16 February 2017 • By Lotte Hoes
Diversity in the classroom: ‘keep the lines of communication open!’
Lecturers should commit themselves to creating relationships and a sense of trust in order to reduce problems related to diversity in the classroom. This was the conclusion drawn by Machteld de Jong in her lecture given last Thursday in the Speakers’ Corner.
Machteld de Jong, the head of the Diversity in Organisations Research Group at the InHolland University of Applied Sciences, has conducted research into one of today’s apparently hot topics: cultural diversity in higher education. The Algemeen Dagblad (a Dutch daily) recently published an article stating that the division between minority and non-minority students in The Hague is growing, even when the families of ethnic minority pupils have lived in the Netherlands for longer than one generation. It’s a trend, says De Jong, which is also seen at universities of applied sciences
where divisions between minority students and non-minority lecturers are being reinforced.
‘I’ve spoken with many lecturers who are afraid to address certain topics with these students for fear of provoking a conflict.’ She also indicated that some lecturers are guilty of being prejudiced. ‘I’ve spoken with various lecturers who said that they were surprised when a minority student earned a high grade.’ De Jong also stated that the gap between minority students and non-minority students is continuing to widen, an example of this being the fact that they initiate little contact with each other. ‘A factor in this,’ De Jong said, ‘is prejudice’. ‘Many minority students think, for example, that non-minority students would vote for Wilders.’
She sees this as a bad development and believes that educational teams could play a major role in closing the gap by creating a learning climate that would encourage the development of relationships and a sense of trust. But lecturers could also take the initiative on their own to learn more about various cultures and use this knowledge as the basis for showing an interest in minority students. ‘We should be looking for things we have in common. Differences should also be seen as a fact, not as a problem.’
The lecture had been organised by Pizza met Pit, The Lighthouse, and the research platform Connected Learning for which Wâtte Zijlstra is the research coordinator. He thought it was an informative gathering: ‘It showed me that lecturers should make an effort to understand and show an interest in their students’ backgrounds,’ he said. ‘Only then can you prevent a clash of cultures between student and lecturer. Sometimes, these clashes result from things like students thinking it’s possible to haggle over their grade or lecturers seeing these students as second-class citizens. We should encourage lecturers to keep the lines of communication with students open and let students know that they are being acknowledged.’
With his research platform, Zijlstra is committed to learning more about how lecturers at The Hague University of Applied Sciences can deal with diversity in the classroom. He knows, for example, that many lecturers shy away from doing things that might provoke a conflict. ‘But we don’t really have much more information about this yet. That’s why we’re putting together a research team of lecturers this spring to address this question. We can then gather a lot of data that we can use to keep the debate about diversity alive.’