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Teachers as allies: A #digped discussion

Diversity keeps coming up in higher education, pedagogy, and instructor professional development. It seems that even though college-going populations have been steadily getting more diverse over higher education’s entire history, that some sort of critical mass has been achieved, some social awareness has been awakened, some progressive consciousness has been stirred. Faculty and student identities along lines of gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, age, and (dis)ability are being taken seriously in our educational institutions and practices. Student populations are increasingly activated and college administrators are finally taking notice with the proliferation of diversity committees, offices, awareness campaigns and so on. These developments are a good thing, and the conversations need to keep happening, but what do they mean for the practices of teaching and learning?

Engaging with diversity in teaching and learning means actively and purposefully considering inclusive practices. But what do we mean when we invoke the term inclusive? For Terrell Strayhorn, a professor of education whose work is gaining traction in administrative circles, inclusivity is rooted in a sense of belonging. When we feel that we belong in a classroom, in a community, in a place, we are empowered to engage, participate, create, and express ourselves. When we feel we belong, we are empowered to grow and to learn. When we feel we belong, we sense that we are in a safe space, a place where ideas can be exchanged constructively amidst dangerous and potentially violent topics.

Where does this sense of belonging come from, and how can we foster it? Strayhorn points us to relationships. Relationships between and among instructors and students. Relationships that are built upon and through our multiple identities. Because we do not occupy only one category of socially constructed identity, we all navigate our identities amongst and between each of these categories. Thus, we can, as instructors, empathize, sympathize, and identify with a myriad of socially constructed identities and foster learning spaces of inclusion. Inclusivity, based in relationships that foster a sense of belonging, can then be directed to support the projects of equalizing access, emancipation from dominant social hierarchies, and further enriching and fostering personal and individual development.

A focus on relationships is one that critical pedagogues can appreciate. Freire calls for a closure of “the distance between the teacher and the taught”. bell hooks implores us to take the power dynamics of classrooms seriously. As Danielle Paradis has written here at Hybrid Pedagogy, there is not only a rich opportunity in considering the relations between the teacher and the taught, but an imperative. And if this relationship is one of possibility as well as uncertainty, we ought to be intentional about our approaches in enacting it.

One approach to the work of fostering inclusive learning environments as instructors, designers, and digital pedagogues is allyship. An ally is a member of a dominant group who actively works against oppression through support of–and as an advocate for–the oppressed. And for the Anti-Oppression Network in Vancouver, BC, “allyship is an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people”. As allies, instructors can harness the power and privilege inherent to their position in extant educational institutions to foster relationships, dialogue, and belonging that constitute inclusive learning environments. Thus, as instructors, designers, and digital pedagogues we can do the work of allyship by*:

  • actively acknowledging our privileges and openly discussing them
  • listening more and speaking less
  • doing our work with integrity and direct communication
  • not expecting to be educated by others: we continuously do our own research on the oppressions experienced by the people we seek to work with
  • building our capacity to receive criticism, to be honest and accountable with our mistakes
  • embracing the emotions that come out of the process of allyship, understanding that we might feel uncomfortable, challenged, and hurt
  • not expecting gratitude, awards, or special recognition

This Friday at Noon Eastern, Digital Pedagogy Lab will host a live Twitter chat using #digped focused on the inclusivity and allyship in digital pedagogy. This chat comes upon the eve of Digital Pedagogy Lab’s first international institute at the American University in Cairo.

Some questions to consider in advance of the chat:

  1. What does allyship look like in digital pedagogy?
  2. How can an instructor identify as an ally, what does an ally look like as an instructor?
  3. What tensions or challenges have you encountered in your teaching that fight and inclusive classroom environment?
  4. What exclusive practices have you encountered and how have you mitigated them?
  5. How might we leverage exclusivity to foster relationships, belonging, and inclusion?

If you are interested in this conversation, join us Friday, March 11 at Noon Eastern. For those unable to join the conversation this week, the #digped chat happens on the second Friday of every month at Noon Eastern. If you have suggestions for future topics, feel free to add them to the comments on this entry or tweet them to @Jessifer or @slamteacher.

*adapted from Allyship:responsibilities and Privilege, Allyship, and Safe Space

[Photo, “Rainbow Huts”, by The 5h Ape.]