There are many professors and faculty at the University of Rhode Island who work with underrepresented minorities. Among this list is Bryan Dewsbury, Ph.D., a biology professor who studies underrepresented minorities in higher education.
“I study the social constructs of learning,” Dewsbury said. “And by that I mean things that happen in everyday society that affect everybody, not just underrepresented minorities, and how they engage in the classroom. It just so happens that in today’s society a lot of the negative things that have been happening disproportionately affect minorities.”
Dewsbury specifically works with understanding the many levels and dimensions of education. The beginning of this work is talking to students and understanding how they feel they are engaging in their learning. Then comes looking at other areas, such as the implicit feelings or the way people react to social events without realizing that those behaviors may be biased. Other aspects also include stereotyping, social belonging and how you view yourself.
While Dewsbury has only been at the university for a year and a half, he has noticed that the university is improving on diversity and inclusion. He noted that in comparison to other universities, URI is more aggressive on diversity at the highest levels of the university. However, Dewsbury said that there are still needs for improvement.
“We still have a long way to go; there are more tangible things that need to happen,” Dewsbury said. “Professors need to look at their curriculum and how they engage students. More faculty need to be thinking about inclusive teaching practices. We need to think about how students think about each other and treat each other and how culturally component they are. It’s a mixed bag, but it is mostly positive.”
One of the things Dewsbury discussed was inclusive teaching practices. He specified that inclusive teaching is not a particular style of teaching that you just adopt, rather it is a way of teaching by figuring out who your students are and what their needs are.
These needs span past race, gender, sexuality and more. Inclusive teaching is simply good teaching that understands that as colleges and universities become more and more diverse, the classrooms and teaching must also become more diverse, according to Dewsbury.
He explained that giving culturally-biased examples in class, assuming gender without realizing it, giving homework assignments in which you assume everyone has the same schedule or has the same access to resources are examples of impeding diversity in the classroom.
Dewsbury also understands that he and his team have a “sense of social responsibility, so we try to engage in outreach. If we find things that can immediately help underrepresented minorities we try to implement that into our teaching curriculum or in a program.”
Inclusive teaching is a particular style of teaching that all professors can adopt. The style includes putting a lot of work into figuring out who students are, what their needs are. And Dewsbury said those needs span race, gender, sexuality and class. Inclusive teaching understands that as undergraduates become more diverse, you need to teach that represents all of America.