By: Terrill O. Taylor and Maaly Younis, on behalf of the GSTA Steering Committee
At the beginning of June, the GSTA expressed its solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and with our fellow Black and brown graduate students in our position statement and call to action for graduate student teaching assistants and instructors of psychology. In our statement, we identified six actions that graduate student instructors and teaching assistants can take to make our instruction more inclusive, equitable, and anti-racist. In this series of posts for the GSTA Blog, members of the GSTA Steering Committee will be expanding on each of these action items and including resources that may be useful for other instructors and teaching assistants in psychology courses. We recognize that these are just a few of the many amazing resources available and encourage you to share resources that you have found helpful with us through Facebook (www.facebook.com/groups/theGSTA), Twitter (@gradsteachpsych), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or the GSTA listserv.
For our third and final blog post of this series, we discuss issues related to racism, discrimination, and inequity that plague institutional settings. In addition, we provide resources for two more action items that focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion to amplify the voices and experiences of historically underrepresented/marginalized college students and professional colleagues:
- Create inclusive learning environments that celebrate diversity, do not tolerate discrimination, and embrace all voices and opinions.
- Adopt anti-racist and culturally responsive teaching and assessment practices.
In recent years, many public and private postsecondary education institutions have begun to adopt or have adapted their strategic plans to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The purpose behind these objectives is, first and foremost, to provide students with an exceptional educational experience, while being inclusive of individuals from diverse multicultural backgrounds and lived experiences (Williams, 2005). Diversity issues have long been neglected or under-addressed; hence, there is a great need for these advances. This may be due, in part, to the historical experiences that have long silenced professionals in educational settings. Often, individuals’ voices go unheard due to fears of repercussion if they were to speak out against systems that, intentionally or unintentionally, influence and support forms of discrimination, marginalization, and oppression. Silencing voices and not supporting individuals’ telling of their experiences is a form of oppression that has existed in the social hierarchy of educational institutions for far too long and must be addressed. Additionally, as some may question whether institutions are equipped and fully committed to effectively addressing these issues proactively, the duties of social justice-related agendas far too often lay on the shoulders of individuals of color, as well as racial-justice advocates most passionate about this area of work.
To successfully embody diversity in educational settings, inclusive policies should be present in each of the following parts of the organizational structure of education. It is critical that such policies: address access to learning resources for all students; use curriculum and teaching and learning practices that promote diverse perspectives and viewpoints; assess for an inclusive campus climate; and realign the priorities, procedures, and resources of the institution to ensure that that policies that promote, foster, and support diversity and inclusion are embodied throughout all facets of the institution. It is our belief that psychology graduate student instructors can play an active role in dismantling oppressive systems and work to address ineffective policies throughout all domains of educational structures, even those extending beyond the classroom. As discussed in Blog #2, this level of advocacy and activism may go a long way to producing long-term change.
At this very moment, educators, including graduate-level instructors, can use their positions to impact the lives of diverse students in educational classrooms. With respect to diversity, we encourage all graduate educators to embrace and encourage differences in social identities of students, including identity characteristics such as age, ability/disability status, race or ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, military status, and other social representations that make the classroom community unique. Further, we encourage all educators to consider how they can adjust their teaching practices and lend their voices to ensure that all students can participate in activities free from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. This includes individual educators speaking out against educational structures and individuals who contribute to these forms of historical oppression.
Following the media coverage of race-related incidents that have occurred over the past few months, it is important to recognize and acknowledge that our everyday lives are impacted in one way or another by race and racism. We encourage our fellow graduate instructors to find creative ways to connect these issues to their course subjects in both direct and indirect ways, as well as provide students with opportunities to explore how prejudice impacts their own personal experiences. This work is necessary as all students need to develop a critical appreciation of Whiteness and historical discourses of exclusion (Hollinrake et al., 2019).
As some may be naïve to the experiences and disparities faced by students of color, we highlight below a few critical references that help uncover these realities:
- In their research on racial and ethnic minorities, Hollinrake et al. (2019) discuss how to shape the learning environment to be conducive to the development and support of students. It is stated that Black and minority ethnic students in education at all levels and across disciplines, do less well in the outcomes of their studies. This grappling injustice must be corrected.
- Existing research also suggests that students of color perceive a more unwelcoming campus climate and report having observed discrimination at their educational institution at higher levels than their White counterparts (Navarro et al., 2009; Worthington, et al., 2008).
- We also highlight an article by Isik et al. (2018) examining Factors Influencing Academic Motivation of Ethnic Minority Students: A Review (maybe just say “the factors influencing academic motivation of ethnic minority students,” and cite the hyperlink there?). This systematic review reveals the importance of taking the students ethnic identity into consideration when developing and planning academic interventions especially to minority students.
To help combat these critical issues, we also encourage fellow graduate teaching assistants and educators to implement anti-racist activities and adopt a more culturally responsive teaching framework. This framework can be used to engage students in proactive conversations that examine the role of racial and ethnic identities in shaping relationships and power dynamics to support and amplify racial and ethnic minority student voices:
This work may also be done through the implementation of campus climate surveys. These surveys are commonly used to characterize the attitudes, perceptions, behaviors, and experiences of students, faculty, staff, and administrators concerning the safety and inclusivity of the campus environment (Worthington et al., 2008). Typically administered to students, faculty/staff, and administrators, they help institutions better understand the experiences of those within the educational system, while also capturing what individuals may need to feel more welcomed and supported. We encourage graduate instructors to find out whether climate surveys are already available at the departmental level, or to consider how one might be able to assess the climate of their specific course classrooms (in-person or virtually).
Further, engaging students who serve as college campus leaders in your courses is an additional step that can be taken. This may serve to build relationships and foster connections that help students feel welcomed and appreciated. Inviting students to lead classroom conversations about diversity and inclusion and including students as stakeholders in the educational learning experience can go a long way. These efforts of inclusion provide opportunities for students to share their experiences and highlight the unique perspectives they have to offer in the learning processes of others.
Another critical component includes educators being active in correcting students' behaviors when students recite information that is offensive, oppressive, invalidating, and counter-productive to the issue at hand. Structural forms of racism, discrimination, and inequality will persist if educators remain silent on these issues and do not correct these actions, including calling out microaggressions (see link for examples of Microaggressions as discussed by Dr. Derald Wing Sue). Taken from the words of Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Let’s make a choice to not be the oppressor. Indeed, it is those fighting against the systems to which have historically oppressed them that require our protection.
We thus encourage graduate student educators to consider how they might engage in anti-oppressive practices, combat anti-racism, and develop cultural competence in their teaching practices. We offer below an additional resource that highlights both the need for this work, and effective strategies to incorporate in your teaching practices:
To end, we urge our readers to call out forms of oppression when witnessed, and at the same time work with individuals in ways that mitigate its impact and promote social justice. This must be viewed as an issue of human rights and dignity. And from a social justice perspective, it requires our devoted attention. We thank you for your reading and engagement with this blog series.
Gay, G. (2013). Teaching to and through cultural diversity. Curriculum inquiry, 43(1), 48-70.
Harbin, M. B., Thurber, A., & Bandy, J. (2019). Teaching Race, Racism, and Racial Justice: Pedagogical Principles and Classroom Strategies for Course Instructors. Race and Pedagogy Journal: Teaching and Learning for Justice, 4(1), 1.
Hollinrake, S., Hunt, G., Dix, H., & Wagner, A. (2019). Do we practice (or teach) what we preach? Developing a more inclusive learning environment to better prepare social work students for practice through improving the exploration of their different ethnicities within teaching, learning and assessment opportunities. Social Work Education, 38(5), 582-603. https://doi-org./10.1080/02615479.2019.1593355
Isik, U., Tahir, O. E., Meeter, M., Heymans, M. W., Jansma, E. P., Croiset, G., & Kusurkar, R. A. (2018). Factors influencing academic motivation of ethnic minority students: A review. SAGE Open. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244018785412
Navarro, R. L., Worthington, R. L., Hart, J., & Khairallah, T. (2009). Liberal and conservative political ideology, experiences of harassment, and perceptions of campus climate. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 2(2), 78-90.
Williams, D. A., Berger, J. B., & McClendon, S. A. (2005). Toward a model of inclusive excellence and change in postsecondary institutions. Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Worthington, R. L., Navarro, R. L., Loewy, M., & Hart, J. (2008). Color-blind racial attitudes, social dominance orientation, racial-ethnic group membership and college students’ perceptions of campus climate. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 1(1), 8-19.