Second “Walking Together” panel focuses on diversity and inclusion in the classroom

Senior Asha Davis answers a question from an audience member in the Charles V. Park Library Auditorium, on the campus of Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, Michigan, on Friday, April 8, 2016. Pictured, from left to right, Asha Davis, Matt Johnson, Terencio McGlasson, and Andrea Jasper.
Sophomore Ahsha Davis answers a question from an audience member in the Charles V. Park Library Auditorium, on the campus of Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, Michigan, on Friday, April 8, 2016. Pictured, from left to right, Asha Davis, Matt Johnson, Terencio McGlasson, and Andrea Jasper.

Students and faculty filled the Charles V. Park Auditorium for the second “Walking Together” panel discussion today.

The panel, which focused on the issue of racial and cultural diversity within the classroom setting, was a continuation of the diversity-centric conversation started by Central Michigan University President George Ross on Dec. 4, 2015.

At the last panel, Ross ended up sending  an email apology to everyone on campus for not calling a student by their chosen pronouns. Students also asked about increasing the budget for the Office of Institutional Diversity. Since then, officials have told Insider the budget for Institutional Diversity will be increased next year.

The panel was planned last semester after several universities had student demonstrations about the treatment of minority students and media articles on local racial tensions were published.

Ross was not in attendance for this panel and the audience wasn’t given a reason for his absence. Dean of the College of Education and Human Services Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson moderated the event.

Faculty members on the panel included  Associate Vice President of Institutional Diversity Carolyn Dunn, Director of Diversity of Education Sapphire Cureg, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership Matt Johnson, Associate Professor of Special Education Andrea Jasper, and Associate Professor of Counselor Education Terry McGlasson.

Also on the panel was sophomore Ahsha Davis and graduate student Natalie Kinsella.

Kinsella was the first to speak, with her main point being the necessity of the process of introducing diversity centering around “personalization.” Kinsella drew from her experiences as a teacher in Montana when the “Indian Education for All” Act, which aims to close the achievement gap of Native American students, was first being implemented.

“We need to think about is making (diversity education) something we do early, and something we do as an ongoing process,” said Kinsella. “You don’t just throw civil rights into a history class and leave it at that, we need to connect it, we need to make something that you can think about in more than just one context.”

Davis further believes the process of becoming more accepting of diversity is something constant and ongoing. “We can’t just sit here and say ‘Let’s talk about diversity all day’,” said Davis. “We can talk about it, but it’s the aftermath that allows you to really understand and build and grow from it.”

Johnson said he believes the issue of diversity is best tackled through a step-by-step process. “We need to start with the idea that issues of exclusion, discrimination and oppression are happening in our classrooms,” Johnson said. “We have to know that anything related to this is about trying to displace power, hegemony and ideology… we’re fundamentally talking about power and privilege that is steeped in whiteness, genderism and so on and so forth.”

After the opening statements, a microphone was passed through the audience for anyone who had a question for the panel. Topics discussed included what kinds of discrimination members of the panel had experienced on campus, possible ways in which diversity could be introduced into multiple fields of study and whether-or-not professors should embrace diversity versus following the “script” of their course expectations.

Jasper said she wouldn’t be opposed to students engaging more with their professors when it comes to how issues of diversity are handled within the classroom. “Come to offices hours to talk about it… just be very real and blunt, but respectful when you’re talking about it. That’s one of our duties, as faculty members and as students, if we’re serious about creating a classroom that’s inclusive,” Jasper said.

McGlasson followed up Jasper, “Professors do have a responsibility to set themselves up as approachable from day one,” McGlasson said. “No matter what you have to talk to me about, you should be able to feel safe to do that. That’s my responsibility, because there’s a power differential in the room.”

Pehrsson said the panel will continue throughout the next academic year starting in the fall.


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