Creating Diversity and Inclusion at College: The C.A.R.E. Approach

Creating Diversity and Inclusion at College_ The C.A.R.E. Approach

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The CARE approach is a teaching method designed to assist instructors in discussing race and racism with college students in the classroom setting. The four principles of the CARE approach include cultivate, acknowledge, recognize, and empower.

The CARE Approach 

The CARE approach is a teaching method designed to assist instructors in discussing race and racism with college students in the classroom setting. A summary of the four primary principles of this method are introduced, along with brief examples of how an instructor can use these methods to better understand, comprehend, and explore sensitive conversations about racism. Instructors have the wonderful opportunity to cultivate, acknowledge, recognize, and empower today’s college students. 

The Four Principles: 

  • Cultivate and create a culture of compassion, diversity, equity, and inclusion 
  • Acknowledge inequality and racism 
  • Recognize race as a social construct 
  • Empower and advocate for social justice  

C: Cultivate and Create a Culture of Compassion, Diversity, and Inclusion 

How are diversity and inclusion depicted in your syllabus and in your classroom conversations? Is there a structure for safety? It is important for students to believe that respect is present during conversations that are specific to identity, culture, and beliefs. 

The word cultivate is used intentionally here. Only by cultivating a culture of compassion can compassion grow. The benefits of tending to a garden are not received in one day. As a leader in the classroom, it is your responsibility to influence the culture–to “grow the garden.” Leaders influence others to follow a common goal. Students are passionate about learning. A part of learning is exploring differences with empathy and respect. 

Diversity often is regarded as a form of variety or differences within and among people. Think of diversity as more of a philosophical framework for promoting inclusion and compassion. In this way, diversity then promotes an opportunity for diversion away from the dominant culture as the sole focus within a society. In Western society, the dominant culture that we are diverting away from involves understanding the construct of whiteness.  

Social Construction and Race 

Social construction and race are both loaded terms, and therefore need to be unpacked a bit. Berger and Luckmann (1966) have examined how meanings are developed within societies and cultures, especially as these meanings are less dependent on actual “reality” and more representative of people’s shared ways of thinking about the world. Science has shown us that “race” is a socially constructed notion, rather than being a biophysiological reality (centerforhealth, 2017). So, what does this mean?  

The social construction of race is a byproduct of the social construction of whiteness, which arose during the global era of colonial imperialism (15th through 17th centuries). This construct reinforces the belief that White people represent a dominant culture. It is also representative of how this belief reinforces the hierarchy of this specific group to maintain political power, wealth, and privilege. Culture has defined whiteness and what it means to be White in the U.S. and around the world (Guess, 2006).

The history of colonialism shows how this conqueror-imperialist attitude was racist, assuming a stance of power over the “other”; in this way, racism created the construct of race. Within this framework, whiteness is understood and assumed. For example, although White people may identify with a particular ethnicity, they typically do not consider their racial identity, because of the belief that White is the norm. It is a way of knowing that anyone who is not White is different, versus someone who is White knowing that they are different (Arnold et al., 2016). 

This also reinforces white privilege. Privilege involves the belief that one specific group is more deserving of assets over other groups. This behavior and the cultural norms supporting this theory have been documented over time. On a social and cultural level, the genocide of Indigenous people, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, U.S. chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and the colonization of countries in Africa and India are just a few examples (Guess, 2006).

On a more individual level, we can look to the experiences of President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris, who were the first in their elected positions to break the mold of political leadership in the U.S. The reason that it has taken so long for minority candidates to be successful in winning elections offers another example of the social construction of whiteness. The historical representation of White males being the most common specific group in this form of elected leadership (e.g., President and Vice President) illustrates examples of both whiteness and white privilege. 

Many college students have a layered experience with oppression, beyond racism. Students may experience various types of discrimination in the form of sexism, homophobia, religious bias, and ableism; some students may experience an intersection of multiple points of social and cultural discrimination. The concept of intersectionality allows us to understand our students as multilayered in their identities and their experiences with oppression. As an instructor, you can look for opportunities to recognize the intersectionality of your students and to support their evolving sense of personal identity. One way to do this is to be open to learning about different cultures and beliefs from your students. 

Inclusivity means that the classroom is a safe space for learning and growth for all students. Learning is one aspect of the classroom experience. However, the experience of belonging is a human need that is necessary for students to feel safe to learn. As a leader, it is of the utmost importance for teachers to connect with their students at the basic human level of compassion, empathy, and respect. 

For this reason, it is important to: 

Recognize and honor students’ chosen names and pronouns

It is important to pronounce students’ names the correct way. If you are uncertain of how to pronounce a student’s name, it is important to ask for the correct pronunciation. Many students interpret this as a sign of respect, versus being embarrassing or disrespectful. It is harmful to provide students with nicknames or call students names that are not their chosen name. Example: If classroom size is permissible, begin each class greeting students by their chosen name. 

Establish classroom ethics, morals, and values

How will differences be acknowledged and what does respect, and empathy look like in your classroom? Example: Have a discussion with your students concerning the importance of embracing diversity. What should this look like in the classroom as it pertains to ethics, morals, and values? 

Be conscious of the need for both equity and equality

Equality recognizes the need for students to have equal access to shared education and resources. Equity provides an opportunity to promote targeted support to students to ensure that they have an opportunity to succeed, being mindful of the lived experiences that may influence their education.    

A: Acknowledge Inequality and Racism 

Safety is one of the most important resources for any environment. Students feel safe when they believe they are in a learning environment that is conducive to the safety of their identity. As it pertains to inequality and racism, it is difficult to acknowledge what we may not understand.  There are many different forms of racism and discrimination; for example, overt racism is explicit or obvious intentional harmful behavior toward a miniority or minority group. This form of racism is recognized by acts of violence or hate speech. However, systemic racism can be more covert.

Covert racism is subtle and may not appear as intentional. One aspect of covert racism is the exemption or denial of cultural history within the educational system, and this exemption or distortion exists across all areas of education (science, language, and arts). For example, many students are unaware of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Tulsa race massacre that occurred in the 1900s. In addition, there are several ways inequality has shown itself within our culture. 

Racial reckonings and sensitivity toward marginalized groups have gained focus across the country and at many universities. Students desire the experience of a quality education; however, they also desire an experience within the classroom that is reflective of their lived reality. In today’s world, students have witnessed, firsthand, the consequences of complicity in the face of inequality. 

As a leader, it is your responsibility to be connected to the pulse of your students. Acknowledging inequality and racism helps students to feel safe, and it promotes student wellbeing. It also promotes integrity within our environment. 

For this reason, it is important to: 

Educate ourselves and continuously do the work

An example of “doing the work” is continuously taking the time to learn. Our ability to practice cultural humility with our students is key here. Cultural humility concerns our ability to humble ourselves to better understand culture. 

Create space for discussion and reflection

This could be done by checking in with your students at the beginning of class. Example: What is influencing your students today? (Positive or negative). 

Be prepared to facilitate discussions in a way that is safe for students

It is important for tokenism to be diminished in these discussions. For example, be mindful not to specifically call on African American students to provide clarity on Black topics; similarly, avoid calling on Asian American students to provide insight on situations affecting Asian Americans. In addition, it is important for the professor to be mindful of respect and integrity. Discussions about race and inequality may not always feel safe. Students may feel helpless or fearful, or some students may feel guilt or shame. It is important that these types of conversations are change focused versus blame-focused. Discussions about inequality and race should promote change.   

R: Recognize Race as a Social Construct 

It is important to understand race as a social construct. Race is not biological, it is a man-made myth that was created to maintain power. There is no scientific evidence that reveals that the DNA of one group of people separates them from the DNA of another group of people. No one group of people is smarter, healthier, more athletic, or better at surviving than another group of people. While the idea of race is a myth, the impact of racism is very real. Racism was the corner stone of American chattel slavery and is still the driving force of inequality in the world today. 

Racism has been used to maintain social hierarchy and distribute power through education, health, finances, and political control. It is important to acknowledge this reality when working with students. Our ability to recognize human experiences enhances our potential to connect with and better support students. 

In order to empower students, advocate for social justice, and promote anti-racism we have to be able to recognize biases that are based on racial differences. The college experience is different for students of color, apart from their White peers, specifically because of racism (Franklin, 2016). Racism-related stress, racial trauma, racial microaggressions, and racial battle fatigue are contentious barriers that affect Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) students’ ability to focus as well as their health (Franklin, 2016). 

For this reason, it is important to: 

Discuss with students how race as a construct has influenced your field of study

This discussion with students could lead to a dialogue on how race has influenced the field in the past and how the field is being influenced today. What are some challenges and what are some opportunities for change?   

Discuss with students how White privilege has influenced American culture

The purpose of this discussion is not to promote blame. However, change is promoted when clarity and understanding are present. 

Use empathy and compassion when promoting conversations about race

One myth is that promoting anti-racism only supports BIPOC students. Promoting anti-racism with the use of empathy and compassion supports all students, because it supports intercultural learning for all students. 

E: Empower and Advocate for Social Justice 

Leaders in the classroom are leaders in our society. Our moral compass and the moral compass of our nation is always being tested. Our ability to CARE for all of our students is linked to our ability to empower and advocate for all of our students. This includes moments when social justice is in harm’s way. 

Empowering our students will promote self-efficacy, self-esteem, and greater awareness of care and empathy toward others. For some, the classroom may be the most diverse space in which students have access to intercultural learning. 

Advocating for social justice, as it relates to students, may seem outside of the scope of our responsibilities. However, if we promote meaningful change for our students, then we also must be willing to reflect meaningful change. 

For this reason, it is important to: 

Empower students to promote open discussions, with respect and integrity, centered around social justice issues

Be courageous, ask students how they feel about certain topics centered around social justice. Be prepared to model and teach students how to use critical thinking and open thought with respect to culture and integrity in the classroom.

Advocate for social justice

Model and teach students how to advocate for social justice. As leaders, when we empower our students, we want them to believe that they can change the world. We want them to believe that anything is possible. In discussions, model and teach students how to articulate their thoughts and emotions while advocating for what they believe in. 

Learn with your students

Be open to their thoughts and beliefs. Use compassionate listening and empathy to model to your students how much you care. 

Scholarly Sources 

Arnold, N. W., Crawford, E. R., & Khalifa, M. (2016). Psychological heuristics and faculty of color: Racial battle fatigue and tenure/promotion. The Journal of Higher Education, 87(6), 890-919.  

Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966), The Social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge, Anchor Books. 

 Centerforhealth. (2017, October 24). Race is a social construct. Center for Health Progress. https://centerforhealthprogress.org/blog/race-social-construct/ 

Franklin, J. (2016). Racial microaggressions, racial battle fatigue, and racism-related stress in higher education. Journal of Student Affairs at New York University, 12(44), 44-55.  

Guess, T. J. (2006). The social construction of whiteness: Racism by intent, racism by consequence. Critical Sociology, 32(4), 649-673. 

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