Diversity in the statistics classroom

I am fortunate to have been asked to be the academic advisor of two groups that serve minority populations at my school. I am the advisor of the Jewish Student Organization and the co-advisor of the African American Student Association. I also conduct research on closing the academic achievement gap and maximizing graduation rates, particularly for minority students. A few of my publications and several of my presentations are devoted toward cross cultural issues, thus I wasn’t surprised when I was asked to be a part of a panel that spoke to a group of students on Diversity.

However, I was kind of stumped when I received a question that in hindsight I should have been better prepared to answer. “As a non-diverse individual, that is as someone who is part of the majority, how do you deal with diversity in the classroom?”

Now, I’ll be honest, I never really thought of myself as part of the majority. In most groups, frankly, I feel pretty much in the minority for a whole host of reasons. Yes, you can say I see myself as three standard deviations from the mean most of the time. However,  if you were to look at my school’s student demographics, I represent the largest group, the majority, on not one but SEVEN different dimensions! So, if my school was filled with ice cream scoops, I’d be the single scoop of vanilla.

Of course, I have to admit, when I think of diversity in the classroom, my first thought goes to diversity of skill set. I’m thinking about the Calculus III  math minor sitting next to the guy who can’t find a square root using his calculator, and I all I’m thinking about is … how can I meet both of their needs. Yes, it is true. I think first and foremost of the students’ cognitive function and academic success. I want to meet students where they are and take them to a point where they will be prepared for the most rigorous graduate school program.

Yet, there are issues of diversity that are of critical importance in teaching, of any discipline, but probably even more important for a discipline that is so widely associated with one group (White Men). It is not my intention to diminish the growth and success of the White male students in my class. Yet, just like the Calc III and weak math student, I want to meet the needs of  everyone in my classroom even if “society” tells us statistics is not for them.  And, so, as I stumbled through the answer to the question asked me that day, I decided this would make a great topic for our blog for the next several weeks.

I hope you and the sages will join me in this very important discussion.

How do you meet the needs of diverse students in your classroom?


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