Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Note 6: Intersections of Teaching and Diversity

Sunday November 15, 2015 by Anonymous (not verified)

This week’s email represents our expanded new faculty list, which includes most new ladder faculty hired since September 1, 2013.  I am not sure when one officially stops being new; I know that for myself, having been here for two+ months means that I’ll be new for a while.  Nonetheless, for those of you who have been a part of the Faculty Teaching Academy since its inception, hello again.  For those of you who are new to this forum, I hope you will enjoy these weekly communications from me as part of Yale’s strong commitment to offering more faculty teaching resources, support, and visibility.

I think I speak for many of us when I say that this has been an intense couple of weeks on campus. Since initiating this communication, I had been waiting for what seemed an appropriate time to begin to discuss the intersections of teaching and diversity; that time has arrived.

It is hard to know where to begin.  Diversity and teaching issues are all-encompassing; they are also my area of research, and so I am feeling as though I want to say everything, and so risk saying nothing.  Thus, though the urge for quick action is great, I think it best to start slowly.  One of the things we know to be certain about diversity and equity issues is that they existed long before the latest incidents in Missouri and of course on our own campus, and in many forms.  The boundaries of higher education are porous, existing within many contexts of which we should be mindful, particularly if we want to make meaningful steps towards a more equitable society.  And so, what I’d like to offer is some academic writing on teaching and equity, some strategies for addressing difficult issues in our classes, and an opportunity to begin to discuss these matters further, face-to-face. 

As you might imagine, there is an extraordinary amount of research on the multitude of ways in which teaching,learning, and diversity & equity intersect, and of course the definition of the terms themselves are fluid.  At this moment in time, “diversity” is most often used as a code word for issues of race and ethnicity, even though it most certainly encompasses issues of gender, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, social class, language, and a host of other ways in which people make distinctions between each other.  Given the numerous ways in which considering diversity and teaching can impact our work as professors, trying to work with diverse issues in the classroom often comes with trepidation. Yet I know of no way to get better at honoring diversity and working towards equity except to keep trying.  As such, I’m attaching what in my experience is one of the most helpful articles about racial dialogues in the classroom:  Race talk: The psychology of racial dialogues in the classroom (Sue, 2013; American Psychologist).  Sue grounds his discussion of the difficulties regarding talking about race with a wealth of background literature, and combines it with some very solid conclusions.  If you want to get right to the “What to do?” part, go to page 8.

Two other resources that might be useful for you are: Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom by Lee Warren, at the Derek Bok Center, Harvard University and Difficult Dialogues at the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching.

These resources may or may not be of help or interest to you.  But they are only the beginning of what I hope is an ongoing dialogue, and to that end, I would like to invite you to join me and my colleague Jenny Frederick, Executive Director of the CTL, for a conversation about Challenging Classroom Discussions about Diversity and Equity. These will not be lectures or presentations, but a chance for us to discuss how these many issues impact our work as faculty.  The two dates we have scheduled are:

  • Monday, November 30th from 4-5 pm &
  • Tuesday, December 8th, from 8:30 – 9:30 am.  We’ll provide the coffee.  All we need is you.

Because smaller groups usually elicit more meaningful conversations, we’d like to  limit each group to about 20 people (we’ll gladly schedule more if we need them). If you would like to participate, please email me at nancy.niemi@yale.edu with the date you prefer.  I’ll send you a confirmation.   

I hope you’ll consider joining us.  All this will not be finished in our time at Yale, nor sadly in our lifetimes, but let us begin our own part of the work towards equity that so many before us have started.

With warm regards,

Nancy S. Niemi, Ph.D.
Director, Faculty Teaching Initiatives

Contact Information 

Contact Dr. Niemi via email Nancy.Niemi@yale.edu or phone 203.432.8644 with thoughts about the collection and/or to receive these notes in your inbox.


diversity, inclusion