I need some validation. Is it just me, or are the tensions, frustrations, anger, and divisiveness in our society being played out in the classroom? Although my class was held via Zoom this week, I could see it and feel it. And so could the students. In fact, I got an apology e-mail the day after class from one student who labeled her own behavior as disrespectful and dismissive.
I know my students want to talk about what’s happening in the world and how it’s impacting them but these conversations can be difficult dialogues that necessitate empathy, respect, and an acceptance of diverse lived experiences, ideas, values, forms of expression, and ways of being. Are my students ready for that? And an even bigger question, am I? Can I facilitate these conversations without harming anyone?
I’ve been reading, reflecting, and talking to my colleagues about how to create a safe space to address important issues of diversity and multiculturalism. I’ve decided to start small. First, I think it’s important to help students build self-awareness about their own unconscious biases. This can be a springboard for conversations about how biases develop and how they can lead to stereotypes, microaggressions, and discrimination. Second, I think it’s important for students to get to know each other on a deeper level and listen to each other’s stories. This can build empathy and respect and, hopefully, tolerance for differences.
To build self-awareness, I think it can be helpful to introduce the idea that we all have thoughts and feelings outside our conscious awareness and control (hidden biases). Project Implicit is a non-profit organization created by researchers at the University of Washington, Harvard University, and the University of Virginia. They provide an online Implicit Association Test with feedback (see https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html ). This can be a great in-class or out-of-class activity to prompt reflection and discussion. After taking the test, you can have students describe their own self-understanding of the attitude or stereotype that the test measures. You can then introduce the concepts of stereotypes, microaggressions, and discrimination.
Another activity to help students think about their stereotypes and biases of others is to complete the “How Comfortable Am I?” worksheet (pgs. 8-9 of the “Diversity Activities Resource Guide” https://www.uh.edu/cdi/diversity_education/resources/activities/pdf/diversity%20activities-resource-guide.pdf ). This guide was compiled by the University of Houston, Center for Diversity and Inclusion and includes activities from the tolerance.org website. I’ve had students complete this worksheet and break into small groups to discuss how comfort level might relate to biases or stereotypes, then brainstorm ways to better understand and challenge those beliefs.
One of my doctoral students who taught a “Strategies for College Success” course for international students designed a really wonderful assignment for helping students get to know each other yet also build empathy and respect for differences. She called it the “Twelve Statements Project” and said she learned about the activity in a book by psychologist Sam Gosling titled Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You. For the assignment, students are asked to describe themselves with 12 photographs or images they feel comfortable sharing – each on their own PowerPoint slide. They then present these images to the class in a 10-minute slideshow. Every course evaluation of this instructor reflected the meaningfulness of this particular assignment. So much so, that I encourage all my instructors to incorporate this activity into their courses.
Finally, there is a very popular and powerful TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” ( https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare ) that can be used to validate cultural misunderstandings and our sometimes limited perspectives of other people. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie uses her own personal experience growing up in Nigeria as well as her experience in America to explain how “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story the only story.” Adichie is funny, vulnerable, and calls us to action to seek out alternative stories. Following the Ted Talk, students can be encouraged to reflect on examples of “single stories” in their personal life, in their education, or even in the news.
I hope these ideas are helpful or even spark other ideas for how you can create a safe space in your classroom to address diversity and promote tolerance and inclusion.
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It was August of 1970, when I was a psychiatric social worker on active duty in the United States Air Force at the height of the carnage of the Vietnam War and, much more importantly, when the whole world was watching thousands of protesters in the streets outside the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago, the headquarters hotel of the Democratic National Convention. They were chanting “The whole world is watching; the whole world is watching; the whole world is watching.” And now, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the world watches again as we chant: “I can’t breathe; I can’t breathe; I can’t breathe!” For decades, US higher education had been the envy of the rest of the world, the gold standard for emulation. In my case, I have had the exhilarating experience of being part of a highly respected educational innovation, launched by one American university in 1972, which has been adopted around the globe: the so-called “first-year experience” movement, philosophy and associated practices. Of course, the same cannot be said of our country now. Even before the pandemic, tourism numbers of non-US passport holders coming to the United States were down. And numbers of international students had fallen off a cliff. So, here at this time when the world is once again watching people in the United States fighting for justice, what can we higher educators do in our institutional settings? Since 1636 and throughout American history our higher education institutions have reflected, affirmed, challenged, and helped change the dominant value systems of American society. As educators, we have both encouraged our students to adopt those values and/or to challenge them and stand for something else. Our campuses have stood for maintaining the status quo, modifying the status quo, or outright rejecting it. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, what are we going to do now, especially when ever the students really do return to campus? Our campuses, no surprise, are microcosms of the larger American society. Thus, we manifest most of the inequities of the country. And certainly our “outcomes” – in terms of who is admitted where and to what programs, financially supported and to what extent, retained and graduated, and with what debt levels, offered the best jobs – mirrors the inequitable outcomes of our society. I lead a non-profit organization that has a strong mission to work in pursuit of social justice, but what else can those of us in academia do within our own spheres of influence? What about our admissions policies? And our financial aid practices? Our pedagogies? Our grading practices? Our curricula? Our gateway course outcomes in high failure rate courses? Our opportunities for on-campus employment, internships, study abroad? Our willingness to provide emergency financial aid? How do all of these still manifest race-based, structural inequities and hence serve to perpetuate that historic and well-established system? This year our focus, surely, will just be on getting back in business. But that “business” has always had discriminatory elements. Are these any longer sustainable? The public is speaking; polls are suggesting record numbers of US citizens, including older whites and even some conservatives, are sympathetic with the causes and concerns of protestors. This is the time then for unprecedented change in our policies and practices. So what could you be doing on your campus that the whole world could be watching and applauding? I have a dream that moving forward some of you/us are going to be doing more than we ever have before. The whole world is watching. We can’t breathe!
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The morning after the 2016 election I found myself driving—bleary-eyed after a restless night—to the English department at Florida Atlantic University to host a book fair. Weeks earlier, when I had scheduled the event, I overlooked the fact that it was the day after the election, though I could not have predicted the dramatic turn of events and the resulting atmosphere of charged emotion. At the time, I was the Macmillan Learning sales rep for South Florida, before coming in-house as an editor, and I never felt closer to my virtue as a Macmillan rep than when hosting a book fair. I think that in all of the talk about learning and course objectives, people can forget the tremendous power that books have to simply help us understand one another. On that particular morning, instructors stumbled in, grabbed a hot cup of coffee and sat with me and the books for a long moment or two, before heading on to the rest of their day. We shared some laughs, and some cries, but above all—despite the confusion we were feeling—we felt connected to all of the humanity I had spread out across the table. The textbooks and the readers, but also the Macmillan trade titles I had brought—George Packer’s The Unwinding , Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones , the essay collection This I Believe ... While moving slowly in South Florida traffic on the way home, in my mind I began writing my own This I Believe essay. I helped Broward College select This I Believe II for their College Read program, and I had been meaning to write one. A week or so later, after sharing my essay with a few professors, I was invited by Broward to read my essay and lead a discussion on a documentary, Glen’s Village , they were showing in conjunction with College Read. After the screening of the documentary, I led an open-forum discussion about the film. In one of the most striking parts of the film, Glen and his community fight to keep his public high school from being closed and demolished due to budget cuts. When they lose the fight to keep the school open, Glen then fights to preserve at least "the culture of the school." I asked the attendees to talk about the culture of their school, Broward College. What is it, what should it be, what role does it play as a part of your community? We had some really heartfelt discussion. One student said that the school "is like a piece of you, and when you lose the school, a little piece of you dies." A professor said that so many of us as individuals come from broken places, and he saw Broward as a place of healing, and that all of us need to be part of that feeling for ourselves and each other. I then talked a little about the College Read program, and the idea that everyone reading the same book and sharing their stories can help strengthen their community. I read a selection from This I Believe II—a quote from Edward R. Murrow about why the “This I Believe” project was founded. I asked if his words resonated with them, particularly after the election—lots of nods and yesses. Then I read my This I Believe essay, and invited students to read their own essays—or to read ones from the book they wanted to share. One student picked "Living with Integrity" by Bob Barrett. In closing, one of the professors read "The Right to Be Fully American" by Yasir Billoo, from This I Believe II. It opens: "I am an American and like almost everyone here, I am also something else. I was raised to believe that America embraces all people from all faiths, but recently, that long-standing belief--along with both parts of my identity--have come under attack. And as an American Muslim of Pakistani descent, this attack is tearing me apart." Before reading the essay, she gave a very moving speech to students: "In light of the recent election, I just hope and pray that we as individuals and we as a community can still hold on to our integrity and our values and to understand that each and every single one of us, regardless of our background, of our heritage, of our religious beliefs, of our height, our weight, our color, our anything, that we all treat each other as human beings. And nobody--nobody--is better than you. Nobody. And nobody on this planet is worse than you. And please always, always remember that. Take that with you in every walk of life." As an editor, I believe my job is helping build communities. Because that’s exactly what a good book is--textbook or trade--a means for helping us understand one another, heal us from the broken places we’ve been, and reveal to us our enduring, common humanity. Allen is the Program Manager for College Success & Human Communication at Macmillan Learning. He is an advocate for College Read programs as a way to foster social belonging on campus and in our larger communities. You can read his This I Believe essay, Crying in Baseball , here.
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Since we first launched the ACES self-assessment back in 2016, we’ve seen program after program make the simple decision to give each one of their students, on their first days of college, one of the most powerful gifts--self-knowledge. It all starts with the simple, 20-minute ACES activity: a set of survey questions expertly designed by three counseling psychologists, through which students create a quantitative self-portrait of their strengths and growth areas--the ACES Initial Report . Over 30,000 students have now taken ACES in their first weeks of college, so many of them for the first time discovering the power of a growth mindset, goal setting, and how to cultivate their inner assets to overcome adversity and be their best selves. Over the past year or so, we’ve been beta-testing an ACES “post-test,” so that students could take the assessment again and reflect on their progress. An impetus for developing the post-test was that instructors could now have a powerful tool to help quantify the progress students were making in their FYE course. But the real driver behind this second instance of ACES is a pedagogical reason--its metacognitive benefits. Having a second ACES report, at the end of the term, provides students with an important opportunity to reflect on their progress, practice gratitude, and gain valuable positive reinforcement. It also gives them an updated version of their quantitative self-portrait. By seeing change in their skills, abilities, and attitudes, the end-of-term ACES report provides them with real, first-hand experience with growth-mindset, neuroplasticity, and above all, the power to change oneself for the better. To emphasize these powerful benefits, the beta post-test will be replaced in early Summer 2019 in all ACES LaunchPads with a new, permanent, second instance of ACES to be taken at the end of the semester. The report students will receive from this second instance of ACES will be called “ The ACES Progress Report .” Instructors will also have a new “ Comparison Report ” in their report dashboard so they themselves can reflect on the impact their course has had on their students. In addition, there will be a brief guide added to all ACES LaunchPads to help students compare their Progress Report with their Initial Report from the beginning of the semester. Connections, Second Edition --the new edition of the textbook program developed in conjunction with ACES by the same team of counseling psychologists--gets an even more powerful end-of-semester feature: an assignable Capstone LaunchPad activity that automatically pulls in students’ ACES results from the entire term, and leads them through a metacognitive reflection to set them up for long term success. These new features--the ACES Progress Report , the ACES Comparison Report , and the ACES Capstone Activity --are truly the product of the collaborative spirit at Macmillan Learning. I’m so inspired by how our wonderful authors, our senior editor Christina Lembo, our senior media editor Tom Kane, our technology team, and our faculty and student partners across the country, came together to bring you these new products, fostered by our spirit that together we can achieve more. With these new features, our hope is that you will now be able to give your students something as powerful as the self-knowledge you offer them when they walk into your class--self growth, as they walk out.
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Last summer, we looked at schools with Common Reading Programs, where institutions assign or recommend titles for students and instructors to read over the summer, so that they can come together to discuss the book as a community in the fall. Believe it or not (I don't), but summer is here again, and so are these reading programs. While several schools have already announced their picks, there's still no way to tell which books will be the most common (pun intended) choice. While some common reading programs include the entire student body, many of them are aimed specifically at students entering their first year of college. This gives incoming students the opportunity to share something with their instructors and peers before they step on campus, and provides them with a taste of what they can expect from their institution over the course (pun not intended) of their studies. So, for those of you still deliberating on your common reading choices, or those of you who simply want more reading recommendations, take a look at the Macmillan catalog on Books for the First-Year Experience. These critically-acclaimed books are ideal for the first-year experience: they're accessible and challenging, timely and classic, broadly appealing, stimulating, and moving. They foster individual growth while also inviting campus-wide discussion. Overall, a perfect summer reading for an incoming student who wants to start their first year on the right page (last pun, promise!). Here are some examples of books featured on Macmillan's Books for the First-Year Experience Catalog: The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin Oprah's Book Club Choice for June 2018! In 1985, Anthony Rae Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Stunned, confused, and only twenty-nine years old, Hinton knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free. But with an incompetent defense attorney and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on Death Row at Holman State Prison in despairing silence—angry and full of hatred for all those who had sent an innocent man to his death. But as Hinton realized and accepted his fate, he resolved not only to survive, but to find a way to live on Death Row. For the next twenty-seven years he was a beacon—transforming not only his own spirit, but those of his fellow inmates, fifty-four of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. With the help of civil rights attorney and bestselling author of Just Mercy , Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015. With a foreword by Stevenson, The Sun Does Shine is an extraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Hinton’s memoir tells his dramatic thirty-year journey and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, humor, or joy. Anthony Ray Hinton spent nearly thirty years on death row for crimes he did not commit. Released in April 2015, Hinton now speaks widely on prison reform and the power of faith and forgiveness. He lives in Alabama. Check out his chat with Oprah about his book on her Facebook page here. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering. Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end. Atul Gawande is author of three bestselling books: Complications ; Better ; and The Checklist Manifesto . He is also a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker , and a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. He and his wife have three children and live in Newton, Massachusetts. In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero with Michelle Burford Diane Guerrero, the television actress from the megahit Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin , was just fourteen years old on the day her parents were detained and deported while she was at school. Born in the U.S., Guerrero was able to remain in the country and continue her education, depending on the kindness of family friends who took her in and helped her build a life and a successful acting career for herself, without the support system of her family. In the Country We Love is a moving, heartbreaking story of one woman’s extraordinary resilience in the face of the nightmarish struggles of undocumented residents in this country. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., many of whom have citizen children, whose lives here are just as precarious, and whose stories haven’t been told. Written with bestselling author Michelle Burford, this memoir is a tale of personal triumph that also casts a much-needed light on the fears that haunt the daily existence of families like Guerrero’s and on a system that fails them over and over. Diane Guerrero is an actress on the hit shows Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin . She volunteers with the nonprofit Immigrant Legal Resource Center, as well as with Mi Familia Vota, an organization that promotes civic involvement. She has been named an Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization by the White House. She lives in New York City. Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time by Andrew Forsthoefel At twenty-three, Andrew Forsthoefel walked out the back door of his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, with a backpack, an audio recorder, his copies of Whitman and Rilke, and a sign that read “Walking to Listen.” He had just graduated from Middlebury College and was ready to being his adult life, but he didn’t know how. So he decided he’d walk. And listen. It would be a cross-country quest for guidance, and everyone he met would be his guide. Thousands shared their stories with him, sometimes confiding their prejudices, too. Often he didn’t know how to respond. How to find unity in diversity? How to stay connected, even as fear works to tear us apart? He listened for answers to these questions, and to the existential questions every human must face, and began to find that the answer might be in listening itself. Ultimately, it’s the stories of others living all along the roads of America that carry this journey and sing out in a hopeful, heartfelt book about how a life is made, and how our nation defines itself on the most human level. Andrew Forsthoefel is a writer, radio producer, and public speaker. After graduating from Middlebury College in 2011, he spent nearly a year walking across the United States. He first recounted part of that journey in a radio story featured on This American Life . He now facilitates workshops on walking and listening as practices in personal transformation, interconnection, and conflict resolution, and is currently based in Northampton, Massachusetts. This post was adapted from an entry in A Word from Macmillan tagged 2017, A Word from Macmillan on 10/19/2017.
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