More than just a recent buzzword, diversity is a crucial part of success in the classroom. While typically discussed in relation to race, diversity encompasses a host of differences. These include, but are not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, learning style, country of origin, disability, political ideology, religion, and cultural perspectives. 

“Diversity is difference in thought and experience,” says Noura Allen, Director of Diversity and Inclusive Excellence for the College of Professional Studies.

 “As faculty, we must prioritize sharing content and research about and from a variety of lived experiences,” says Allen. “In doing so, we share with our students the importance of reflecting critically about our own beliefs.” 

When diversity is effectively implemented and championed within the classroom, it can teach students to become more self-aware, engage in cultural dissonance, and navigate nuance in various settings. 

Increasing self-awareness:

Different perspectives aid in creating a more holistic view of the world. By creating an educational space with a variety of identities, diverse classrooms inherently produce students that are more self-aware. When exposed to those with a different lived experience than themselves, students are challenged to not only see the world from someone else’s point of view, but also think more critically about their own. Being confronted with a variety of viewpoints challenges us to understand ourselves better, and check our unconscious biases at the door. 

But it’s not just students that benefit from this increased awareness— instructors do too, as they learn to be culturally aware and adapt their teaching style to address the needs of their audience. Becoming self-aware of one’s biases is just as important for instructors as it is for students, if not even more so. 

A one-size-fits all approach is rarely fitting in our increasingly diverse society, and instructors are now more than ever required to understand cultural nuance. Diversity in the classroom allows for instructors to center various voices, and provide representation that is reflective of the lived experience of students present. 

Experiencing cultural dissonance:

Classrooms that are diverse also welcome discourse and dissonance. By inviting productive debate, varying perspectives are allowed to coexist without the fear of an absolute “right or wrong” way of thinking.  Having a diverse classroom encourages the vocalizing of different opinions, and learning that the world often operates in the “gray” is imperative for success. 

For example, if there is only one student of a specific identity, they may feel alienated in classroom debates for fear of being isolated. However, in a classroom with multiple perspectives and identities, that student may feel more comfortable voicing their perspective, because they know their classroom values different viewpoints.

Navigating nuance:

Along with discourse, giving students the space to “grapple” with their lived experiences and examine how that affects their choices is crucial, as it helps students understand how they can uniquely navigate the world. Having a diverse classroom allows for students to do that while making their identity a pillar for decision making.

Although it may seem intimidating or uncomfortable at first, learning how to have difficult conversations should be a skill that is honed and continually tweaked throughout one’s life. In a diverse classroom, instructors have the opportunity to help students learn to “lean in” to difficult discourse, leading to increased understanding and empathy for all present. Understanding nuance is key in all situations, but especially when addressing different identities. Through engaging in cultural dissonance, students learn tools and communication skills to advocate for the liberation of one another. 

Now more than ever, our workforce needs employees who have the ability to practice self-awareness, engage in cultural discourse, and navigate nuance. In a society that is more polarized than ever, it is crucial to remain empathetic towards those with different identities than ourselves— whether that’s in the classroom, the office, or beyond. By laying the foundation with a diverse classroom, educators can support students of all identities, while also setting them up for success.

By Isabel Bekele and Noura Allen