Lott Hill is the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at University of the Pacific in California. He has taught classes in creative writing, cultural studies, journalism, service-learning, and collaborative portfolio development. His work in faculty development and student learning is underpinned by the principles and practices of social and restorative justice, civic engagement, equity and inclusion, and community building as pedagogical practice.
“Hold me and hold me accountable.” This is how one student articulated his expectations for teachers and peers. Like many students across the U.S., he expressed frustration at what he perceived to be a gap between how his institution presented “diversity” in admissions materials, handbooks, and on the college website and his own daily experiences as a student on campus and in his interactions with instructors and peers.
From an institutional standpoint, “diversity” can appear to be a fixed thing — a number, a statistic, or a destination — as in the statement “we are a diverse institution”. Diversity on many campuses is represented in demographics but not in practices, policies, and behaviors. In many cases, regardless of good intentions, institutions and their faculty are not consistently supporting or facilitating positive and productive interactions between people of differing personal identities and cultural backgrounds. And because conversations about diversity often happen in isolated silos (like Student Affairs, Multicultural Affairs, Academic Affairs, etc.), I am invested in creating safe spaces for representatives of all communities and stakeholders to come together and explore the reality of how our vision for diversity and inclusion informs and is informed by daily interactions and behaviors within classrooms and across campuses.
The vast majority of “Diversity Trainings” I’ve witnessed over the last 20 years were presented in a stand-and-deliver style with PowerPoint slides. Even the most engaging presentations often leave participants sitting and listening passively to stories and statistics. I feel it is important to offer an opportunity for individuals to practice diversity. Individual voice and experience should be privileged and determine the direction of the dialogue, as participants reflect upon and explore their own experiences, questions, and ideas in the service of improving the conditions of teaching and learning for everyone. This learner-centered approach has informed my pedagogy, curriculum, teaching philosophy, instructional practice, administrative leadership, and the many programs, workshops, exhibitions, and initiatives I have individually and collaboratively developed over the last 15 years. As Dean Spade argues in Normal Life, inclusionary efforts are “about practice and process rather than arrival at a singular point” and the way to devise solutions for and combat challenges to overcoming discrimination and oppression is to invite the most vulnerable individuals to the center of the conversation.
In order to authentically share with others the most vulnerable aspects and uncertainties of one’s life, we must feel safe enough to take risks; and in order to learn and grow together, we must listen to and hold each other accountable. In his book, What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain talks about the creation of “natural critical learning environments” and in Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks declares the classroom “the most radical space of possibility”. Creating critical learning environments and radical spaces of possibility require inclusive planning, careful listening and mindfulness in the moment to adapt the plan. Such spaces must be “held” by and with all participants as equals and we must be willing to ask questions, share our own truths, and hold each other accountable. This is the dynamic I strive to foster in every learning space of which I am a part.