Indra McKie might be best described as an inclusivity nerd; her PhD research looks at how diverse audiences interact with artificial intelligences that speak with a human voice such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home. This interest in diversity extends to voices in the classroom and at a recent First and Further Year Experience Forum held on 20th February, Indra gave a presentation on working with inclusion in the classroom.
I’d like to recognise the diversity of this room and acknowledge that I bring my own experience of life into my presentation today. I hope you feel comfortable to bring your true self into your work today and recognise that we all deserve to be heard and welcomed regardless of differences in age, culture, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status or physical ability.
This is how I started my presentation at the inaugural First and Further Year Experience Forum of 2020 – by acknowledging the diversity in the room. Tasked to present an activity for tutors to help build an inclusive classroom from a current student’s perspective, I reflected on my own experience as a 17-year-old girl embarking on my first year at university over 5 years ago. I was a brown girl with a mixed cultural background, who was not confident about how she looked. I studied at public schools, didn’t have much money and had grown up in Western Sydney. I shared with the group how I often felt excluded from class discussions and activities because I believed that my opinions or experiences weren’t valid, as they didn’t align with my perception of the traditional “Australian” university student.
I remember getting really upset with myself when I was afraid to speak in class, or when I did, I would feel so angry when I let yet another student talk over me. Perhaps this was exacerbated as a FASS student where we learn about cultures and societies, we often drew from our own diverse experiences of life, but they were seldom acknowledged by students and sometimes tutors in the class who shared a majority identity. I found as well that our non-acknowledgement of diversity was highlighted during group assignments, where without the guidance of the tutor, we found it difficult to settle on topics due to the sometimes narrow experiences of others. It was only during my third year that I realised that I could bring my diversity into my individual university assignments, where I felt as I could research, explore and eventually ‘own’ my own complex identity. But, prior to this, a feeling of exclusion continued off and on throughout the rest of my undergrad degree.
Crafting a Recognising Diversity statement
A Recognising Diversity statement is a 30 second script that you can perform after an Acknowledgement of Country at the beginning of a class, in an email to students or on the front page of a UTSOnline module. Now as a PhD student, professional staff member and research assistant at UTS, I realise that those teaching academics who I once thought of as intimidating, serious and intellectuals, are also humans. Humans that really do try their best to make their classrooms a safe space for their students. But, we’re human, sometimes we can be forgetful, sometimes we know what we want to say but have trouble expressing it in sensitive situations, or sometimes we accidentally say the wrong thing.
Scripts ensure that knowledge is accurately accessible to others. Drawing inspiration from other scripted resources that have helped me become more confident in promoting inclusivity, the following scripts have inspired this activity:
- An Acknowledgement of Country is only a couple sentences long but has made it easier for all Australians to express their acknowledgement of and respect for Indigenous Australians.
- UTS Consent Matters module provides examples of language for young adults like me to help express ourselves in uncomfortable situations.
A moment for self reflection
Before creating our own Recognising Diversity statement I invited FFYE participants to examine their own bias and social identity through a reflective ethnographic writing exercise. I’ve done this myself during my Honours research project where I investigated the complex diverse identity I associate with (published paper here).
In 5-10 minutes of silent reflection, try to answer:
What is my definition of “diversity”? With guiding questions:
- How do you identify yourself? In what ways do you think you may be different from others in the classroom?
- What was your own experience of being a student in a classroom?
- What do you do in your teaching that helps to be inclusive of the diversity in the classroom?
After getting to understand yourself better you are in a better position to relate and empathise with others. Performing your own personalised Recognising Diversity statement is a simple gesture that will help make sure that no student ever misses out on feeling welcome in your classroom.
One academic from the forum came up with her Recognising Diversity statement, short and sweet, but ask any participant at the FFYE forum, it resonated as completely authentic and natural:
“Welcome everyone! Wherever you’re from, whoever you are, however you got here and whatever your reason for being here”
Try it with your students
Want to take this exercise a step further? Developing a recognising diversity script with your students in every subject can help students understand the classroom diversity better and help them to work together in groups.
Indra Mckie is an Information Services Librarian at UTS Library and Project Officer at UTS ITD and commenced her PhD at UTS in 2019.
Get in touch by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.