committee, the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee for all the support and for providing me with a platform to share my story. I also want to give a special thank you to Cara MacInnis and Erika Lieu for providing me with feedback and support in writing this blog post. 

[1] "The scholars listed are primarily from business management and the social sciences. These are leading scholars in research areas such as diversity management, equity and inclusion, intergroup relationships, and race, ethnicity and/or gender studies. There is still so much work that I have yet to uncover and I am excited to continue to grow my list. I have also included additional reading with the work of scholars that I admire but are not listed here. To the reader, I invite you to reflect on the scholars that provided you with a different lens to see the world within your area of research.