Graduate Teaching on Diversity: Week 5

I’m posting this late, but better than never:

For last Friday’s class, I adapted an exercise we use in the Faculty DPD Academy that has us reflect on the basic assumptions (and any resulting discrimination, injustice, oppression) in the production of knowledge in our given field of study or research.  Based on feedback from previous classes, I emailed out the specific discussion questions several days before class so students were able to reflect on them for more than a few minutes:

  • Who created and defined your research discipline?
    Whose perspectives were and are ignored in the development of your discipline?
  • Who funds research in your discipline?
    How does this affect the knowledge that is created?
  • How is knowledge in your discipline disseminated?
    Who has access to this knowledge and who doesn’t?
  • How is knowledge passed on in your discipline?
    Who controls this?
  • Whose interests does your discipline serve?
  • What are your advantages/disadvantages in your field?
  • Who is advantaged in your field? Who is disadvantaged?
  • Are some people systematically disadvantaged by the way knowledge in your discipline is produced and/or taught?
  • How does your discipline support and help maintain the dominant culture?
    In what ways could your discipline challenge the dominant culture?
  • What are the ethical considerations implicit in your discipline?
  • How might your discipline play a role in effecting social justice?

We used a silent discussion during class.  I posted each question (or pair of questions) on a big white piece of paper on the wall and gave each student a marker.  For 15 or 20 minutes, students went around and wrote their own thoughts;  I asked them to, for the moment, pay no attention to what other students were writing (as much as possible).  For the remaining time, students were to go around and read their peers’ thoughts, reflected on them, responded to them and added new thoughts.

I think this method of allowing students to express their thoughts worked well, but I don’t think I provided adequate readings and materials to prime the class to engage these questions in a deep way.  As I continue to discover where students are coming from, I hope to find appropriately targeted readings.  I’m finding this challenging (as I think of readings for a future offering of this course).  There are a lot of academic articles that are rigorous but also very dense.  I myself find them difficult to read, and so I’m not sure how appropriate it is for a group of students that include many English-language learners.  I am also not sure how many social science and humanities classes our students have taken (maybe I should ask) that would prepare them for this type of reading.  There are also a fair amount of pop lit to draw on (blog posts, news articles, etc), which I have been using, but I am not happy with the rigor or depth.  I’d of course welcome suggestions.

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