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How to talk about diversity/whether to talk about diversity.

Without it actually being a part of my job description, I’ve transitioned from a work community that is trying to not be actively racist to one that is trying to be actively anti-racist. I’m learning, but also fumbling in the process. (Yes, I’m White.)

Today I received thoughtful feedback, but I can’t quite think of how to take it into account. In a talk, I mentioned that studies have shown that [teaching approach X] is particularly beneficial to students who belong to underrepresented minorities, and as such it’s a good approach if we want to be more inclusive in our teaching. The person giving the feedback pointed out this othered minorities, setting White people as the norm, and furthermore lumped minorities into a monolith.

Which is absolutely true, and I can further see this presenting students belonging to underrepresented minorities as somehow particularly in need of support or help. What I don’t know, however, is how to do better next time, and since the feedback was sent to my supervisor, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to reach out to the person to ask for their views.

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My dilemma, as I see it, is this: how to talk about - or at least acknowledge - diversity, different outcomes, studies done focusing on people of a certain ethnicity/race/gender/income bracket, and the need for racial justice without it inherently signalling people of a certain group, in my case often POC, as somehow “other”? In what kinds of situations is it helpful to make distinctions along various demographic lines, when is it not?

My supervisor’s tips boil down to two things: 1) using vague round-about phrases, for example saying something might “benefit people who haven’t had as much exposure to campus norms” or 2) never talking about anything except “people” or “students” in general, without distinguishing among them. Both of these approaches seem problematic in various ways, too.

One approach that I think will make sense in the future is to not “off-handedly” mention diversity-related questions: to either not address them or to *really* address them and make room for more nuance and detail. But there will most likely be many instances where I will be asked to talk about things where identities are very relevant, so I’ll need to think of how/when/why to either bring up or not bring up identities.

I’d really appreciate your thoughts or resources on this. I understand there’s no cookie-cutter answer, so I’d love to hear your experiences, too, and how you’ve handled similar situations. I’m really kind of stumped on this, and a bit of searching didn’t turn up anything that would address this exact dilemma.

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