Multiplying Factors into Functionality: Lehman’s Second Year Faculty Workshops

This week’s second year faculty seminar focused on “Multiplying Factors into Functionality: Diversity, Multiculturalism, and Teaching at Lehman.” We met twice during the week to accommodate different teaching schedules with the benefit of two distinct yet overlapping conversations about what it means to teach from and to diverse and multicultural identities.

The Lehman Teaching and Learning Commons library <> now hosts a number of books on diversity, multiculturalism, and higher education. We took these as our starting point (we brought the books and leafed through while talking) and lifted out a few provocative models for discussion. Daryl G. Smith’s identity model and the Howard-Hamilton and Hinton Behavioral Model of Cultural Competence stimulated questions of managing multiple identities and awarenesses while also managing multiple levels of critical thinking development between students and ourselves.

Here is a not-so-brief list of key points from each workshop:

  • There are many campus resources for faculty who work with students with diversity needs such as disabilities, and faculty can and should reach out for guidance early and often. Expertise is available: making good use of campus resources leaves us more time and energy for teaching.
  • Balancing sensitivity to students with high needs and standards for academic/classroom expectations can be an ongoing struggle. Again, reaching out for assistance and advice is recommended: there are offices and programs across CUNY who can provide support and perspective. It’s also a good idea to talk with colleagues, who may have insights to share.
  • In observing students’ “cultural competence,” it’s clear that some students have strong senses of their own identities and are at the same time resistant to awareness of/making space for others: thinking of the ways in which this resistance might also manifest in coursework may suggest strategies for bringing together expectations for increased content and skill learning as well as for increased “awareness”, “understanding”, and “appreciation” (these are keywords from the Howard-Hamilton and Hinton model).
  • We suggested adding free or focused writing exercises to defuse tension during arguments that seem unproductive for the class and for focusing attention/releasing energy before discussions.
  • Both Jennifer Johnson-Onyedum and Orlando Alonso shared recent success stories: each faculty member held mini-conferences with their students after the first four weeks of class. These conferences are increasing in-class participation and cooperation and helping students and faculty raise their awareness, understanding, and appreciation of each other.
  • We generally agreed that faculty identities can support teaching despite the range of differences among faculty: life experience, education, and demographic locations can have positive effects on students’ own identities and learning (allowing for points of difference and commonality).
  • It was also clear that faculty with culturally different educational experiences can face challenges in communicating expectations to students in public education in the U.S. and yet can use their experiences to enrich learning and discussions.
  • Finally, Doug Adams’ timeless advice, “Don’t Panic!” reminded us that cultural competence and appropriate engagement with diversity in and out of the classroom is ongoing as a learning experience and will therefore be filled with mistakes, gaffes, and embarrassment: we can certainly learn to apologize, find and maintain humility, and challenge ourselves to keep learning.

Handouts and a book list are posted in the Files section of the Lehman Faculty Professional Development and the Lehman Teaching & Learning Commons groups on the CUNY Academic Commons.

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