'Walking Together' diversity panel discusses inclusion in the classroom


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Brianna Hughes | Staff Photographer

Ahsha Davis shared her experience on campus when she was asked if the braids she was wearing "was a black thing" during the second forum in the Walking Together inclusion and diversity series.

"The student asked me what was on my head," said the Detroit sophomore. 

She told him they were braids, then he asked, 'Are those a black thing?'

The forum was held on Friday, April 8 in the Park Library Auditorium and was meant to serve as a follow up from the "Walking Together" panel led by President George Ross in December. The auditorium was filled to capacity with students, faculty and Mount Pleasant community members. The discussion was centered around inclusion in the classroom.

In the upcoming school year, the "Walking Together" series will be focusing on budgets and programming priorities, and driving inclusive culture in the classroom. 

Work with the college of medicine is being conducted to diversify case studies in the classroom, said Institutional Diversity associate vice president Carolyn Dunn. 

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Brianna Hughes | Staff Photographer Dr. Andrea Jasper speaks during "Walking Together" a panel about diversity and Inclusion in the Charles V. Park Library auditorium, Friday, April 8, 2016.

"We're doing this project, the Diversity Transformation Team, where we are working in the classroom developing diversity training for (all) of the colleges," Dunn said. "Everything is in place, it's just moving forward and making sure these ideas are implemented."

Brighton senior Jaclyn Fellwock said she was interested in learning about why there are always more caucasian students in the classroom. 

"I really want to learn more about the dynamics of that and why there is such a divide in the classroom," Fellwock said. 

Warren senior Samantha Kidd said she came to the forum because she thought the information would be applicable to her career field.

"I'm a teacher education student so things like diversity and inclusion are pretty important in this day and age," Kidd said. 

The panel for was made up of Dean of the college of education and human services Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, faculty members and students: diversity education director Sapphire Cureg, assistant professor of higher education Matt Johnson, Carolyn Dunn, counseling and special education faculty Terencio McGlasson, assistant professor of special education Andrea Jasper, Ahsha Davis and graduate student Natalie Kinsella. 

Panelists were introduced and shared their outlook on diversity and inclusion in the classroom for about 40 minutes of the forum. A few questions were taken from the audience for the remainder of the hour-long forum.

"Many faculty don't have any reward structure in the bylaws for promotion and tenure to (include conversations about diversity and inclusion in curriculum)," Johnson said.

Johnson said when he applies for tenure he can talk about how he has conducted work in diversity and inclusion, and it's valued, but other departments don't have that.

McGlasson said when he was a senior at university he discovered he was biracial, and it took him 38 years to open up about being homosexual. 

"The personal experience of my life is my qualification," said McGlasson when he questioned what made him a credible source for speaking on the topic of inclusion in the classroom. 

When Kinsella explained her views on inclusion in the classroom, she said it is "something (faculty) need to do early and that it is an ongoing process." She said the topic should be thought about in more than just one context. 

Davis said an important aspect of inclusion is learning about your own cultures to educate others. 

"Be able to educate others about what you value and what you hold dear to your heart; that's how you grow," Davis said. 

One of the questions proposed to the panel from the audience was how to increase inclusion in a science classroom, in which the curriculum being taught is objective and there is little time to explore content outside of it.

McGlasson said if you cannot instill inclusiveness to curriculum, to create a safe environment for students through personal relations. 

Kinsella suggested exploring information founded by minority groups, opposed to just Europeans.

"Looking at discoveries made by people of color and women, and adding it to the curriculum so it doesn't feel rushed because it is made apart of their job," said Kinsella. 

Brighton junior Jordyn Salerno said she thought this forum was better than the last one because it the topic of discussion was more focused. 

"I think this is where a lot of the conversation lied in the last (discussion) but the questions were not completely addressed," Salerno said. "This time, actually having professors who worked in the college itself helped give solid answers that actually felt (effective)."

Sterling Heights junior Tanner Schudlich said he wished there was more time because there was not enough time to ask as many questions.

"I'm a family studies major so one of the questions I wanted to ask was how we address the issue of heteronormativity in a field that's built on straight couples and heterosexual-headed families," Schudlich said. "Our entire field is based on that, so getting more research on same sex headed families would be beneficial."

I think the students definitely want to ask these questions, and especially in the context of race and race relations, and black lives matter," said moderator Carolyn Dunn. "We haven't done black lives matter yet and we need to. Ironically it doesn't come up in these conversations but it needs to."

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About Deshia Dunn

@daedae_dunn | dunn1dy@cmich.edu

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