LETTERS: Diversity transcends colour and ethnic backgrounds, and includes customs, cultural and religious experiences, political views, sexual orientation and more.
The very definition of “diverse”, according to Cambridge Dictionary, is “including many different types of people or things”.
At the tertiary level, institutions are encouraged to employ a diverse faculty, all for good reason. In today’s global market, people are travelling more and working abroad has become a lot more accessible. People of all walks of life can easily travel across borders and boundaries to exchange ideas and share knowledge with each other.
In addition, the growth of online programmes makes it easier for remote faculty members to engage students all over the world. It has thus become easier for universities to make their faculties more diverse . This is why having a diverse faculty is important and beneficial not only to students but also institutions and faculty members. Students need role models and positive relationships with educators to nurture a sense of belonging, allowing them to study better, and enjoy classes and academic experiences.
When students feel they have things in common with an educator, they naturally feel more comfortable and can relate to them better. Students can find security in knowing that there is someone on campus that has their best interests in mind, who is looking out for them and, more importantly, someone who understands their culture and the different things about them.
According to the report “National Viewpoint the Importance of Hiring a Diverse Faculty”: “A diverse faculty will allow students to be exposed to a wide array of ideas, cultures and individuals. In a diverse student population, students need to be exposed to educators who are like them. They need to see people who have an impact on their lives, look like them, sound like them and have similar life experiences.”
Students stand to benefit positively from a faculty of diverse backgrounds that bring a range of experiences to the classroom, which has been shown to improve the effectiveness of teaching. Many studies and longstanding research have shown that a diverse faculty and student body leads to great benefits in education for all students. It prepares them for the world.
In the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, China, Malaysia and Singapore, the demographics are made up of all multitudes of people.
When international students graduate and go home or start work in their host country, they meet people from different socio-economic backgrounds, races, ideologies and cultures. etc. Instead of experiencing culture shock, they would be more adjusted and are prepared to deal with all kinds of people if they have had enough exposure to a diverse faculty and student population.
Having a mix of educators shows them how to communicate and work with all types of people. So how can institutions teach students to respect diversity? The key is to develop intercultural competence, which is a combination of skills, knowledge and attitudes to engage across differences. It’s what is required to get along at an interpersonal level with those who may not be like us. Universities have an important role to play in developing this competence.
Teaching intercultural competence can happen formally in the classroom and through the curriculum, and informally through students’ activities and their daily lives in university residences and around campus. In the formal curriculum, universities should examine what is taught, how it is taught and who is being taught with regard to intercultural learning, both domestically and internationally.
Educators must understand that students come from different places and at different stages of cultural development. Educators need to engage students in the classroom to ensure that at the end of their degrees, students can communicate intelligently and efficiently across cultures to move beyond their stereotypes and prejudiced views.
Conversations could be facilitated around common interests, favourite memories or inspirational people. Through exploring commonalities, students begin to realise that they may have more in common with others.
In my “Human Communication” lectures, I emphasise to my students that being interculturally competent requires a commitment to an engagement with learning about ourselves and others. It requires doing some of the “hard work” on ourselves to become open human beings who can live a life of interconnectedness — embracing learning about others and valuing others as fellow humans, regardless of differences that may seem to divide us.
We need to ask ourselves questions such as: How can I begin moving beyond my own biases? How can I engage with those whom I feel uncomfortable? How can I show respect for those with whom I deeply disagree?
Universities are a great place to begin the conversation and to educate students on diversity.
Initiating discussions about tolerance, awareness and the importance of diversity within the safety of a classroom will provide many benefits for students, now and in the future.
R. MURALI RAJARATENAM
FACULTY OF UNIVERSITY FOUNDATION STUDIES, HELP MATRICULATION CENTRE
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times