Encouraging equality and diversity

To partly recognize last week’s decision of the Supreme Court of the United States of America to make same-sex marriage legal throughout the country, I wanted to write something about equality.  So I looked across the pond to the United Kingdom where it is the law that teachers should proactively ensure that they do not discriminate against protected groups.  To help teachers with this, Susan Deacy has prepared Embedding equality and diversity in the curriculum: a classics practitioner’s guide.  It contains several suggestions, both anecdotal and in the form of case studies, about how to encourage students to accept diversity and think more in terms of equality regarding protected groups:

Here are some of her anecdotal suggestions:

  • do not simply include a unit on women, marginalized social groups, or people with disabilities in order to include them, but challenge some modern assumptions about these groups and delve into the ancient social status of these groups,
  • use many types of evidence so students see the value of different types of evidence,
  • have students work in activities (ex. an essay or a role-playing exercise) that encourage students to examine a topic through the perspective of a woman or slave, etc.,
  • encourage students to use facebook or wikis outside of class (Use this both to inform students about events related to Classics and for assignments.  For an assignment, ask students how they respond as modern readers and whether a reading, like Plato’s Symposium is unsettling (anonymity may allow for more honest and opinion reactions)),
  • develop assessments that encourage students’ willingness to express themselves and that are possible for students with disabilities such as dyslexia, and
  • to help explain city-states, have students vote as part of an activity.

Here are three activities that were discussed in depth that seem particularly good, both pedagogically and regarding equality and diversity:

  • Peer assisted learning groups.  The University of Bristol trained student mentors (2nd and 3rd year students) who led groups (aimed at 1st years and then opened to everyone) to discuss topics such as how to adjust to different teaching and assessment styles, how to develop and improve study skills, how to improve their understanding of course material, and how to better prepare for exams.  There was also a specific Latin class group.  These meetings were every other week and were scheduled at a convenient time (in the lunch period before the Latin class, for example), were useful personally, improved a sense of community, were pitched at the right level, and provided good study materials.  The study group program has since been expanded to several other departments at the university.
  • A class focused on disability in the ancient world.  The course used both disability studies perspectives and traditional historical analysis methods to understand constructions of dis/ability in the ancient world, how the disability was explained, what accommodations were made for people with disabilities, how people with disabilities were treated, and how did ideas about disability differ from today’s ideas.  The course examined the idea using many types of evidence to look at case studies including hearing impairment, mobility impairment, speech impairment, and visual impairment.  The course could be cross-listed with another department focused on disabilities, was enriched by the enrollment of at least one student with a speech impairment, and was so popular that the subsequent course on disability in Rome had twice the enrollment as the course on Greece.
  • Examining slavery and rape in a course on ancient comedy.  The course used the comic plays as social documents and contextualized issues like rape and slavery in order to challenge students’ perspectives.  The teacher had students act out some plays and read the lines.  In regards to slavery, it helped students see that slaves may be presented as smarter than their masters and how slaves could speak to two different groups at once.  This helped at least one student see how slaves and other subaltern characters could be reflected in plays.
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