Diversity on a Shoestring: Repurposing Traditional Activities in the Business Communication Classroom

Article excerpt

Summer, 1994: The Real World 1A, T-Th, 1:00-2:15. This course introduces issues of importance to the contemporary working professional: working in a multicultural environment; sensitivity to power, gender, disability, socioeconomic, cultural, and lifestyle differences; language, communication, and management skills in a workplace (and world) characterized by diversity.

This course listing is hypothetical, but the issues are real. The dialogue that began with multicultural and ethnic issues in the 1980s is being continued and broadened to include diversity. In addition to matters of culture, race, and social practices, topics such as harassment, lifestyles, power, social status, the English-Only Workplace, and relationships between men and women are now matters of concern for our students.

But while the term diversity may be another word of the moment, real diversity is challenging society and affecting education. Working students are already directly affected by multicultural and diversity issues, and other students are conversant with them. As a result, they rightfully expect the classroom experience to interpret the world they will encounter throughout their professional and personal lives.

DIVERSITY AND THE CLASSROOM

Native, international, and working professional students make business communication classrooms highly diversified microcultures. Because these students reflect the makeup of the real world, traditional classroom experiences can be redesigned to draw on the diverse characteristics and experiences of class members. We can address cultural and social diversity within a traditional curriculum by encouraging discussion and interaction on diversity issues. The buffer zone of the classroom allows instructors and students to shape and model professional qualities and behavior that transfer to the workplace. The teaching challenge is to create a classroom culture that requires ongoing critical student reflection on matters of diversity as it provides content learning.

AN APPROACH TO TEACHING DIVERSITY

Diversity comes with a potent subtext. Attitudes and beliefs not only inform people's behavior they also comprise our systems of meaning and reality, systems that are deep-rooted and resistant to change. Students are, first of all, people who come to us with a variety of belief systems created out of diverse social/cultural experiences and backgrounds.

Our younger native students often have minimal or no work experience. Many have not examined their own beliefs or given serious thought to working and living in a diversified world. At the same time, the security provided by their position in the cultural and social mainstream allows them to be more outspoken and sure of the validity of their beliefs and opinions.

International students, on the other hand, often have ideas and beliefs that are at odds with those of their classmates. To complicate matters, they may not communicate well because of problems in social interpretation and language. The beliefs of these students can seem traditional, even reactionary, when juxtaposed against contemporary American standards, particularly in areas of management practices and relations between men and women in the workplace.

Adult professional students provide counterpoint to both groups. Their backgrounds give them a sense of pragmatism that comes from meeting workplace challenges head on. They have real experiences to share, and they are not hesitant to speak up.

Creating a diversity-centered learning environment with this mix of people is challenging and rewarding. My approach aims to provide the sort of learning experiences that remain with students throughout their schooling, and, hopefully, into their professional lives. The approach and the activities that follow are the result of my experiences in trying to connect traditional classroom activities with diversity and the world of work.

Strand One: Becoming a Professional in a Diverse World

First is the strands approach to instruction. …

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