Demonstrating the value of diversity

This topic (Phillips’s “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” in particular) made me really think about how I prepare for and approach academic spaces and problem-solving. Phillips describes that diversity not only increases the amount of information that is brought to the table, but fundamentally makes us work harder to prepare for discussions. When I think about how I would approach and prepare for academic work in diverse versus non-diverse groups I must admit I would see some stark differences in myself.

If I know everyone in my group will be approaching the situation the same way I will and is coming in with similar sets of information as I have, I wouldn’t feel the need to do very much preparation. We would all present our points of view and the best plan of action moving forward, all of our opinions would come close to lining up from the start, and none of us would be stretched very far in our own thought processes. None of us would grow from that encounter. None of us would be faced with the opportunity to learn from vastly different opinions and perspective than our own.

If, on the other hand, I was in a group where I knew people would be coming into the conversation from vastly different perspectives I would spend lots of time thinking about what my opinions was, why I held that opinions, what opinions others may hold, and why I might agree or disagree with those. I would come to the conversation more prepared and by that point I would have already expanded my knowledge and exposure just in preparing more broadly. Then, I would continue to grow and learn by interacting with that diverse group.

I would be interested to see how many students are aware of that difference, because I wouldn’t have identified it on my own. I think it would be cool to conduct my own little experiment to demonstrate the value of diversity to my students from this perspective. For example, I could give two group class assignments that both required teamwork and discussion: one with groups assigned based on similarity and one with groups assigned based on difference and diversity. After both group assignments, I would ask the students how much preparation they put into each assignment. Based on my own experience and the readings on the value of diversity, I would hypothesize that they had to prepare more, would have more intense discussions, and would have learned more for the diverse group assignments.

If we can find ways to actively demonstrate the value of diversity to our students instead of just telling them diversity is valuable I think we can have a stronger and more lasting impression on how students value and seek out diversity moving forward.

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4 Comments

  1. A fun game to teach diversity to students could be to simulate an ecosystem that has a diverse set of flora and fauna, with each student representing a different plant or animal that has some beneficial ability. Then you hit that ecosystem with some environmental disaster that wipes out half of the students, leaving their niches unfilled. Then challenge the students who are still “in the game” to team up with a student who was knocked out and figure out how their animal or plant could help heal the ecosystem by using their ability to fill a vacant niche. Now run through the simulation again, except this time there are only a few plants or animals (less diversity), represented by teams of students. Hit the ecosystem with the same event and see how much more difficult it is for the remaining students to fill the now vacant niches. This may be a long-winded and awkward way of getting to a relatively simple concept (diversity makes ecosystems more able to rebound in the face of adversity) but I feel like there is something there that could be developed into a cool gamification / diversity lesson. Of course, and it goes without saying, you would want to relate that message to people, teams, organizations and culture in general, not just “natural” ecosystems.

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    1. Maybe pre-made cards representing different niches for each student to choose from, and reverse the order, so that the low-diversity experience happens first and then the high-diversity so they end on a positive note. Ok, I’ll stop brainstorming now.

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    2. I think this would be an awesome game! It would definitely get the point across to them that diversity is valuable and could be a way to re-engage students who have checked out by getting them up and moving around a bit.

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  2. This post gets to the heart of how we often behave: it’s easier when we are surrounded by those who are like-minded; it’s harder when we are surrounded by those who have different opinions than ours. However–and this is the important part–diversity is what allows us to grow the most. If we are constantly surrounded by the same types of people who we agree with, we are never challenged. This challenge is what people fear, but it is also what people need.

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