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Revised courses help students reach diversity goals

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Christina Newhill
School of Social Work

I attended the 1997 Chancellor’s Faculty Diversity Seminar for More Inclusive Teaching because I was concerned about my effectiveness in teaching content on diversity in my classes and wanted to revise my courses to improve that.  Although I was keenly aware that the issue of diversity is extremely important in social work, I also realized that somehow I wasn’t reaching my students.  Even my students of color were not responsive to exam questions and assignments related to diversity.  Therefore, I concluded that I needed to learn and apply new teaching strategies.TeachingTimes_Newhill

As a result of the seminar, I have revised all my courses including “Foundations of Generalist Social Work Practice” (a required first-year graduate course), “Human Behavior: Mental Health” (a basic graduate-level psychopathology course), and “Clinical Skills and Psychopathology” (an advanced graduate-level direct practice course that teaches students skills for working with clients with severe mental illness).  The primary course that I revised during my participation in the

The seminar also raised my own consciousness about diversity and, consequently, helped me improve my ability to manage diversity related issues in the classroom. For example, I am now better able to recognize the so-called “silent students” and address their needs to improve the class environment.  Many times students are silent because they are uncomfortable or threatened by what is being discussed and don’t feel secure about speaking up. To address this, I make a concerted effort to draw them out by making the classroom a comfortable and safe place to learn.  When this happens, all students, not just the “silent” ones, tend to talk more openly and honestly and, therefore, learn more.  Furthermore, as a result of the seminar, I have observed that my students have improved their performance on papers and exam questions related to diversity.  In general, I see more empathy and sensitivity toward their clients among my students. seminar was the Generalist Practice course. In these revisions, I was extremely attentive to the course objectives.  One particular objective states that students are to increase understanding and sensitivity to issues relating to diversity.  However, I had discovered that my students were uncertain about what the term diversity actually implied.  Therefore, I decided to spell it out, i.e., diversity means differences in race, gender, ethnicity, culture, class, sexual orientation, religion, and values. One thing I learned in the seminar is that one cannot make assumptions about what students do or do not know and, therefore, it is critical to be explicit and concrete. To reinforce students’ sensitivity to these issues, I have created a variety of class activities – role-plays, case analysis, problem solving, and debates – in which diversity, as well as other course content      issues, is reflected explicitly.  By doing this consistently, I have ensured that my students understand, accept and apply their knowledge and skills related to diversity as a constant element in developing their competence as beginning social work practitioners.

This seminar has been one of the most intense and valuable experiences I have ever had as a faculty member. Much of this is to the credit of the seminar’s leaders, Drs. Ogle Duff and Audrey Murrell.  They were both challenging and supportive while creating an atmosphere conducive to open dialogue and adult learning.

An important issue now is that action must be taken so that the seminar’s ideas and experiences can be conveyed to all departments to encourage more faculty to participate.  Issues related to diversity cut across all disciplines and departments. A primary goal of the University is to meet students’ needs, and one of those needs is to experience an inclusive educational environment. Our students, therefore, become the ultimate beneficiaries of our increased awareness of these issues.


OCTOBER 2000

Contents:

Curriculum transformations reflect world’s diversity
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Intellectual Diversity: Reflections of a 1960s Black Studies Advocate
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Program director outlines keys to success for diversity and curriculum transformation
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Faculty Diversity Seminar originators trace its beginnings
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Links between music and identity explored
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Unique perspective reveals evolution of issues to African American history professor over past 30 years
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Revised courses reflect Non-European contributions to art
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Web site promotes undergraduate research
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New Faculty Orientation: Summer Institutional Development Institutes 2000
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Classroom tips from global perspectives
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TA Corner: Expanded TA Orientation: Just the Beginning
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Global diversity enriches religion classes
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Re-imagining the canon
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World literature provides window for understanding others
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Revised courses help students reach diversity goals