Creating a ‘Forum for All Voices’

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Wednesday, July 13, 2022
By Emily Beach
Photo by iStock/SolStock
An interdisciplinary campus partnership leads to workshops that create new possibilities for promoting DEI in the business curriculum.
  • DEI workshops help faculty overcome barriers that prevent them from integrating diversity issues into the classroom.
  • To address DEI issues effectively, a school should take a holistic approach and align its efforts with its vision.
  • Faculty can tap into their interdisciplinary networks on campus to create fuller, more inclusive experiences for students.

 
In the summer of 2020, the killing of Breonna Taylor and the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd led to massive protests across the U.S. In the wake of these events, business schools recognized the need to address grief and bolster efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

At Arizona State University in Tempe, its president Michael Crow organized the LIFT (Listen, Invest, Facilitate, and Teach) Initiative, which included a 25-point plan for improving the experiences of ASU’s Black students, faculty, and staff. Co-led by Jeffrey Wilson, the associate dean of research at the W.P. Carey School of Business, the LIFT Initiative empowered schools at the university to expand DEI efforts across disciplines. At W.P. Carey, Wilson worked with Kay Faris, senior associate dean for students, to gather a diverse group of faculty, staff, and student representatives to provide insight, identify next steps, and work toward broader conversations at the college.

This expansion included a partnership between the business school and ASU’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD). At the time, W.P. Carey’s Dan Gruber, associate dean for teaching and learning, and Mohan Gopalakrishnan, senior associate dean of faculty, were co-chairing the school’s Inclusive Teaching Committee. The committee identified several barriers preventing faculty from addressing issues of diversity in the classroom, ranging from lack of understanding to fear of saying the wrong thing to worry about political repercussions.

To overcome these barriers, Gruber and Gopalakrishnan partnered with Lois Brown, center director and ASU Foundation Professor of English to create the W.P. Carey Inclusive Teaching Workshops. Through this interdisciplinary partnership, the three faculty hoped to inspire new insights and add needed context for their colleagues in the area of DEI.

Enabling Purposeful Critical Inquiry

Over the following 18 months, the Inclusive Teaching Committee hosted eight teaching workshops and several hybrid small group sessions, which represented two to three different disciplines. The larger workshop attendance was in the range of 100 to 150 participants. Small group sessions, held as follow-ups to the workshop discussions, welcomed 50 to 60 participants in person and online.

Minority business leaders and government officials from the Phoenix area were invited to speak in panel discussions as part of the inclusive teaching workshops. As part of this initiative, faculty also went on a field trip to the “Banking While Black” interactive art exhibit at ASU 365 Community Union’s space in Sun Devil Stadium.

At the school’s second Inclusive Teaching Workshop, held in February 2021, Brown gave a presentation about the Oklahoma Black Wall Street tragedy. After faculty learned that lesson in history and business, those in the supply chain management and finance departments began integrating such stories from Black history into their curricula. Adriana Samper, associate professor of marketing, led a workshop for PhD students focused on how to demonstrate a commitment to DEI while on the job market. That discussion was a catalyst for a more thoughtful and thorough integration of diversity statements in hiring at W.P. Carey.

“As we think about how we want to shape the future of business education, we must engage with our history and allow it to illuminate lessons that already exist.” — Dan Gruber

“As we think about the future of business education and how we want to shape it, both locally and across the world, we must engage with our history and allow it to illuminate lessons that already exist,” says Gruber. “Those of us at the business school have been able to learn from experts in disciplines such as history, linguistics, English, African studies, and art. From that place of new perspectives, we can begin to see how business education, case studies, and classroom practices can further new understandings.”

The success of the collaborative program will be measured by how well it accomplishes two objectives, says Gopalakrishnan. First, it must engage a broad range of faculty, staff, and students in DEI issues. Second, he says, it must promote equity “through continuous and open-minded dialogues and discussions.”

“We’re trying to create places of critical inquiry,” Brown adds. “We’re also trying to teach intellectual humility, or model intellectual humility, by enabling perpetual optimistic and purposeful critical inquiry.” In this process, she notes, workshop facilitators are less focused on obtaining answers than on exploring “the kinds of multifaceted questions we’re asking together.”

Learning From One Another

Gruber, Brown, and Gopalakrishnan say that, as they plan these workshops, one of their biggest challenges is selecting topics that are both relevant for all stakeholders and specific to courses that faculty are teaching. “There is an intention to create a forum for all voices,” Gruber says. “We want to create an environment where faculty can learn from each other and do so in a way that allows them to practice and explore new ways of doing things.”

For example, in one workshop, faculty and staff worked with Brown on a kind of case study in which they identified ways to respond in the moment to inappropriate classroom comments related to DEI.

Another challenge has been helping faculty find the time to attend the inclusive teaching workshops—especially as they deal with the impact of the pandemic. It has been necessary, says Brown, to craft invitations that inspire faculty to “make time for what has brought them to the workshop series and dialogues in the first place.”

To better accommodate faculty schedules, the school has held workshops around lunch time, when many faculty have a break in classes. Additionally, the virtual and hybrid options have made it easier for attendees to join from wherever is most convenient, including faculty and staff who don’t work on ASU’s Tempe campus.

The school’s DEI efforts also benefited from a tremendous team of academic leaders, including colleagues in the dean’s office, department chairs, school directors, and faculty teaching leads. All were fully engaged both in attending and spreading the word about workshops.

The team is focused on making these workshops an ongoing and integrated part of faculty development. “We’re trying to build on what we are doing, not just offering one-time workshops,” says Gopalakrishnan.

Taking a Holistic Approach

Brown, Gruber, and Gopalakrishnan believe that the partnership between W.P. Carey and CSRD offers several valuable lessons for other business schools that want to advance DEI in their classrooms and across their campuses:

Be systematic and holistic. “From the syllabus to content to pedagogy, DEI needs to be fully integrated,” says Gopalakrishnan. “That requires a holistic approach to teaching and learning,”

Connect DEI to the school’s mission and vision. Faculty at W.P. Carey are addressing DEI issues in ways that are important to the school’s vision “to transform the world through access, excellence, and innovation in business knowledge,” says Gruber. Such approaches might include adopting inclusive teaching practices that explore racial tensions or incorporating research into the curriculum that studies inequality in business.

“DEI can never be an add-on,” says Gruber. “It has to be an integral part of a school’s culture.”

“Advancing DEI efforts requires asking questions about ‘What has been?’ alongside ‘What could be?’” — Lois Brown

Ask forward-looking questions. Many schools will present DEI to their stakeholders as a lens through which they can perceive subtle and systemic exclusions, homogeneities, and inequities, says Brown. “As the humanist in the company of my business school compatriots,” she says, “I think that advancing DEI efforts requires asking questions about ‘What has been?’ alongside ‘What could be?’”

Tap interdisciplinary networks. It is important for faculty in disciplines across campus to remember that they are “part of a network,” says Brown. They can use that network to create richer, more illuminating experiences for students. 

Whether faculty are in the business school or the English department, Brown adds, they all are responsible for preparing the next generation of students to create a more inclusive future. Through interdisciplinary collaboration, they can amplify their impact.

“As educators, we are all in the business of succession,” she says. “That is a powerful way to understand our responsibility.”

Moving From Questions to Answers

Brown, Gruber, and Gopalakrishnan have been especially heartened by how many positive changes the Inclusive Teaching Workshops have inspired so far. For example, associate professor of finance Seth Pruitt initiated a new finance class focused on systemic discrimination and financial outcomes. And in the real estate development master’s program, instructor Blair Koblenz has begun to integrate discussions of redlining and racial wealth gap as key to understanding current real estate disparities.

Brown, Gruber, and Gopalakrishnan plan to build on the momentum this series has generated with a faculty fellows program that will transform the school’s DEI efforts even further. They also hope that other business schools will consider tapping on-campus partnerships to amplify their DEI work.

There is great power, says Brown, in the “deep and magical joy of imagining and innovating with splendid colleagues.” The goal, she adds, is to continue to inspire participants and partners to ask compelling questions and engage in “ambitious, humble, and hopeful inquiry that moves through the knotty issues and challenges of our times.”

Authors
Emily Beach
Emily Beach, Communications Manager, W.P. Carey School of Business
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