Putting together a Sourcebook on Diversity and Inclusion at Yale-NUS___
---In March 2019 the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Yale-NUS College proudly released a new source-guide titled Diversity and Inclusion in Curriculum and Classroom: A Community Resource for Yale-NUS Faculty and International Liberal Arts Educators. The guide draws on research conducted at Yale-NUS specifically, as well as existing literature on inclusive pedagogy and curriculum design.
Many of our findings and recommendations are intentionally site-specific to Singapore and the distinctive Yale-NUS context. However, several chapters of the sourcebook should be useful for our colleagues in other liberal arts colleges in Asia and world-wide. We have also found the process of developing the book to be very useful in elevating discourse around diversity and inclusion on campus, and in bringing together different voices and stakeholders around the shared conviction that excellence in international education necessitates attention to student diversity and proactive inclusion.
The book, which is made up of three parts. Pt. I, “Diversity and Cultural Context at Yale-NUS”, is descriptive, and serves to highlight some distinctive forms of diversity that make up our community. Special attention is given to the Singapore primary and secondary education system, which over 50% of our students pass through before arriving at Yale-NUS. Pt. II, “Lessons from the Early Years”, presents data from a survey of student experiences with diversity in the Yale-NUS classroom in the early years of the College. Additionally, this section offers a brief history of the main debates and discourses relevant to diversity and inclusion that emerged in the College’s first five years, and the curricular and institutional innovations that have occurred as a result. Pt. III, “Practical Strategies for an Inclusive Classroom” offers concrete pedagogical ideas that reflect both established ‘best practices’ with an awareness of our distinctive teaching context.
Why We Did It: Rationale for the Book
There were three overarching motivations for creating the sourcebook: 1) Because we are new; 2) Because we are different; 3) Because existing literature on inclusive pedagogy was not always relevant to our context.
Yale-NUS is a four-year, residential, liberal arts College forged in partnership between Yale University and the National University of Singapore. We opened our doors to students in 2013 and graduated our first class in 2017. We have a roughly 7% admit rate, practice need-blind admissions, and over 50% of our students receive financial aid. Roughly half of our students are Singaporean and the rest come from truly all over the world with over 60 countries represented. Our faculty similarly hails from around the globe, and while there are many nationalities represented, a majority have gone to undergraduate or graduate school, or previously taught, in North America.
In addition to our distinctive demographics, we also have a distinctive curriculum. The Common Curriculum is a required, roughly three-semester long sequence of eight required courses in literature and humanities, history, politics, philosophy, social inquiry, science, and quantitative reasoning. Common Curriculum courses, like courses in the majors and electives, are taught in small (usually 18-student) seminars with an emphasis on active learning, team-based learning, and discussion. In this sense, not only are we bringing students from very diverse backgrounds together in learning, but we are demanding that they immerse themselves in a very interdisciplinary and challenging curriculum and using interactive, student-centered pedagogies that are unfamiliar to many of our students.
In this distinctive cultural and curricular context, issues of diversity and inclusion can look quite different than they would in either a North American liberal arts context or in a larger, pre-professional university context typical of many Asian universities. For example, the concept of ‘First Generation Student’ looks very different when you are the first liberal arts college in Singapore. Additionally, in Singapore all male citizens and permanent residents do two years of mandatory National Service, typically in the years immediately preceding university. As such, local male students often feel particularly out-of-practice and disoriented in the first semester relative to their peers. Our North American students might be more familiar with our curriculum, but be grappling with culture shock in the move to Singapore, whereas our Singaporean students are near to family and familiar friends, but are often adjusting to a truly foreign set of classroom expectations. These cultural complexities and local dynamics create distinctive peer-to-peer learning opportunities and require thoughtful attention from our educators.
Because we have distinctive forms of diversity, we have distinctive opportunities to think critically about what inclusive pedagogy looks like in our context. Much of the literature on inclusive pedagogy originates in a North American framework, and so part of our goal was to curate that literature to be particularly relevant and resonant for our distinctive Singapore-based Liberal Arts context. The CTL then identified and extracted the most valuable and practical strategies from existing literature, and adapted it to be salient for our faculty and our learning environment.
How We Went About It: Development and Implementation
Our process for developing the book centered on soliciting input from across the College, and an intentionally gentle rollout. The CTL has a staff of four, and certainly does not reflect the full diversity of our student body or faculty. We wanted the book to be a community document that brought together a diversity of experiences and pedagogical priorities from across the faculty and student body. To that end, we had several mechanisms for getting community input during the earliest phases of researching and writing the book.
Throughout the process of developing the book we were in conversation with the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dean of Faculty, and Dean of Students to get their input on what topics should be addressed and how to create a document that would serve as a conduit or bridge between student and faculty experiences of diversity in the learning context. We hoped that the book would have impact, but not cause any big surprises. For this reason, we felt it was important to update senior leadership and solicit their input throughout the process.
Once we had an initial draft of the book, we circulated it to key stakeholders such as curriculum directors, heads of study/ department chairs, divisional directors, student affairs officers, admissions staff, public affairs, and faculty with particular interests and academic expertise in issues of equity and inclusion. We also shared drafts with student government representatives and other student leaders with a demonstrated commitment to social justice and inclusion issues. As expected, not all members of the community had time to give us extensive feedback, but this process helped us to identify some important oversights, and make sure that our work’s impact aligned with our intent.
Just as we did not want the sourcebook to come as a surprise to our senior leadership, we also did not want it to come as a surprise to our faculty, which is its intended audience. One of the potentially challenging chapters includes data from a CTL-sponsored survey of students, and focuses on questions of student experiences with diversity in the Yale-NUS classroom. As such, a year before the book was released we shared the results of that research during a full faculty meeting and in more targeted workshops. Our hope was that this would help faculty be receptive rather than taken off-guard or feel threatened by some of our findings. More generally, we tried to get the word out to all faculty that we were working on this book, and that we welcomed input and contributions from anyone who was interested. Our goal is for the final document to feel like a community resource.
Many faculty have greeted the sourcebook with genuine enthusiasm and gratitude, especially new faculty who are only just starting to learn about our distinctive student body and their learning needs. We are also aware that some faculty are turned-off by the very term “Diversity and Inclusion” which for some has become synonymous with preachy administrators and compromised pedagogical autonomy. For this reason, it was very important for us to frame the book as a helpful non-intrusive resource rather than a prescriptive policy document. We also conceived of the book as a living resource, and have very publically in the document and in announcements about it solicited input, feedback, and ideas for how the book can be improved moving forward.
What We Hope to Accomplish: Intended Aims and Impact
We wrote this book to make sure as an institution Yale-NUS is getting the most out of its distinctive diversity. Diversity amplifies learning in a multitude of ways. As we write in the book, “diversity greatly enhances students’ intellectual capabilities (interpretation, communication, argumentation, problem- solving, synthesising multiple points-of-view) and their emotional intelligence (compassion, empathy, listening) in ways that prepare them to thrive personally and professionally. Student diversity also contributes to professional growth and satisfaction for faculty. Faculty learn new things about the world, about teaching, and about their own areas of expertise by seeing it through their students’ many and diverse lenses. Teaching students from diverse backgrounds and learning styles keeps the teaching experience fresh and invigorating and creates opportunities for faculty to develop new pedagogical approaches and avenues for research… But being inclusive in the classroom takes work, and not all faculty have a clear sense of where to start or where to expand their efforts. The sourcebook is designed to help. It is intended for new and veteran Yale-NUS faculty and international educators in similar institutions to understand students’ diversity and to consider strategies for harnessing that diversity most effectively in the classroom.”
Diversity is an unparalleled asset for learning, and we don't want to leave anything on the table. We hope this book will be a valuable resource for Yale-NUS faculty, and so too for faculty at other liberal arts institutions globally and perhaps especially in the Asian context.
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