Belonging and Inclusion
by Ketevan Kupatadze
In my previous blog posts I have written about the potential of student-faculty partnership to challenge the hierarchies that still exist and perpetuate inequality, as well as non-democratic structure and practices of higher education. I have also written about some of the important outcomes of student-faculty partnership, such as an increased sense of belonging, particularly among under-represented students. In this post, I focus specifically on the issue of the lack of equity and inclusiveness in higher education and how the implementation of collaborative and partnership–based projects as we practice teaching and learning has a potential to develop a more equitable and inclusive environment in which both students and faculty who normally identify themselves as minority feel that they belong.
My focus on inclusion and belonging draws inspiration from Dr. Alison Cook-Sather’s keynote presentation titled “Working Toward Greater Equity and Inclusivity Though Pedagogical Partnership,” given at Exploring Teaching and Learning Partnerships in Higher Education Conference (McMaster Innovation Park, Canada, November 2017). Cook-Sather highlighted several enduring effects of student-faculty partnerships as shown in recent research coming out of the colleges and universities that experiment with student-faculty partnership and/or view it as an integral part of their pedagogical goals. She argued that through partnership students have developed an increased sense of community and belonging (Healey, Flint, & Harrington, 2014: 35) and greater sense of belonging within the university community (Curran & Millard, 2016). Comments coming from minority/under-represented groups of students who participated in student-faculty partnerships highlighted that the projects fostered their affective experiences, increased their engagement in other courses they were taking, and contributed to the sense of evolution as active agents in their own and others’ development. Here are couple of examples of comments made by students:
- Partnership is “all about being equal, seeing the other person’s perspective, and valuing difference (McMaster student);”
- “Conversations between students and faculty [are] an important part of making a campus more inclusive (Bryn Mawr student).”
In her article titled “Dialogue Across Differences of Position, Perspective, and Identity: Reflective Practice in/on a Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnership Program,” Cook-Sather explores the effects of student-faculty partnership on students’ and faculty’s perceptions of their own differences and whether this collaboration or partnership could inspire more openness, deeper connection, and empathy (2015, p. 1). She notes that in her research through systematic documentation, reflection upon, and analysis of faculty and student experiences and voices participating in the Students as Learners and Teachers (SaLT) program at Bryn Mawr, the “themes of discerning or recognizing differences, and striving to embrace and learn from differences, rather than reifying them as only divisive, have emerged repeatedly” (2015, p. 6). Cook-Sather argues, “SaLT provides support structures within which participants can discern differences of position, perspective, and identity, and at once respect and preserve those differences and learn from them. […] Through engaging in reflection on (shifting) differences, participants not only embrace diversity but also, […] “make it normal”—make it normative for differences to exist and for people in relationships to benefit from them. While this is not always easy or fully achieved, faculty and student reflections offer us glimpses into the effort and the lessons such effort itself has to teach us” (2015, p. 6).
Without a doubt, research shows an increased understanding and awareness of differences, as well as the desire to cope with and work through them. One of Cook-Sather’s major recommendations during her keynote address was to create structures or spaces in which both under-represented students and faculty find voice and feel empowered.
Perhaps one area of research that would need to be better/more developed is the extent to which under-represented faculty see student-faculty collaboration as an opportunity. Previous research, although touching briefly on faculty experiences, has undoubtedly heavily preloaded the positive effect that it has on students. Research on the experiences and voices of under-represented faculty participants and the extent to which they are willing to participate in student-faculty partnerships is still needed. Some of the questions I have are:
- Do under-represented faculty jump on the opportunity to partner with students or do they refrain from such partnership?
- What reservations and/or hopes might they have in regards to partnering with students on the issues of teaching and learning?
- Are their attempts to partner with students similarly welcomed by students?
- (How) do the dynamics of equity and inclusion change when it is faculty who identify or are identified by the student body as minority?
In short, what happens when the sense of belonging uncertainty comes from faculty? (How) are they accepted or rejected by the students who view themselves as a representative identity?
- Cook-Sather, A. (2015). Dialogue Across Differences of Position, Perspective, and Identity: Reflective Practice In/On Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnership Program. Teachers College Record, 117 (2).
- Cook-Sather, A., (2017). “Working Toward Greater Equity and Inclusivity Though Pedagogical Partnership.” Exploring Teaching and Learning Partnerships in Higher Education Conference. McMaster Innovation Park, Canada.
- Curran, R., & Millard, L. (2016). A partnership approach to developing student capacity to engage and staff capacity to be engaging: opportunities for academic developers. International Journal for Academic Development, 21(1), 67–78. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2015.1120212
- Healey, M., Flint, A., & Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership: Students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. York: Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/engagement-through-partnership-students-partners-learning-and-teaching-higher-education
Ketevan Kupatadze, Senior Lecturer in Spanish in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, is the 2017-2019 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. Dr. Kupatadze’s CEL Scholar project focuses on student-faculty partnerships.