Thursday, January 11, 2007

Diversity and Doctrinal Courses

At last week's meeting of the AALS Section on Academic Support, the audience was asked to share with one another ways in which doctrinal professors could inject diversity considerations into their classes.  One fairly simple assignment I have used in my course, Legal Aspects of Higher Education, has received a very positive reception from students, so I thought I would share it with you.

As one would expect, part of the course is taken up with covering affirmative action at the college and university level.  To introduce the material, I give the following assignment three or four weeks in advance, timing the due date to coincide with the beginning of our discussion of affirmative action.

Assignment:  Choose three persons, all of the same race or ethnicity as one another, but of a race or ethnicity different from your own. Consider choosing across age ranges as well.  Interview each separately regarding that person’s views and personal anecdotes regarding affirmative action and race.  Summarize each interview briefly and write a two- to three-page essay summarizing your own reactions or new insights based on all three interviews.

Students are generally surprised at the diversity of thought among just three people chosen at random from an ethnic group other than their own (they shouldn't be, but they are), and they gain new and more rounded perspectives on the controversies, complexities, and passions associated with affirmative action. 

The approach could be used with a variety of topics in a variety of courses, so you might consider incorporating it into one of your classes.  The depth of insight the students bring to the table after this exercise makes it well worth their effort, and they seem to really enjoy it. (dbw)

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