Students completed a total of 19 anonymous interviews with faculty and staff at Wheelock College. The interviews were transcribed and reviewed by students. They consisted of the following questions:
Have you ever facilitated a conversation about race or diversity within your classroom? If so, how did you prepare for it?
What are your goals for having that conversation?
What issues, if any, have come up during these discussions and how have you handled them?
How do you create a safe space for all of the students?
Are there any changes that you would like to see with regards to how conversations are facilitated on campus? If so, what are they?
Have you read anything that you would recommend for us to use as a resource in constructing our guide? (See: Additional Readings to Consider)
As we reviewed the results of the interviews, we found that the majority of the participants reported that they had facilitated a conversation about race or diversity, regardless of their position or academic discipline. When asked to describe their preparation for such conversations, many emphasized the importance of reflecting on one’s own identity, both in isolation as well as in relation to others’ identities, and role in the conversation prior to facilitating it, and many shared the view that each individual is an expert in his or her own experiences. We found that many of the participants also relied on research conducted by professionals and that they attempt to integrate both their own reflections and their findings from research into their course objectives. Many of the interview participants expressed that their goal for conversations about race and diversity was to promote a greater understanding of race, other people’s experiences, privilege, and self within those involved in the conversation. They conveyed the hope that everyone involved in the conversation would learn from each other.
This goal can be challenging to meet, though, as certain challenges arise during conversations about race. We found that many participants encountered students hesitating to fully participate out of fear of saying something incorrect or hurtful. Participants often felt that their White students were fearful of being called racist and experienced feelings of guilt as a result of their privilege. Additionally, participants shared that they experienced some students who were unwilling to participate in conversations about race because these students felt that race is discussed too often at Wheelock. Participants also mentioned institutional obstacles, such as classes where the majority of students are White and a perceived link between race and disability. Participants addressed these challenges by working to create safe classroom environments.
Participants described a variety of strategies for creating safe environments, though the majority stated the need for ground rules. Some participants presented guidelines to their classes while others allowed their classes to create them themselves. Regardless, these ground rules often included being respectful of a confidentiality policy, speaking only from one’s own experiences, and validating the experiences of others. We found that many participants also attempted to present material in ways that would support the growth and learning of their students. These strategies included creative expression, storytelling, and shifting one’s perception of racism from a personal to a systematic understanding. Ultimately, we found that many participants understood their role as a facilitator to involve ensuring that all students were in an environment that safely enabled them to learn about their own identity as well as the identities of others.
As these participants work toward personally facilitating more productive and meaningful conversations about race and identity, we found that they also desired certain institutional changes to be made to ensure that the entire college community is making strides toward being a more inclusive and culturally competent environment. Some expressed displeasure with the location of the Multicultural Center, and others expressed an underlined desire for more community-wide conversations about race and diversity.