On March 21, 1996, faculty, lecturers, graduate students, and staff of the University of Louisville met to discuss teaching and learning in the culturally diverse classroom at the Celebration of Teaching and Diversity held at the Brown Hotel. As Wallace Mann, U of L's Provost, reminded participants before introducing the keynote speaker, issues of cultural diversity and sensitivity are especially important to the University of Louisville as it attempts to establish and meet the goals of an urban university whose student population varies dramatically in social, ethnic, religious, and economic background.
The majority of panels focused on the different learning styles of students with culturally diverse backgrounds. While many students have mastered inductive logic (the ability to abstract universal concepts and theories from a set of particulars) and deductive logic (the ability to apply certain particulars to universal concepts and theories), others best acquire knowledge through application and participation in meaningful activities. Similarly, students who privileges visual learning respond more to visual cues while students who privilege auditory learning respond more to auditory cues. In any case, instructors should provide a variety of techniques and pedagogical styles in order to reach students whose learning styles are different.
Particularly noteworthy to WR instructors was the keynote presentation “Cultural Competence in Academia.” In addition to discussing the different learning styles and responses of culturally diverse students, keynote speaker Dr. Josepha Campinha-Bacote related her own attempt to complete a dissertation at the University of Virginia on Voodoo Medicine in the African-American community. Although Dr. Campinha-Bacote was able to complete and defend her dissertation, becoming the first African-American female to graduate from UVA with a Ph.D. in Nursing, she had to struggle to convince her committee to approve the unconventional topic she had chosen and its relevance to the study of medicine.
Since her defense in the 1980s, though, she has become a prominent authority within the U.S. on alternative practices and cultural sensitivity in health-care. She has used the information from her dissertation to instruct other health care workers on culturally based medical techniques to which patients might more quickly and readily respond. Her lesson to the U of L community was that instructors should encourage and not discourage students who want to explore through their writing seemingly unconventional topics that might not appear to relate to a general community but have particular importance to their culture and background.
As faculty and staff move through the
third decade of the “open university,” the significance of cultural diversity
in learning and teaching acquires more importance. Having attended this
conference, I am confident and encouraged by the number of faculty who
are not only willing to accept this challenge but who have and continue
to embrace it as part of their commitment to higher education.
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