Addressing #dei in the Global South’s Higher Education Classroom

#dei, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is becoming ubiquitous. What would this mean in the higher education classroom, especially with reference to those in the Global South?
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 #dei, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is becoming ubiquitous. What would this mean in the higher education classroom, especially with reference to those in the Global South? That diversity exists in the classroom of a higher education institution in the Global South in terms of first-generation learners, socio-economic classes, genders, tribal-rural-urban regions, religions, castes, physical, intellectual, and emotional capabilities, languages, or any other, as well as their intersectionalities, is an undeniable fact. In the spectrum of each of the diverse groups, those who are especially at the margins, need a great deal of educational support. Measures around educational equity can bring about inclusion in the classroom. This “work-in-progress” is bound to be in a flux.

The physical environment of the campus ought to become friendly to those with physical challenges—ramps, railings, accessible rest rooms, elevators, assistive technologies, and the like. An office for students with special needs—physical, intellectual, and emotional—which informs the faculty of the curricular—teaching and assessment—modifications to be made for such students is vital. The provision of faculty office hours, mentoring programs, tutoring and writing centers, counseling and medical services will help students from several diverse groups.

The cliched adage, “Know Thyself,” is where the task of #dei in a classroom begins. Faculty must become cognizant about their own beliefs, unconscious biases, verbal and nonverbal language towards the diverse groups. They might want to be self-reflective about the intent and impact of their words and actions. In the era of smartphones and social media, faculty should reflect upon their own habits of checking their phones during the class. How are they modeling behaviors, which they expect their students to demonstrate? The phone-scrolling habit has desensitized several to care about the person in flesh and blood in front of them. Mindfulness around words that convey power and privilege is essential. Allies are needed for the disenfranchised.

Human beings are innately wired to feel belonged. Knowing the students’ names, which forms their identity, is one of the ways to make them feel belonged. Large classes inhibit this and the use of technology can help faculty in knowing their students. There could be some countries in the Global South where connectivity could be a challenge and where creativity of the faculty in this respect is called for. Every name is unique and it is not appropriate for faculty to shorten names or change them to easily-pronounceable ones.

Class policies developed at the beginning of the academic year must be examined for their inclusion; this might entail taking decisions that have a fine line between trust and imposing the consequences: how can the policies foster better behavior and values in individuals, yet not thwart the disenfranchised or merely favor the able? One might also ponder: to what end does the deviation from the policies, to become popular with the students, help the students and the citizenry.

The surge in mental health issues as a result of the isolation during the pandemic is sadly well-established. Students with proper documentation about their challenges in mental health can help implement equitable class policies. For example, a student on a certain kind of medication might tend to sleep in the class. Knowing the student’s health status beforehand will aid the faculty to be equitable in applying their class policies; they will know that the student needs a nudge to attend to the lesson. Letting students inform the faculty of their health concern at the beginning of a class period is yet another professional manner in dealing with the situation.

While retaining a secular outlook, varied examples of the representation or non-existence of some diverse groups in the content, will also address #dei issues. Articulating the relevance of the subjects and topics to the students is good educational practice. At the same time, students find it useful to know every class period, what they are studying with reference to the larger course syllabus as well as in terms of the learning objectives and outcomes.

Research has indicated that the visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic—sensory modalities of learning styles is a myth and has to be shunned from practicing, no matter how easy and attractive it appears. Applying thought in the choice of teaching strategies for andragogy is critical to addressing the classroom diversity. Using multiple strategies, students of diverse language and intellectual abilities can be engaged in the classroom. The Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) has shown that active inquiry is integral to student understanding. The faculty’s use of active learning methods, will especially address the diverse group of distracted and inattentive students.

One of the oft-forgotten purposes of faculty pursuing academic research is to transfer them to teaching. Students will benefit from knowing the latest research studies and trends in the subjects. Additionally, this would address the gifted and talented students in the classroom. Also, equity in the curriculum does not mean watering it down for the slow learners and underachievers.

Students make their learning visible via assessments. The age of AI-aided student work, necessitates faculty to show their ingenuity in creating authentic-, performance-oriented, and other assessments which address the student-diversity and equity in their classes. Developing deeply thought-out rubrics aids students.

Some faculty tend to perceive the issues of equity and social justice in education as exotic and additive. #dei is about the inclusion of the diversity of humanity, of which the faculty are a part—in order to attain educational and social equity; inclusion brings humanity into an organic oneness; #dei is not about the other; #dei is about us. In fact, #dei ought to be the foundation on which education stands.

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