As a first-generation, white, female college student from a lower-middle class background, I recognize the privilege and considerable resources that enabled me to attend college; as a result, I have dedicated myself to providing resources for students who do not experience the same level of privilege. To demonstrate how I engage with issues of diversity and equity in the classroom, I will focus here on my work with the Warrior-Scholar Project and on my curriculum design, both of which exemplify how I approach teaching.
For four summers, I had the opportunity to work with both active duty military personnel and veterans as part of the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) at the University of Michigan. Most of the students who participate in WSP are non-traditional students because of their age, but they also tend to be first-generation college students, many of whom are also persons of color and/or identify as LGBTQ+. Through the writing curriculum I developed for our course, I and the diverse team of teachers I have hired provide 20 hours of writing instruction focused on the practical composition skills that our students will need in college. It is incredible to watch the students develop over the week; they come in and often openly denigrate themselves, so firmly do they believe they are not smart. By the end of the week, however, they have realized that they have valid contributions to make in their college classes, that there are support systems in place at their schools of choice, and most importantly, that they are intelligent. For instance, at the end of the 2017 course, one student wrote,
“I am without a doubt a far better and more efficient writer than when I showed up at the beginning of the course. I am also far more confident in being able to excel at Columbia.”
“this course has made the prospect of going to school so much less daunting…I’m blown away by how much information I’ve received. I feel like a well-equipped warrior-scholar now.”
My work with WSP is highlight of my year, because these diverse students are the most engaged, invested students I have the privilege to serve and mentor.
In addition to intentionally seeking opportunities to support non-traditional students, I am committed to including diverse texts in all my courses. For instance, as a part of the introductory composition course I am currently teaching, students read a dystopian novel or short story. Then, they research the real-world implications of one of the sciences, technologies, or social issues explored in the text, and make their own argument about topics such as artificial intelligence, human trafficking, income inequality, police surveillance, and big data. To ensure that students are engaging with a variety of dystopian visions and points of view, I have cultivated a diverse list of authors; therefore, I assign not only classic sci-fi writers like Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick, but also contemporary authors with a variety of perspectives including Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Emily St. John Mandel, Jennifer Egan, Sherman Alexie, and Charles Yu. In this way, my research interests, particularly with respect to Native and female writers, intersect with my pedagogy. As an early Americanist, I see the colonial period as inherently diverse and I resist teaching exceptionalist narratives that prioritize white, male-authored texts, striving instead to introduce students to texts by Native authors, authors of color, and female authors such as Joseph Johnson (Mohegan), Samson Occom (Mohegan), and Phillis Wheatley.
My commitment to diversity and equity is informed by my experience as a first-generation college student, but also by my overarching pedagogical goal of enabling student agency. During the Spring of 2016, I worked as an academic mentor to student athletes at Purdue. One of the students I worked with was an African-American student; in the first few weeks of the semester, he seemed very frustrated and was struggling with his coursework. When I asked him what was bothering him, or what was different from his previous institution, one of the things he said was, “no one else in my class looks like me.” By including diverse authors in my classes and fostering diversity on campus, I strive to make sure students are able to be represented in their place of learning, so that future students will have a better, more inclusive, diverse academic experience.