Sandy Keeter is a Professor in the Information Technology Department at Seminole State College in Florida
I grew up as a Navy dependent, moving every 2 years. Between kindergarten and 12th grade, I attended 10 different schools. Our family lived in different states, different countries and sometimes we were in the racial and ethnic minority. In Guam, I was nicknamed “Snowflake,” in Japan I was called a “Gaijin,” in Salinas, CA I was called a “Gringo” and in Hawaii I was called a “Haole.” As a college freshman at USAFA in the late 70s, the student body was only 8% female and they had many different “names” for us there too.
Although I have occasionally experienced disparaging treatment as the “other,” I am unable to understand the experience of what it must be like to live under the intergenerational oppression of systemic racism. But I can listen with empathy and an open mind. I can also appreciate how my formative experiences have given me some marginal insights into what it is like to be treated differently, and how such experiences have also helped me to understand that my supportive family, friends and teachers were further supported by a socio-economic-political system of privileges and opportunities that has not been there for many racial minorities in America.
But why is it so hard for these conversations to happen and for changes to be made? How did we get in the position we are in today with protests and riots demanding fairness and respect? Because entrenched interests, both individual and collective, are highly resistant to change and to realignments and redistributions of their power.
Addressing Inequities in Our Classrooms
As an IT professor at Seminole State, I have tried for many years to bring greater diversity to the field through various grant-funded projects and initiatives. Yet, women and people of color are still vastly underrepresented in tech worldwide. Last year, I became involved with two organizations—NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology) and Black Minds Matter—to help me gain a better understanding of the issues at hand and what we, as educators, can do to address inequities in our classrooms.
It takes a large network—from Admissions, to the Registrar, to advising, to the classroom—to support and help our diverse student populations. We need to be more inclusive and engaging to encourage and facilitate change and to help our students discover their potential to succeed in school and in their careers.
Supporting Diverse Student Populations
While we cannot truly understand what it is like to walk in our students’ shoes, we can help to create and nurture a supportive learning environment that seeks to understand and address their needs. Let us start by removing college admission obstacles so we are not setting them up for failure before they even get into our class. Once in your class, treat all students fairly and with respect; keep all lines of communication open. Remember, your students may be single parents, working three jobs; we must give them the confidence and support to ask questions and succeed in our classes. We need to be flexible with office hours and offer assignment options and choices in their style of learning. We must find ways to design our courses and use tools that support these different learning styles to accommodate all students.
Creating an Inclusive Environment
In addition to supporting underrepresented minority students in our classes and programs, it is also important to educate all students about inclusion, diversity, equity and access. We need to teach them how to consider and respect others’ views, ideas and opinions which will make them more socially responsible citizens. We need culture change to encourage true inclusion—not just diversity in terms of numbers. Recruiting is just one piece of the puzzle; unless you retain students, we are doing them a disservice.
Working Towards a Better Future
Seminole State is a college that supports equality, diversity and inclusion. The tragic death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests remind us of the work we need to do to have an equal and just society. We must use this as a turning point to create a better future by listening, learning and taking action. We must unite and combat the inequities in our institutions by providing faculty with the resources needed to implement the necessary changes to support all students. Raising awareness, having discussions, creating safe spaces, assigning mentors—we can all be change leaders and make a difference in our students’ lives!
Ready to learn more about the benefits of culturally responsive teaching?