Because Mentoring Works: The Mentoring Initiative at Georgetown

Have you ever had a mentor—someone who took the time to meet with you, to let you know that they believed in you, to share inside information about higher education generally and the field more specifically? If you’re successful and satisfied in your work, the answer is probably yes; many academics have at one time or another depended, both professionally and personally, on someone further along to give them a boost.

That’s because mentoring works. As experts find again and again (and again and again and again and again), mentorship helps students succeed and thrive not only in school but also well beyond. And yet, perhaps because of time constraints on faculty or a lack of institutional support for reaching out to students in this way, mentorship is still the exception, not the norm, for most students.

And so, with the generous support of Georgetown’s School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS) and donors Alida and Christopher Latham, CNDLS and NHS launched the Mentoring Initiative this past fall. This initiative sponsors events open to the whole Georgetown community, including talks this year by U.S. Naval Academy Psychology professor W. Brad Johnson and Director of Elon University’s Center for Engaged Learning Peter Felten, and has also enabled an ongoing cohort of faculty who are meeting to explore ways to encourage more mentorship on campus. Learn more about our Mentoring Initiative here!

We’ve also created a Mentoring Students page on the Teaching Commons for all the faculty who want to make this a bigger part of their work with students. You’ll find an outline of some of the research on the power of mentoring as well as tips for how to mentor effectively (even when time is scarce), resources for further reading, and a list of opportunities for actively taking this role on here at Georgetown.

As many of us know from our own experience, good mentorship can be the key to students finding their best paths and stepping onto them with confidence. We hope the Mentoring Initiative and the resources we’re gathering online will support faculty as they, in turn, give students crucial support themselves.

As always, if we can help, please reach out to us at cndls@georgetown.edu!

The Veteran Education Training Ally Program: VET Allies

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

Georgetown is a military-connected campus—about a thousand of our students are active duty, veterans, reservists, or spouses/dependents of military students—but what can we do to make sure that Georgetown is also a military-friendly campus?

LeNaya Hezel, director of the Georgetown Veterans Office, came to TLISI 2017 to talk about exactly that. In her panel “The Veteran Education Training Ally Program: VET Allies,” Hezel outlined some of the strengths that military-connected students bring to Georgetown, such as leadership and teamwork skills, resilience, adaptability, resourcefulness, organization, and empathy. They also may face challenges here, however, as they transition to a very different culture than the military, as they navigate the ways in which their background and age might not match the students around them, and as they handle possible stress around national/international news developments and the possibility of military reactivation.

So what can faculty and staff do to make this campus work for our military-connected students? Hezel offered some recommendations, including:

  • Get educated about veteran experiences and opportunities here at Georgetown. The Veterans Office on campus is a great place to start! Meanwhile, express interest in the experiences, past work, and goals of the military-connected students in your courses, while of course allowing them to decide what and when to disclose.
  • Make your syllabus and course policies military-friendly. For example, did you know Georgetown has a military leave of absence policy that you can incorporate explicitly into your syllabus?
  • Bear in mind that certain holidays/occasions may elicit strong emotions, including not just Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Independence Day, but also Alive Day.
  • Find opportunities inside and outside the classroom for military-connected students and civilian students to build bridges.
  • If students are facing transitional challenges, meet with them privately, and connect them to campus resources, like the Veterans Office, the Academic Resource Center, and CAPS.

As a Jesuit institution, Georgetown is committed to the value of cura personalis, which means engaging the uniqueness and complexity of all of our students. When it comes to military-connected students, this means going beyond “thank you for your service” to make sure that this is a place where they can thrive.

Values-Driven Teaching: Caring Holistically for Each Student

Among Georgetown’s foundational values, there are two that may seem hard to disentangle: care of the whole student and cura personalis. Both of these values concern caring for our students in thoughtful and complex ways—but each approaches those questions of care from different directions.

Care of the whole student involves engaging the full humanity of your students, going beyond addressing their intellect to fostering holistic growth across many aspects of life; cura personalis, on the other hand, asks us to consider each student as an individual, distinct from all others. While the first might make us think primarily about bringing issues of student well-being into our courses, the second invites us to think about how to make our classrooms as inclusive as possible.

At CNDLS we have resources designed to help with both. We’ve talked previously on this blog about our Teaching Commons page on Teaching Well-Being, for example. But we also have a page on Inclusive Pedagogy. On that page we outline some of the research demonstrating the importance of building a learning space where all students have access to learning, and where we explore local resources as well as teaching techniques that help you reach everyone.

Taking these values seriously means thinking about the ways that the larger world reaches into our courses. Most recently, in the context of a national landscape frequently shaken by troubling events, we’ve put together an online collection of resources on Responding to Critical Events, which includes a page on Teaching in the Shadow of Gun Violence. The hope is that, through thoughtful preparation, we can meet our students where their thoughts and hearts are.

More generally, we think this is at the heart of what it means to teach well: educating our students as whole people and to create classrooms where there are no margins, where all of our students are at the center of the learning experience. Teaching in this way, we can make our values real in the world.

As ever, please reach out to us at cndls@georgetown.edu if we can help!

Student Activism at Georgetown University: The Role of the Educator

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

To tackle the next era of issues and injustices—whether it’s barriers to affordable education and housing, labor exploitation, or climate change—it is imperative that students find their voice, and fight for the issues about which they feel passionate. Student activists’ efforts not only have the potential to spur change and add responsible citizens to the world, but they also provide an avenue through which young adults can explore their identities and realize their full potential as students, citizens, and changemakers. Yet, oftentimes, for students to realize this potential and become leaders in creating change, they need mentors who can cultivate and encourage their passion and engagement. The 2017 TLISI panel “Student Activism at Georgetown: The Role of the Educator” demonstrated not only how educators can shape student activists, but also that these mentors can be found throughout our very own campus.  

The session’s panelists were identified by Georgetown students as educators who effectively support student activism and engagement. These panelists included Professors Denise Brennan (Anthropology), Marcia Chatelain (History), Mark Lance (Philosophy), and Sylvia Önder (Arabic and Islamic Studies).  Kicking off the session, the panel’s moderator, Daviree Velazquez Phillip (Center for Multicultural Equity and Access), reminded us of the many instances of student activism we’ve seen on campus in the past 5 years. From American with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance to workers’ rights, these instances of student activism are reflective of not only the passion and determination of the students, but also the dedication of many Georgetown faculty.

The first question posed asked the panelists to address a challenging, yet important question: “How do you support student activism efforts when those efforts are against your own stance on the matter?” So long as the student’s stance is well-intentioned and not harming another individual, Chatelain responded that she will make her own opinions clear to the student, and then help the student devise a strategy without micromanaging their plans. Chatelain reflected that it is important to her that the student engages in an activism experience that works best for that individual. Lance echoed Chatelain’s sentiments, reflecting that for him, it is more important students understand how to build an effective movement.

On the topic of sharing their views with students, the panelists acknowledged that it is almost impossible to hide your opinions and political leanings from your students. This is especially true if the educator is an activist and is already in the news for their own activist efforts. Chatelain also brought up the notion that many of us cannot hide our physical identities, which are oftentimes used by others, including students, to make assumptions about our views. Panelists agreed that it is best to be open and honest with your students, as it gives you a chance to confirm or dispel their assumptions, and also teach them about the reasoning behind that particular view. By sharing their own views, faculty are teaching students to consider the many sides of an issue, so they can gain a richer perspective and deeper knowledge of the issue.

The panelists also addressed any apprehensions they might have about supporting or encouraging student activist efforts. Brennan explained that the best teachers use their research to infuse ideas in the classroom, but recognized that encouraging political discussions and sharing personal views with students can make some faculty feel vulnerable. To combat apprehension and also allow for meaningful discussion, Brennan suggested easing into these conversations by incorporating a class project that just touches on a political issue or current affair. By doing this, the educator can gauge what issues the students are especially responsive to and guide them in pursuing activist efforts or projects that fulfill their interests accordingly.

Continuing on the topic of open communication, Önder noted that the educator can also learn from her or his student activists. Giving all students an opportunity to share their views is important, as it solidifies for them that the activist part of their identity is valid in the classroom. Önder also cautioned that when you facilitate political discussions in the classroom, it can indirectly silence other students, who have opposing views or who fear they might receive negative attention for voicing their particular stance. Önder explained that it’s a balancing act and that the educator should try to make a safe space for students to share.

To conclude the panel, participants were asked how they help students address the issues of risk and precarity that accompany activism efforts. Lance explained that he and the student identify the risks by considering context, the student, and the activist efforts they are conducting, and then, together, they analyze a careful approach. All of the panelists understand the risks associated with activist efforts and have all experienced some level of negative repercussions for their own engagement. However, they also understand the immense value of this work, as well as the benefits it can produce for both society and the student.

First Generation Students at Highly Selective Universities

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find a links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

What defines a first generation college student? What do you wish professors knew about first generation students? If money wasn’t an object, what would you do to support first generation students?

These are three of the questions posed during the “First Generation Students at Highly Selective Universities” session, which took place during TLISI 2017. Moderated by Jesse O’Connell (COL’04) from the Lumina Foundation, the panelists included Dr. Rachel Gable, a recent graduate of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education; Corey Stewart, Assistant Director of the Georgetown Scholarship Program, and Cristina Velsaquez (SFS’17), a Georgetown first generation student leader.    

Utilizing Gable’s research on the experiences of first generation college students at Georgetown and Harvard as a springboard for the discussion, panelists traced the changes of Georgetown’s first generation students and addressed what might be done to further assist this group of students in the future.

The panel opened by defining a first generation college student as a student who arrives at college with no parent graduate and thereby without their parents’ specific experiential understanding of what it is like to go to college. After establishing this definition, panelists defined a second category of students: the continuing generation student. Gable explained that continuing generation students display the same needs as first generation students. To illustrate this she gave the example of  a student whose parents went to college in a foreign country and consequently do not have similar skills for support.

Stewart outlined the ways the Georgetown Scholarship Program (GSP), a program for first generation Georgetown students, has developed in recent years, citing students at the forefront of “a major culture shift” on campus. He cited that in addition to having upwards of 650 students, GSP has expanded in terms of space as well—GSP students now have multiple group houses on campus which can serve as a way to extend their community. While GSP can help with common issues like how to register for classes, Stewart emphasized the importance of offering  a space where first generation students can have real-life conversations about their experience and find support from Georgetown.

Following this introduction to first generation students and the Georgetown community, the panel probed deeper to consider specific student experiences. In response to O’Connell’s question asking, “What do you wish professor know about first generation students?”, Velasquez offered a simple, yet compelling response: Be aware that struggling in the classroom is not always a direct result of not working hard enough or studying enough. Sometimes—with first generation or continuing generation students in particular—we must consider that students are behind and that they have missed key concepts along the way.

In considering how institutions like Georgetown can offer better support, the panel addressed what they would do to support first generation students if money was not an object. Gable emphasized the importance of creating a better-connected community and trying not only to change the culture within higher education, but also nationally. Importantly, she suggested devising a way to integrate first generation student families into the process past admissions. Stewart also indicated the value of creating a start-up fund for first year students to cover incidentals or move-in costs, and additionally suggested finding ways to improve food access on campus, so that students could more easily maintain a healthy lifestyle.

While these are long-term goals that seem to require improved financial assistance, the panel concluded with a discussion more applicable to the present. Gable cited a cognitive dissonance for some first generation students between their “Harvard or Georgetown hat” and “home hat,” noting the frequent disparities between the different aspects of first generation student life. She emphasized the possibility that these student identities are intersectional with the example of an Asian, undocumented, and first generation student. In light of the diversity illuminated in Gable’s example, her closing remarks serve as a reminder to be more cognizant of student identities and, moreover, continually find ways to reinforce the value of Georgetown’s value of cura personalis.

Georgetown edX MOOC “Quantum Mechanics for Everyone” Named #3 Best MOOCs of 2017 by Class Central

Each year, Class Central publishes a ranking of the best online courses of the year based on reviews from users. CNDLS is pleased to announce that the Georgetown edX course “Quantum Mechanics for Everyone” was named one of the top 3 best MOOCs of 2017. This self-paced course, taught by James Freericks (Physics), covers the fundamental notions of quantum mechanics at a level that is accessible to everyone. We would like to extend a very special congratulations to Freericks!! To read the full article from Class Central, please click here.

Georgetown’s partnership with edX is another way to expand the University’s outreach across the globe. To learn more and register for the “Quantum Mechanics for Everyone,” visit the edX course page.

Principles and Practices of Inclusive Pedagogy

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find a links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

During the 2017 “Principles and Practices of Inclusive Pedagogy” TLISI session, CNDLS staff members Joselyn Lewis, Michelle Ohnona, and James Olsen shared insights about ways to implement inclusive pedagogy practices in the classroom including definitions of inclusive pedagogy, their current inclusive pedagogy initiatives, and crowd-sourced resources and strategies for incorporating inclusive pedagogy in the classroom.

Setting the Stage
To begin the session, facilitators prompted the group to walk around the room, examining print-out slides featuring statistics about Georgetown students, their backgrounds, and the many identity groups of which they are a part. This exercise in empathy alluded to one of the central focuses of the session: the students’ experience, which inevitably permeates the boundaries of the classroom. In their book, “How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching” (Wiley-Bass, 2010), Susan Ambrose et. al describe this phenomenon:

“Even though some of us might wish to conceptualize our classrooms as culturally neutral or might choose to ignore the cultural dimensions, students cannot check their sociocultural identities at the door… Therefore, it is important that the pedagogical strategies we employ in the classroom reflect an understanding of social identity development so that we can anticipate the tensions that might occur in the classroom and be proactive about them.”

This discussion of the ways in which the student brings his or her multiple identities into the classroom serves as the basis of inclusive pedagogy, and kicked off the session.

Next, the group explored definitions for inclusive pedagogy. The session leaders admitted that definitions were something they struggled with—there are multiple ways to define how we create inclusive spaces in the classroom, or what those teaching strategies look like—but suggested “a” definition borrowed from Christine Hockings, a Professor of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education at the University of Wolverhampton. In her 2010 article, “Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education: A synthesis of research” Hockings defines Inclusive Pedagogy as:

“the ways in which pedagogy, curricula, and assessment are designed to engage students in learning that is meaningful, relevant, and accessible to all. It embraces a view of the individual and individual difference as the source of diversity that can enrich the lives and learning of others.”

The argument for inclusive pedagogy, then, is to make difference an explicit part of the teaching and learning experience in the classroom.

Examining Yourself and What You Bring
Inclusive pedagogy, alongside exposing and celebrating difference in the classroom, embraces self-awareness. The session leaders prompted the group to consider individual identities, biases, and presuppositions that they may bring into the classroom as teachers. What were the barriers that their students faced in participating fully? How might student identities shape learning processes? What skills might be highlighted by using different teaching methods? Ohnona pointed out that self-awareness also comes with a degree of self-acceptance as a practitioner, but not an expert, saying that being a practitioner of Inclusive Pedagogy is not the same as earning a workshop credential or taking a course. In the words of Bell Hooks, “To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn.” The first step to being an Inclusive Pedagogy practitioner is awareness of what one brings to the classroom as a teacher and a learner.

The Five Axes of Inclusive Pedagogy
Lewis, Ohnona, and Olsen then presented five axes of inclusive pedagogy, to generate strategies for incorporating this way of teaching into the classroom. The first was pedagogy: how do you ask students to engage with content? The second, content, addressed the materials used in the classroom. What theorists are given attention? Whose voices come forth in the syllabus? Third, the group discussed assessment, asking questions like, How do you assess ways of knowing? How can you diversify that assessment? The fourth axis, climate, asked members to consider what environment they create in the classroom— emotional, physical, intellectual— and how students were asked to engage with that space. Finally, the group addressed power: what are the power structures that exist in the classroom, and how can they be diversified?

The latter third of the session was dedicated to brainstorming strategies along these five axes of inclusive teaching and learning. In walking around to different notepads on the walls, participants jotted down ideas from their classroom experiences that provided inclusive and diverse methods of teaching. The session ended with a share-out of ideas and resources to make classrooms more responsive, attentive, and student-centered for the benefit of all.

At CNDLS, we are pleased to offer a series of Inclusive Pedagogy workshops throughout the year which can be found here. Additionally, we are happy to arrange a custom workshop for departments and offices on campus. Contact us to learn more about these opportunities. Our website includes a plethora of information about inclusive teaching and learning practices, as well.

Teach the Speech Teach-In: Teaching Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”

Every year, Georgetown University honors the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through a series of events as part of the Let Freedom Ring! Initiative. As part of the annual initiative, faculty, staff, and students across campuses and schools read and reflect on one of Dr. King’s speeches during the Spring semester. This spring, Dr. King’s April 3, 1968 speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” is the project’s focus. In collaboration with the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service (CSJ), CNDLS hosted the “Teach the Speech Teach-In” on January 9, 2018 featuring keynote speaker Dr. Clarence E. Hardy III, Associate Professor of the History of American Christianity at Yale Divinity School.

Hardy emphasized the importance of providing context around the speech when introducing it in class. Modeling the use of available audio and video of Dr. King, Hardy played portions of several King speeches during his session. To highlight the differences between King’s first and last recorded speeches in public ministry, faculty and staff discussed differences in King’s language and focus topics after listening to the recordings. Hardy honed in on additional critical details to help put the speech in context, from the crowd turnout, weather, and King’s fatigue and travel delays that day, to his questions about the nonviolence movement overall and his desire to frame his life—and impending death—while he still had time at the pulpit.

Georgetown faculty members Marilyn McMorrow (Government), David Molk (Performing Arts), Ricardo Ortiz (English), and Mubbashir Rizvi (Anthropology) shared their insights and plans on Teaching the Speech in their courses. The faculty panelists reiterated the need for context around Dr. King and his speech. As Dr. King reflects on his place in time and (Western) human history in “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” faculty reflected on how to lead students to ask themselves why they are placed in this moment in time and what to do with their context in the spirit of cura personalis, or care of the whole person.

Drawing on similar topics, CNDLS staff Daviree Velázquez Philip and Graduate Associate Ijeoma Njaka led a workshop session after the panel discussion. Using resonant themes from “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” participants discussed connections between the speech and social justice at Georgetown in order to integrate the speech into their courses.

Throughout the teach-in, Hardy and the faculty panel reiterated important tips and takeaways for those interested in incorporating the speech into their classes, including the following:

  • Teach the speech throughout the semester, not just in January when the holiday falls. Find a time during the semester that works best for you to incorporate the speech around relevant topics and themes.
  • Provide context around the speech. As Hardy modeled, introducing students to teaching about the circumstances surrounding the speech—from the Memphis sanitation workers strike to the feelings racial terror—are critical to teaching the speech.
  • Tackle the veneration of Dr. King. As Hardy noted, Dr. King has a place in the American canon. Students and faculty might find themselves resistant to humanizing or critiquing Dr. King; however, this can be an edifying process for learners and educators alike.

To access more information about the Teach-In, including links to text and audio, visit the CSJ’s Teach the Speech site. For news about upcoming events honoring Dr. King throughout the semester, please visit Georgetown’s MLK 2018 Events page.

Sign Language Structure, Learning and Change MOOC Launches on edX

Where does American Sign Language (ASL) come from? How is grammar expressed in ASL? How do signed languages evolve and change over time? Georgetown University Medical Center Professor Ted Supalla explores these questions and many more in the edX course “Sign Language Structure, Learning, and Change.”

GUIX401 Sign Language Structure, Learning, and Change, supported by CNDLS’ Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning (ITEL), is the latest Georgetown-affiliated MOOC on edX. The multidisciplinary course is taught in American Sign Language (ASL) with English subtitles and voiceover. It is divided into three general themes: structure, learning, and change. These themes delve into topics such as the variation among signed languages, the role of movement and facial expressions in ASL, and how the knowledge of ASL grammar has been sustained through its history.

Each of the four modules include 9 subsections which delve into specific topics. Each subsection features video-based exercises for students to practice analyzing signs, optional additional resources for exploring topics further, and a quiz to test a student’s understanding and knowledge of the section. The course is self-paced, so students can dive in for an immersive experience or take their time digesting all of the rich content.

Georgetown’s partnership with edX is another way to expand the University’s outreach across the globe. We look forward to welcoming you to GeorgetownX: Sign Language Structure, Learning, and Change, which starts on February 15, 2018.

Register for the full version of the course here.

Engaging How Privilege & Dominance Impacts Us & Our Work

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find a links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

In the 2017 TLISI session, “Engaging How Privilege and Dominance Impacts Us and Our Work,” Daviree Velazquez Phillip (Center for Multicultural Equity and Access) and Bill Huff (Office of Residential Living) opened their session by asking attendees about their personal experiences  engaging in conversations about dominance and privilege in the classroom. One participant immediately responded with, “Not well!” The rest of the group laughed and snapped in agreement. Some said that they were unsure of how to define privilege or dominance in the first place. Others chimed in, saying attempts in the classroom had been awkward. Participants also discussed the difficulty of tackling these concepts outside of academia, in their personal and professional circumstances.

This session created the space to address concerns, including the complexities of identity, privilege, and dominance that frequently arise in academic, professional, and private spheres. It was personalized to the audience p and the systems they face on a day-to-day basis, with particular attention to privilege: the sometimes undeserved, unconscious, or inherited ability and entitlement to choose, hold power and resources, speak up, and control spaces. While Velazquez Phillip and Huff guided the session, everything from community-sourced definitions like this one to the session activities centered around the unique contexts and backgrounds of participants.

Strategies for Navigating Conversation

The session suggested that conversations around dominance and privilege must first center around context-awareness which is done by assessing the particular landscape. After discussing the wider landscape of Georgetown— its Jesuit heritage, status as a predominantly-white and wealthy institution (PWI), and the privilege-blindness that sometimes comes along with working in an elite institution— members discussed the demographics of the room. A few voiced unfamiliarity with practices around diversity and identity discussions, like asking for personal pronouns. As Huff put it, systems like dominance and privilege do not want individuals to be aware of such participation; a first step towards addressing problems of privilege and dominance is to make oneself aware.

The session participants noted that discomfort and uncertainty are all-too-frequent feelings that surface when having discussions about privilege. To work through the discomfort, Velazquez Phillip and Huff asked the participants to name what they needed out of their shared space. Among other points, participants suggested sticking to the personal; having a confidential space where information wouldn’t leave the room; and leaning into messiness without expecting perfection from each other. By creating an environment of mutual agreement and trust, the group created space for personal, growth-inducing conversations. This is a practice of establishing an environment is one faculty can utilize for having these types of conversations in the classroom.

Self-awareness is equally important to possess when tackling privilege in the classroom and beyond. Participants completed a Social Identity Profile worksheet adapted from an exercise by Central Michigan University, which asked for their membership in different social groups (gender, sex, sexual orientation, age, ability, etc.). The sheet asked participants to consider their self-awareness and memories with these identities, each identity’s perceived effects on self and others, and the identities that give them the most power and privilege in society. Members then moved into two concentric circles for share-outs, where Velazquez asked similar questions such as, “When have you experienced dominance?” and “When have you used your privilege to your advantage?” One partner listened while the other shared, and then the pair switched.

These dialogues ended the session, and underscored the value of trust and awareness in supporting personal conversations. An activity like this one be effective in cultivating a greater understanding of how to navigate conversations that address dominance and privilege.
For more information on addressing identity, privilege, and dominance, check out the programs hosted by the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access and CNDLS’ Doyle and Inclusive Pedagogy initiatives.