Ask Dr. Isis – Teaching Diverse Students Doesn’t Always Mean Teaching Brown Students (Except For When It Does)

This is the current state of my work email box right now…

Figure 1:  Uuuuugggghhhh.

At this point I am ready to detonate a nuclear bomb in it and just start over.  There is no way I will ever sort through that quantity of unread email.  Also, I don’t really think I want to.  Clearly nothing here has unraveled because I don’t read my email.    I am, however, trying to sort my way through my Gmail where all of you lovely darlings email me.  That’s where I found this gem of a question…

Most awesome, sexy Dr. Isis,

I am in need of a bit of advice.  I’ve begun applying for teaching jobs at small colleges, and one thing all of the job postings have in common is the ability to teach to students of diverse backgrounds.  Any advice on how to say my teaching experience isn’t just a bunch of well-off white kids?

Also, here is a super sexy pair of shoes that I make me want to die every time I see them.  If only grad student made enough to spare $300 on awesome shoes.


Between the “sexy Isis” part and the recent penis vein post, search engine traffic should be pretty hilarious for the next few weeks.  Surely one could use some diversity from today’s three searches for “public fucker’s space.”

But back to diversity.

I think it is great to keep one’s mind geared toward racial parity, but I don’t think that’s always what universities and colleges mean when they ask about “diversity.”  Not to say that creating an environment that supports the equitable advancement of everyone, regardless of racial/ethnic/cultural background isn’t important.  It is.  But it doesn’t totally encompass diversity and “well-off white kids” isn’t necessarily it’s antithesis.  A reply to a statement on diversity depends largely on what the institution’s goals for diversity are.

Video 1: After all, rich white kids have problems too.

I think the question is not who you have taught in the last necessarily, but how do you teach in a way that encourages understanding, participation, learning, and advancement from everyone?  That could mean underrepresented ethnic minorities.  Or, it could mean other groups.   The university where I did my undergraduate degree had a large LGBT community and a couple of my professors were advisors to professional LGBT student groups and there was a strong commitment there toward their advancement.

The state where I completed my undergraduate degree is also a crazy hodgepodge of economic extremes.  Areas of extreme poverty and  extreme affluence butted up against each other.  The quality of pre-college education closely mirrors the economic environment.  More affluent areas generally generate more prepared college freshmen.  More empoverished areas generally generate less prepared students and both of these groups converged upon the same college and ended up in the same freshman-level courses.  In my post-graduate life, I have befriended some of the faculty who taught my courses and it is interesting to listen to them reflect on teaching a single course of people with such varying levels of preparedness.

I am currently toying with the idea of applying for a job teaching interdisciplinary material to a very diverse group of students – medical students, engineers, and life sciences students.  The job application there asks for a statement on how one would approach a diverse group of students from different disciplines.  That’s not necessarily racial/cultural diversity and here the college has a very specific idea of diversity.

I think that answering this question is an opportunity to demonstrate yourself to be a thoughtful, reflective individual.  If, as your letter intimates, you have been teaching for a while, you probably have had an opportunity to teach a diverse group of students.  What has that meant for you and how have you been successful at it?  What tools have you developed as a result of these interactions that you can now bring to the table?  But, most importantly,consider this an opportunity to communicate how you will help a university or college acheive its diversity goals and not necessarily a hoop that must be jumped through.

Assuming, of course, you know what a college or university’s diversity goals are. You should probably find that out first.



11 responses to “Ask Dr. Isis – Teaching Diverse Students Doesn’t Always Mean Teaching Brown Students (Except For When It Does)

  1. “…but how do you teach in a way that encourages understanding, participation, learning, and advancement from everyone?” – YES!! Absolutely! One element of diversity that is often overlooked, but equally important (and it did indeed come up in several of my interviews) is increasing the participation of students with disabilities in STEM fields. I have a physical disability, and mentored an undergraduate with a physical disability (she was also from a minority group – we had some very compelling discussions about how she sometimes felt doubly “invisible” because of this double-whammy.). In one of my classes, I had several students with different types of disabilities. Teaching effectively meant going beyond the basic accommodations that the individual students had rights to, re-thinking how I taught certain subjects. For example, for a student who has limited vision, how should I describe certain cellular processes so we can paint a mental image when the actual thing can’t be visualized? It turned out that in coming up with effective teaching strategies, I was also benefiting my “able-bodied” students who had different learning styles (for example, tactile learners who benefit from having physical models to touch/handle).

  2. This is the BEST COMMENTARY EVER on this subject.

    Unfortunately, those in authority who ‘tick the boxes’ of applicants’ skills often do not understand anything you have said, Isis.

    I wish it were different. I wish everyone involved in teaching would think beyond the little square box, as you have done.

    Well done for airing these ideas, anyway, for those who DO listen.


  3. … and @studyzone … well done. I have also talked to the various counselling services about this, when I have had hearing impaired or visually impaired students. Apparently what you did (and what I was taught to do) has a name – it is called ‘inclusive teaching’ – that means, you teach everyone to include those with difficulties, rather than singling them out for special treatment, and it makes a richer and more helpful environment for EVERYONE. (Such simple things as making sure you face the class when talking, don’t talk to the screen, so that those with difficulty hearing know what is going on. If you do it all the time whether or not you know there is someone with a problem, EVERYONE in the class gets a better idea of what you are saying. Just one example. You have given an excellent ‘another’ example.)

    I am so glad there are people out there in universities doing this, just because they see a need for it to be done. You have made my day.


  4. Most recently when interviewing and talking about diversity, I mentioned the particular groups the place I hope to work serves: they’ve got excellent services for transfer students, returning students, students with mental health issues or other disabilities, first-generation college students of all colors, and newer Americans. I have more experience with some of these groups than others, but it is indeed true that I’ve found trying to help out one group often leads to more effective teaching for all.

    Now I hope they give me the job!!

  5. I worked as a tutor for my university before, and tutored quite a few white kids. I tutored athletes, humanities majors, some people who were commuter students and therefore lived off campus…people I would normally not meet in my engineering world. Felt pretty diverse to me…I met lots of people I wouldn’t have otherwise.

  6. Thank you for that video– it just made my day!

  7. I am not a rich kid but have a problem not mentioned at youtube.
    #102 Dr Isis is way too busy with Tiny Diva. She needs a permanent baby sitter.

  8. A question about teaching is:
    How do you teach your SO not to forget your aginversary. Mine was yesterday and he totally forgot once more!.

  9. @almudena – how does one teach oneself? Neither of us ever remembers. When our mothers were alive, they would send cards and then we would remember – but the problem is, we had decided to privately celebrate another significant day instead, because our anniversary is way too close to other celebrations. And neither of us ever remembers that either, until maybe a few months later when one of us will say ‘oh dear, we forgot again’.

    Just celebrate every day, or at least when you have had a good day in the lab/office/garden, and feel like a celebration. Much easier than trying to train the memory.


  10. Spring is getting close and it is more difficult to get up in the morning. Late for class. See what my students have to say today

  11. Pingback: » Virtual Muscle Machine for Kids With Disabilities

What do you have to say about that?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s