Yesterday, Carolyn, Taylor, and I attended the Wichita State University Day at the Kansas Leadership Center. Our seven hour session focused on how to implement adaptive problem solving on the issue of diversity and inclusion. Surrounded by fellow WSU faculty and staff, we began our morning by discussion what our fondest aspirations were for the future of diversity and inclusion at WSU. Some of the answers shouted out included
- More diverse faculty and staff
- No fear or hesitation when discussion diversity and inclusion
- Engagement with diverse communities in Wichita
- LGBTQ Outreach
- Become a national model for diverse and inclusive campuses
- More scholarship opportunities–especially opportunities for students with lower GPAs
- To be able to say “this didn’t used to be a welcoming place”
Shortly after discussing our dreams for the university, we discussed our fears. We spoke about some of the concerns all of us had for our campus in the next 5-10 years, including
- Disengaged student voices (discouraged voices and voices that do not see the value in diversity and inclusion)
- A lack of diversity in positions of power at the university
- A continued fear of repercussions at WSU for speaking out
- Contentment and complacency
- Fear of external forces
- Satisfaction with the conversation or no action
The day continued with all of us discussing aspects of adaptive leadership and how they could be applied to diversity and inclusion at Wichita State. After hours of calm, mediated discussion, someone pointed out that our conversation was exactly the problem we were trying to overcome–nothing was being done. We were all so satisfied with the rules of etiquette and professionalism in the room that everyone had silently agreed to say and do nothing that could be considered “out of line.”
Our unwillingness to speak loudly about our issues was, in my opinion, one of the causes of the explosive townhall meeting hosted by President Bardo a few months ago. What had initally be offered as a civil conversation about diversity and inclusion quickly became a screaming match between students, faculty, and administration. The explosiveness of this meeting rattled the comfortable walls we had built between one another. Administration took immediate action to meet the needs presented by students at the meeting. Action was the result of students turning up the heat.
Turning up the heat is exactly the way we should be talking about diversity and inclusion with our students online. Early in the semester, you probably set up guidelines for conversation or rules of “netiquette” to help control the way our students speak to one another. The respectful tone we suggest for our students is helpful, don’t get me wrong. However, after our conversation yesterday, I am beginning to recognize that pushing myself and my students towards more honest conversation and “turning up the heat” on discussions can lead to more constructive learning and solutions. It’s a shame that our group yesterday did not come to that conclusion together until very late in the day.
I am currently teaching an online exploring literature course that explores a variety of important events throughout modern American history through various lenses–African American, LGBTQ, Native American, young, old, etc. While our discussions over our past readings have been constructed, I have set a personal goal to turn up the heat with my students in our online discussions. I’m excited to report back to you about my experiences later this spring.
Wish me luck!