Using Critical Discourse Analysis to Understand Student Resistance to Diversity

By Tharp, D. Scott | Multicultural Education, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Using Critical Discourse Analysis to Understand Student Resistance to Diversity


Tharp, D. Scott, Multicultural Education


Introduction

Diversity is a word used by many people with different meanings and interpretations. Diversity can refer to the existence of differences (e.g., "your interests are so diverse"), as coded language for race (e.g., "this is a very diverse neighborhood"), and sometimes as a tool for labeling conflict between groups (e.g., "there is a problem with diversity in this community"). The differences in the way we understand and use the word diversity pose unique challenges for those who do social justice education.1 Students and educators may not share the same definition, connotation, or beliefs related to the idea of diversity. When educators attempt to teach content related to diversity, these factors become highly relevant.

The purpose of this article is to explore college student discourse and resistance regarding the concept of diversity during a required diversity workshop on campus. My intention is to illustrate how critical discourse analysis may provide practitioners deeper insight into student resistance in order to inform curriculum design or facilitation pedagogies. While some practitioners may be uncomfortable with such theories and analytical approaches, I believe that social justice educators should constantly seek out new ways to reflect upon our practice in order to increase our impact on student learning.

I have facilitated hundreds of workshops with college students as a social justice workshop facilitator in higher education during my career. While each workshop has had a different flavor and experience unique to itself and the students who participated, I have observed a common tension between the ways I talk about diversity versus how students define, make-meaning, and otherwise internalize this concept for themselves through their words and behaviors.

By the time students attend my workshops, they have had at least 18 years of lived experiences that shapes their understanding and use of diversity. Between the way diversity is talked about among family and friends, framed by popular media, and their own personal experiences, they have numerous influences on their ideas and feelings about diversity.

Sometimes there is alignment between our understandings of diversity; however, there is a divide in the ways we define and apply the term more often than not. When this divide is present, students can be open to the conversation or resistant to the workshop, which can negatively impact the learning experience.

The relationship between student resistance to social justice education and the discourse on diversity used by students and educators is an area worth exploring in order to improve my practice as a facilitator and how I create curriculum on social justice topics.

Methodology

I adopt an action research approach using tools for critical discourse analysis to explore the extent that student discourse regarding the concept of diversity is related to forms of student resistance to learning about diversity and social justice. While my experiences as a workshop facilitator across my career informs this research question, the specific site of analysis discussed here will be restricted to my experiences facilitating a required diversity workshop for all first-year students during the fall 2014 academic term.

I will begin by situating the context of the university setting and summarizing the content of the workshop, including how diversity is defined, framed, and used. Next, I will provide an overview of Griffin and Ouellett's (2007) insights into student resistance to social justice education and identify concrete examples of how this manifested during the workshops related to the concept of diversity. I will then explain and apply both Derrida's concept of différance as well as Gee's (2011) seven building blocks of critical discourse analysis to conduct an analysis of student resistance to understand how the dissonance in discourse may be operating.

Lastly, I will offer some conclusions about ways I might improve the specific workshop curriculum used with first-year students in light of these findings. …

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