Inclusive Excellence at LVC

By Jill Russell

One of our strategic priorities at Lebanon Valley College is promoting and sustaining inclusive excellence across the curricular and co-curricular experience.  But why? As a refresher, what is the meaning of inclusive excellence? Making excellence inclusive as stated by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) is “an active process through which colleges and universities achieve excellence in learning, teaching, student development, institutional functioning, and engagement in local and global communities and requires that we uncover inequities in student success, identify effective educational practices, and build such practices organically for sustained institutional change.”  LVC’s Blueprint for Inclusive Excellence (http://www.lvc.edu/about/institutional-priorities/inclusive-excellence/blueprint-for-inclusive-excellence/) outlines five core principles to facilitate the achievement of our inclusive excellence initiative:  diversity, inclusion, equity, civility, and affirmative action. These principles have been included in our mission statement, EV2020, faculty/staff professional development workshops and other important recent work completed by committees, task forces and individual departments.  We have seen an increase in the number of academic and student programming opportunities which tackle topics pertaining to the five core principles.  Many of our faculty and staff are adopting new strategies and pedagogies to help meet the needs of our students.  We are making progress in a number of areas, but much work still needs to be done.

So why should we continue to strive for a more equitable and inclusive environment at LVC?  We commit to these values because our students are asking us to do so. Current students falling into Generation Z (birth years between 1995- 2010) demonstrate increased concern about equality and issues of social justice. They are a highly racially diverse generation with larger, more complex social circles. As stated in the recent book Generation Z Goes to College (Seemiller & Grace, 2016, p. 40), between 56 – 61% of Generation Z students are concerned about racism, sexism and poverty in their communities.  They assume that institutions of higher education will be ready to talk about these complex issues and provide insight into how students might become more prepared problem solvers in their lives after their college experience. In an AAC&U statement issued in June 2016 (https://www.aacu.org/about/statements/2016/ut-fisher) , the stance is taken “that higher education institutions would be in a far better position to address controversies related to difference if educational leaders were as explicit as possible—from the day staff and faculty are hired and from the moment that students first apply—about the fact that one of the essential college learning outcomes is effectively engaging diverse perspectives, a proficiency which centrally includes taking seriously and respectfully the perspectives of others.” It is on us as an institution of liberal education that we prepare our students for a more diverse world filled with both the promise of new opportunities and the reality of continued inequities. We must be honest with our intentions, have meaningful and, at times, uncomfortable conversations, be prepared to make mistakes, and model the value of respecting the perspectives of others on a consistent basis.  This is the responsibility of all higher education professionals, whether teaching a class or preparing payroll checks for our valuable and hard-working employees.

On Tuesday, January 24 we will once again come together as a community to celebrate our efforts at our annual Symposium on Inclusive Excellence.  Now in its fourth year, the Symposium serves as a catalyst for active and robust discussions amongt students, faculty, and staff related to building and sustaining an inclusive community. We will start the day with a keynote address provided by Dr. Charles H.F. Davis, Director of Higher Education Research and Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education. This will be followed by over 30 afternoon sessions, simulations, and dialogues. It is our hope that you will make a personal commitment to support the Symposium’s key events and inspire your students to see the values gained from participating. We are also compelled to find ways to continue ongoing and sustained conversations around these topics once the Symposium has passed. These steps will help ensure that we become a fully inclusive campus community and graduate students who are ready to examine and embrace the unique and complex diversities of our world.

Engaging Student Opinions Without Imposing Your Views

By Martha Thompson

Having passionate debates is nothing new to any college campus; however, helping students engage in discussions about controversial topics in a way that your own opinion does not shut down the dialogue can be a bit of a challenge in its own right.  Maybe it is the therapist in me or the part of me that has always liked a good debate.  My mom thought I was going to be an attorney.  I enjoy facilitating in class discussions on many topics, including those that have been near and dear to our very own students, such as the protests on campus last year.  In training to become a therapist, one strives to be open, empathetic, authentic and nonjudgmental while clients share everything from the most mundane to bizarre and even horrific stories.  These same qualities help in the classroom when talking about everything from theories to politics and current events. Personally I am a fan of using a few techniques from Drs. Miller and Rollnick, the founders of Motivational Interviewing.

In 1983, the first journal article about Motivational Interviewing (MI) was published in Behavioural Psychotherapy. The research focused on problem drinkers’ motivation to change and resistance to change.  MI has become very popular when investigating all types of motivation, change, and human behavior.  A quick Google search will produce more than three million hits.  I tend to use a few strategies from MI in the classroom when moving the conversation towards controversial topics or in order to increase the depth of a discussion.  The spirit of MI is to be person centered, allowing for very direct challenging without imposing your own values or judgments.

O.  Open ended questions–Asking students to elaborate is a great way to get the ball rolling on any topic. “Tell me what your thoughts are” or “Give me some examples” are two of my favorites. If the students are slow to start, try having them talk to their neighbors or in small groups and come up with an idea or two to share with the whole class.  From there you can ask the class what their thoughts are. This will move the conversation forward and create depth.  It also makes it easy for us to use some of the steps below all while keeping our opinions to ourselves.

A.  Affirm–We all like to hear the words “Good job!” Even a simple head nod or “Tell me more” will show the students you are encouraging them to share.  As a result, you are setting the stage for others to engage when they may not normally speak up.  Affirmations help students to see you are open to their opinions and viewpoints without sharing your thoughts on a topic.  This is especially important when creating a safe space for students to talk about sensitive or controversial topics.

R.  Reframe–Using this technique in class discussions can be tricky.  Our goal is not to change a student’s view or opinion but to help them see many sides of a topic, as well as understanding the breadth and depth of issues.  Instead of pointing out the opposite view when reframing, try asking students to explore other angles or sides of a given argument.  A good follow up here is another open ended question such as “Let’s explore how that would look from the other side” or “How does that apply in the real world?”

S. Summary –  Pulling many ideas together and making meaning out of them can be a challenge in its own way.  Reflecting the ideas of the students by saying things like “What I hear you saying is . . . ” allows for clarification and highlighting of key concepts.  I will at times summarize the key points the class made and then have the students rank them in order of importance or relevancy to the topic at hand.  Using affirmation and open ended questions fits right in line with summarizing their ideas.

Open ended questions, affirmation, reframing, and summarizing–OARS.  The OARS steps are not new to us individually; however, using them together gives us focus and some structure when handling difficult or intense class discussions.  The order does not matter as much as watching how you deliver your messages, ask your questions and prompt the students for follow up.  Remember, when you are up a creek without a paddle or you find yourself having an interesting conversation, you can always remember your OARS.

Miller, W. R. (1983). Motivational interviewing with problem drinkers. Behavioural Psychotherapy, 11(2). 147-172.