Elizabethtown College Celebrates MLK Jr. Week with Inclusivity Lecture
Elizabethtown College celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Week 2019: Social Justice through Civic Engagement with events held by the the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Title IX, the MLK committee and the Dean for Academic Affairs and Faculty Development. On Wednesday, Jan. 23, Kevin Gannon, Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and professor of history at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, held the lecture “Designing and Teaching for Inclusion.” He spoke about inclusivity in the classroom as an integral part of every professor’s pedagogy and how to incorporate it into the curriculum.
The lecture began with a writing exercise and a prompt about teaching; however, participants were required to use their left hand and had only two minutes to answer the prompt. Afterwards, Gannon gave the criteria for judging the responses: penmanship and word count, in which answers had to have a minimum of 30 words. This led into a discussion on the fairness of putting up the criteria after having to answer the prompt and the fairness of the criteria themselves. It put into perspective the topic of the lecture and allowed people to think about inclusivity and diversity as it applied to them in relation to the exercise.
He then showed data of first-year retention rates from four broad racial categories nationwide: white, Asian, black, and Latinx. It revealed the graduation rates of Latinx and black students were significantly lower than those of their white and Asian peers.
“I would suggest that what this data suggests to [people in higher education] is ‘mission failed,’” Gannon said.
“We have failed in the mission of our institutions as we have told all of our external and internal constituencies ‘This is what our college stands for, and here is how we go about doing that work.’ That mission is failed incompletely and inequitably, speaking nationwide.”
Gannon then showed a screengrab of the College’s promised academic outcomes, but asked the audience if every student was experiencing them equitably. He stated that at his university, the answer was no, and that it was probably the same way here; many professors and faculty in the audience agreed with this statement.
“We need to re-center teaching and learning, not just as something [we] do in the classroom but as something that is thoroughly interwoven into the entire institutional culture,” Gannon said. “Wherever we are encountering that culture is where we need to re-center our teaching and learning.”
According to Gannon, inclusivity is essential and fundamental to the teaching pedagogy and that professors and institutions must talk about inclusion when re-centering teaching. He also said higher education administrators need to ask themselves if they are addressing diversity adequately.
“Inclusion matters deeply – our student body is diversifying more rapidly than ever before,” Gannon stated. “Your students are different now, demographically and otherwise, than they might have been five, 10, 15 years ago.”
Gannon encouraged the professors in the audience to think about inclusive pedagogy on the basis of course design, class climate and access to learning. In this lecture, he focused on discussing ways to deliberately cultivate a learning environment with a diverse student body in mind. He reiterated that intersectionality is a key factor and asked the educators attending to examine the people doing cutting-edge research in their respective fields. He followed up with asking if those people matched what was taught in the syllabus and related it to his own history classes.
“When I pay attention to how I design a course, and more importantly, who creates the knowledge that my students are accessing as their gateway into this particular field [of history], I see that deliberately cultivating this environment matters,” Gannon stated.
As a final note to the lecture, Gannon again emphasized that educators must design their classes with inclusivity in mind because it is important to teaching a well-rounded and interesting course as it relates to the diversity of their students.
“We must teach, design and act inclusively – whether it’s in an individual classroom, an online course, in the library, in the dining hall, around campus – both real and virtual, must be the community that we say we want to create. And in order to do that, we have to be approaching it through the lens of inclusivity,” Gannon said.