Who we are informs the way we view our world and thus the way we define words and phrases. So, before I discuss what MILT means to me, I want to take a moment to define myself. However, as with any human being, that definition can get… complicated.
Who am I?
What is your gender?
Simple answer: Male
Full answer: Male, but I was assigned female at birth. Most of my life I spent living as and identifying as female. I did not even know what “transgender” meant until I was in my 20’s. A long, long history of social repression and religious fear prevented me from feeling comfortable with who I am until quite recently. When I moved to Minnesota last June, I gained a new name and pronoun as well, although I am still legally misrepresented on my documents. Changing this is an involved and expensive process.
What is your race?
Simple answer: White.
Full answer: White. Whiteness brings privilege in this country, so I have never felt it was an integral part of my identity since it is often viewed by society as the “default”.
What is your religion?
Simple answer: Agnostic
Full answer: Agnostic, but I was raised with a cultish charismatic type of Christianity that encouraged cultural isolation, believed in demonic influence and spiritual warfare, and mandated hard gender segregation (I wore ankle-length skirts, no jewelry, could not cut my hair, I was expected to be a stay-at-home mother, and was not permitted to be in a room alone with a man or enter a relationship with a man without parental permission, even as an adult).
What is your education?
Simple answer: I am working on a PhD.
Proper answer: I was homeschooled as part of my family’s cultural isolationism k-12. I attained my bachelors degree in New Mexico, and I attended an international college in Bremen, Germany for my Masters degree. Learning among a dizzyingly diverse group of students from over 100 nations is what sparked my interest in MILT, and also opened my mind to a much greater understanding of the world and my place in it. My education was complicated by long-undiagnosed ADD, and family conflicts and abuse during my Masters degree education that almost resulted in quitting my degree.
What is your sexuality?
Simple answer: Straight
Proper answer: Straight, but I identified as a lesbian before my transition. I am married to a woman and we had to cross state lines to be legally married because Virginia did not yet recognize same-sex marriages. Our license is still invalid in many states, hopefully until the Supreme Court makes a final ruling.
I think that’s enough to make my point that simple labels rarely, if ever, capture the reality of the experience or identity of a human being. Many of us have surface designators that people latch onto and label us with. But those labels rarely tell the whole story, if they are even correct at all, and are often imposed by the privileged majority.
For this reason, it bothers me that diversity is often quantified by counting the number of X, Y, or Z people that attend a college or are enter a certain program. Representation is extremely important, but that is only scratching the surface of the depth of richness that diversity encompasses. Many diversity recruiting programs are successful at admitting under-represented students, only to watch them transfer away to other programs or universities under the pressure of an unwelcoming learning culture.
Thus, unless we can learn to encourage, accommodate, interact with, explore, and appreciate the complexities of the people around us within the learning experience, we have not truly embraced multicultural inclusiveness in the classroom.
So what would Multicultural Inclusive Learning & Teaching look like for me?
I can only speak for myself and my personal experiences here, so I will focus on MILT via my needs, desires, and the STEM fields:
- A truly multicultural and inclusive learning experience would include learners from many races and nationalities. It would include many opportunities for us learners to interact and discuss problems and theories together.
- The instructor would present the history of science in a way that was not exclusive of the contributions from women and people of color. Science would rightly be demonstrated to be the legacy of cultures of the entire world.
- The instructor would share during class opportunities and resources that would benefit all students, including those specifically for minority students. All students would be welcomed to ask questions and participate verbally in lectures, but the professor would also have an anonymous comment box where students could drop index cards with questions on class material to be addressed in the next class.
- The assignments would be a combination of high and low stakes activities, including some manner of in-class participation as well as out-of-class homework. The text book would be considered complimentary to the lecture, but the in-class learning would be distinct and add value that could not be gained from the book alone.
- Tests would be take-home when possible, alleviating high-pressure time constraints that artificially discriminate against some students. Students with learning disabilities would be accommodated beyond just the default “double time on tests” and, if desired, the instructor would offer aid in finding ways to make the learning environment maximally comfortable.
- Seating arrangements would be flexible and the instructor would permit students to sit, stand, or change positions as needed. Students would be encouraged and challenged to excel, but the professor would be mindful of the fact that personal situations and needs might influence student success and attempt to be flexible.
I’m sure I could dream up more ways to make my ideal MILT classroom if I had enough time. But these are just a few ways that a learning environment could welcome and accommodate the huge range of contributions that a diverse classroom provides. Every student is benefited from the opportunity to share in a multicultural environment that truly attempts to encourage learning for all students.
Also, it’s worth pointing out that this environment benefits me as a teacher as well. My greatest experiences as an instructor were those in which I could interact the most with a diverse range of students. Standing in front of a chalkboard and delivering information to a silent room would offer me little opportunity to learn from students – about them as people, about their learning, or about their perspective on things I thought I knew.
Overall, having an interactive classroom and diverse students has broadened my perspectives on learning, informed my pedagogical choices, and expanded my understanding of my own community and beyond. Because of these experiences, I strive to proactively view each of my students as the complex, experienced human beings they are and I am eager to see what experiences and culture they will share. That is truly worthwhile learning.
Evan A. Tyler