Learning about diversity can be a struggle

I have learned over the years that some of my most successful teaching moments come after a full term of kind, strong, consistent hard work. Here is an in-depth reflection from a student who struggled in class right up until the last few weeks of term. I have also included some brief comments that echo the same process. These women and men have have helped me learn that my job is not always to “get along” with my students but rather to be a strong and trust worthy “raft” for them to cling to as we navigate the “white water rapids” of the sometimes contentious course content. I feel blessed to have been given these students’ trust and to have witnessed the remarkable change of mind and heart each of these students experienced in one short term.

(Note: the following are excerpts from my end of term class activity entitled, “Letter to Future Students”, see post for more details about this assignment.)

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Letter to Future Diversity Students

As a student who has successfully completed this course I am writing to give you some insight into how to approach and treat this course. When I walked into Dr. J’s class I was shocked by the amount of work I was going to be expected to do and the part that bothered me most was the purpose. I could not find purpose behind what we were learning or what we were doing. I was wrong, and it took me the better part of the semester to realize it. The first three rounds of journals I did I put the minimum amount of effort in, to get the marks. My fourth, and final round of journals was a complete turn around. I had previously realized Dr. J’s class was not about a whole bunch of lessons I was supposed to take away from but in turn it was about being able to find a lesson in everything in life, in your career, in the world, and in others. My journals reflected this and it was noticed by Dr. J. A factor that was a large influence on my learning of this was the required book. Even though you will be able to get through the quizzes without reading it and do just fine I do not recommend it. The Visual Intelligence book made me look at events differently and see concepts and lessons in things that I did not think had any. I thought it was strange we were instructed to read a book and be tested on it yet the book was never discussed in class just like you will. However, reading the book really is not about getting the marks. The book is a very valuable tool and will surely sharpen your “Visual Intelligence”. I looked at things differently after I read every section of the book. Another thing I was weary about in the beginning was the food bank. I have no issues volunteering, in fact I enjoy it. The food bank would not have been my first choice and I questioned the idea of being forced to volunteer. I really enjoyed my time at the food bank, and while I was there I met some great people that influenced me and really made me think about how easy it is to give your time to a simple cause and how many people you can impact in a big way. To conclude the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to come to this class with an open mind. I did not for two thirds of the course and this hindered my ability to learn. Dr. J has a strong opinion on many things and her thoughts and feelings will challenge your way of thinking. Do not shy from this as I can guarantee you will learn valuable things from her.

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Dear Future Student,

When I first took this course, I was not looking forward to it. I felt it would all be common sense, mundane, repetitive, and boring. Truthfully, it does discuss a lot of things that you would hope are common sense among your peers, but unfortunately, much of what you are going to learn will shift your thinking and broaden your personal horizons. This course challenged me to be more honest with my peers, read material(s) that I would have never read before, and dig deep within myself to not only dissect my emotions, but to analyze them, too.

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To a Future Diversity Student,

Even though I did not like this class in the beginning of the semester, the lessons I got from Dr. J were truly inspiring for me. A number of lessons teach me a better way to deal with social discriminations like racism and sexism.

About

Dr. Jessica Motherwell McFarlane is a professional education consultant on gender, anti-oppression and social justice issues and a research associate at the Justice Institute of British Columbia. She is also the developer and director of the Life Outside the Box program that uses visual narratives as a way to SEE conflict and injustice from new perspectives. Jessica facilitates groups and schools needing to have complex — and sometimes emotionally painful — conversations. She offers workshops to at-risk children, youth, and adults on: Truth and Reconciliation, transforming bullying situations, and rehearsing best practices for self-care, inclusivity, and kindness.