Boise State's Experiences
Last month it was announced that Boise State University was suspending a course following allegations that the in-class instruction had humiliated and degraded some students over their beliefs and values. The suspension affected roughly 1,300 students in 52 sections of UF 200: Foundations of Ethics and Diversity, according to the University, a required course in the program. After a brief review of the facts, the University decided to restore the course but only with online instruction. The problem is the solution fails to address the underlying concerns about teaching classes that are consistent with equity, diversity, and inclusion policies.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (EDI)
It is important to have a classroom environment that is welcoming to all students regardless of their race, religion, nationality, and sexual preference. I have previously blogged about these issues in the workplace. They are just as important to in-class instruction in higher education. After all, one job of a university is to prepare students for the challenges that face them in a diverse workplace.
The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means to treat each person as unique and to recognize our individual differences. It means understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and to celebrating the rich dimensions of individuality.
Inclusion has often been defined in the context of a society that leaves no one behind. It is one in which the cultural, economic, political, and social life of all individuals and groups can take part. The United Nations report, Creating an Inclusive Society: Practical Strategies to Promote Social Integration, points out: An inclusive society is one that overrides differences of race, gender, class, generation, and geography, and ensures inclusion and equality of opportunity, as well as capability of all members of the society to determine an agreed set of social institutions that govern social interaction.
People tend to think about equality of opportunity and fairness in treatment as one and the same. It means having the same rights, social status, etc. Equality aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things. But when we place it next to equity, that is when the lines get blurred.
Equity can be thought of in terms of equal opportunity that fit a person’s circumstances and abilities. It may mean giving a group of people different access to resources, as with disabled individuals who deserve special access for entry or different testing procedures in the classroom. In the workplace, it means to provide accommodations as needed.
A good analogy is to think of runners sprinting around an oval track during a competition. The concept of equality would mean treating runners the same way; having them start at the same place on the track. While this may seem fair at first, we quickly realize that those starting from an inside position have an advantage over runners in the outside lanes because the distance they must travel is shorter. As a result, equality – starting at the same place – does not result in fairness. The concept of equity would mean the starting positions should be staggered so runners in the outer lanes have an equal chance to win the competition. In this case, different or tailored treatment leads to fairness and justice, not the same treatment.
Boise State University announced the suspension of the diversity course mid-semester over a rumored video of a student being humiliated for being “white”. According to Inside Higher Education, the course, University Foundations 200, had been running since 2012. UF 200 concerns ethics and diversity and is described as challenging students "to inquire into key ethical ideas and values together, giving equal voice to all who are committed to the public good." Individual course section topics differ and include moral problems, moral courage, censorship, the ethics of food, folklore, deviance, and human rights. Thirteen hundred students were enrolled and therefore affected by the decision to suspend the course.
Even though Boise State restored the course for online instruction, the initial decision raises questions whether EDI courses add value to students’ experiences and, if so, how best to teach them. Having one-dedicated course in the curriculum suffers from the perspective that EDI issues are important only in that context.
What is the Best Way to Teach About EDI?
Universities tend to treat specialized subject matter by developing new courses. A better solution is to incorporate issues related to EDI in as many courses as possible. That sends a signal that EDI permeates society and are important to a well-balanced education including in areas such as Literature, Sociology, Psychology, and other courses in the humanities.
Integration throughout should be matched by a having a separate, required course in the curriculum specific to a students’ major field of study. For example, a Business Ethics course should address EDI issues in the workplace.
The integration of EDI into the curriculum whenever possible, and a separate dedicated course in one’s field of study, together sends a strong message that everything students do should incorporate a sensitivity to EDI issues to prepare them to be contributing members of society.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on April 15, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.