Learning to Educate an Increasingly Diverse Nation

Marybeth Gasman

In 2014, for the first time, the nation’s student body — from kindergartners to 12th graders — was majority-minority. And the change is spilling out into the nation’s colleges and the country over all.

Census data predicts that by 2050 the United States will be majority-minority as well. As I see these changes, I continue to ask, Are our college and university faculties ready to teach a diverse student body? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Faculty members receive little, if any, training on teaching, and even less on diversity issues. This makes for a troubling situation around learning in the near future.

For nearly two decades, I have been studying the innovative strategies for student success used by the nation’s minority-serving institutions, or MSIs, which include historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, tribal colleges and universities, and Asian-American, Native American and Pacific Islander-serving institutions. Most recently, with Clifton Conrad, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I wrote a book on this topic, “Educating a Diverse Nation” (Harvard University Press). Our book details the lessons from minority-serving institutions that all faculty members can benefit from and use in the classroom.

First, MSIs assume success on the part of students rather than seeing students of color from a deficit perspective. Second, MSIs teach in ways that focus on what the student needs to learn rather than what is convenient for the professor. Third, MSI faculty members work together to co-construct classes and curriculums that empower students. Fourth, MSI faculty members allow students to bring their full identity to the classroom and capitalize on all aspects of a student’s identity in the learning process. And last, MSIs give students the opportunity to participate in culturally relevant assignments that speak to the issues in the communities from which they come.

These approaches require a deeper understanding of teaching, a commitment to student learning and the ability to meet the needs of a diverse group of students. If we are to have an educated citizenry, college and university faculty must take a step back and re-evaluate their approaches to teaching and learning.

Moreover, Ph.D. programs must consider teaching in addition to research when training graduate students. Research is essential, but in order to continue a love for the pursuit of knowledge, we must ensure that our diverse nation truly learns.

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