Learning as a Teacher through Diversity

It's a tired cliche that teachers learn much from their students, but it's true. I have the fortune of teaching in one of the most ethnically diverse universities in the country. The diversity of the students in my class brings a new dimension to my understanding of things I teach. Here's two examples.

An Asian student wrote a paper responding to an article about Disney's upcoming film The Princess and the Frog. The student agreed with the author that the princess might not be the best possible portrayal of an African American woman, and lamented the lack of black illustrators on the picture. I have many times criticized Disney's attempts with this film, saying they are pandering to an audience, or out of touch with black America, etc., etc. But my student also mentioned that children are less inflicted with racial prejudice than we are. And being Asian, she remembers feeling empowered by Mulan.

An Indian student wrote a paper responding to a class reading on several atrocities in the past decade in Namibia. He said he was often offended when American authors chose only to focus on the negative things occurring in other countries. He wanted the author to say positive things about Namibia as well.

So these two instances have taught me another layer of denying white privilege. I might have the luxury of tearing apart a Disney film for its racial insensitivity, but the positive implications of a black princess are vast, and might actually outweigh these concerns. I might have the safe harbor of American academia from which to locate the problems of the world, but I don't live in the countries I choose to insult rather than understand.

See? It's a cliche because it's true.

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