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  • Teaching a Diversity Course at a Predominantly White Institution:Success With Statistics
  • Sylvia Martinez (bio)

As the U.S. population becomes more culturally, linguistically, and racially/ethnically diverse, many tout the advantages of offering courses at the nation’s colleges and universities that focus on diversity issues. Several researchers have argued that exposure to diversity topics, such as racial and gender inequality, makes college and university students more comfortable with issues of difference and/or privilege (Bowman, 2010; Case, 2007; Enger & Lajimodiere, 2011), less likely to hold racists attitudes (Chang, 2002), and even more civically engaged (Gurin, Nagda, & Lopez, 2004). Teaching diversity topics and courses however, can be difficult, particularly at predominantly White campuses, because students sometimes resist diversity course requirements. It is particularly challenging for faculty of color, who are often expected to teach these types of courses (Perry, Moore, Acosta, Edwards, & Frey, 2006). This article summarizes my own experiences as a faculty of color teaching diversity courses at a predominantly White institution. The unique aspect of my experiences is that the course meets the university mathematical requirement rather than the traditional cultural diversity requirement. From this experience, it could be suggested that students are less resistant to diversity topics when they are offered as primarily meeting other college or university requirements rather than traditional social and/or cultural diversity requirements. The lack of research around this concept requires that the conversation begin with these reflections.

Many scholars have noted the benefits for both undergraduate and graduate students of enrolling in diversity courses (Bowman, 2010; Case, 2007; Chang, 2002; Enger & Lajimodiere, 2011; Gurin et al., 2004). Although some have found positive outcomes among undergraduate students who have completed just one diversity course (Case, 2007; Chang, 2002; Gurin et al., 2004), Bowman (2010) found that students who had taken one diversity course reported no greater well-being or orientation toward diversity and difference than did students who had not taken any diversity courses. This may imply that positive outcomes come from taking more than two diversity courses. Undergraduate students who had taken two or more reported greater well-being and comfort with difference in comparison to students who had taken only one diversity course.

Even graduate students appear to benefit from diversity course requirements. Enger and Lajimodiere (2011) found that, after enrolling in one online diversity course, doctoral students articulated a much better understanding of White privilege and cultural differences in weekly journal entries. Despite the benefits of diversity courses for postsecondary students, [End Page 75] not all students welcome these experiences (LaDuke, 2009). Part of the issue is that these experiences can be wrought with intense personal and/or negative emotions (Spelman, 2010). And as Spelman (2010) argued, college and university instructors are not always prepared to teach students how to handle these intense emotions.

My own experiences teaching diversity courses that meet social and/or cultural diversity requirements for graduation at a predominantly White institution mirror those found by Perry and his colleagues (2009). From interviews with 20 instructors of color who reported teaching at least one diversity undergraduate course, they found that instructors often feel their credibility and authority challenged by students in diversity courses. Although overwhelmingly negative experiences or overtly negative events were not encountered within my traditional diversity courses, a more subtle resistance emerged in student evaluations where they revealed a general apathy or dislike for the diversity course required for graduation. Teaching a diversity course that was primarily advertised as meeting mathematical requirements however, produced a very different experience.

The course was created to expand the offerings of the Latino Studies Program, which traditionally only offered courses that meet social, historical, and/or cultural studies distribution credit requirements. Advertised as a non-traditional statistics course meeting natural and mathematical distribution credits, students enrolled with enthusiasm. Overall, students expected to leave the course with the ability to critically evaluate statistics and numbers frequently presented to them in their academic and daily lives. However, the course also focused on diversity issues because content consisted of comparing the experiences of the Latino/a population to other racial/ethnic groups. During the first half of the course, students were taught how to interpret a series of simple statistics...


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