By Susan Bonicillo
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 15, 2004
In the fifth grade I had my first male teacher, Mr. Michael Dedman. Up until that point all of my teachers had been female, middle-aged or older. Like the students, it seemed like the teachers at St. Mark's Elementary had their own uniform and dress code. They all projected a matronly image complete with sensible shoes, no-fuss haircuts and endless stories of their children when they were our age.
So, when Mr. Dedman came onto the scene he was a veritable spectacle, a whole new breed of teacher. Indeed, for many of us parochial school kids he was a novelty. In contrast to the other faculty he was much younger. He had no children, was unmarried and did not possess the soft doughy figure of his coworkers.
When most the grown-up men that we knew were either our fathers or the parish priest, Mr. Dedman was, for many, our first contact with a male figure who did not fit into either category. A former park ranger with a love for the outdoors, he took us on trips to go sledding on garbage bags on Mount Rainier while our other teachers were barely managing to keep their arthritis under control. We all adored him. The addition of this male in an otherwise estrogen-filled school was a breath of fresh air. He gave a new element to learning that was a welcome surprise.
However, unlike grade school, now my education is largely managed by males. Overwhelmingly, in both high school and in college, the diversity in terms of both gender and race has been limited. In my high school, the faculty was mostly male, and, as far as race went, included a black biology teacher and a half-white, half-Korean English teacher. Here at the UA, the diversity (or lack thereof) has not improved.
Traditionally, when we discuss diversity in education, we apply this solely to the student demographic. However, findings from the November 2001 conference called "Losing Ground: A National Summit on Diversity in the Teaching Forces," along with numerous other studies, stress the importance of a diverse faculty in improving the quality of education of students and also in narrowing the achievement gap between white and non-white students.
To any young person, a teacher is one of the most influential people in their life. By having a teacher who is of the same race, it serves as role models for students and for students who do not see members of their race subtly reinforces the image that the world of academia is solely reserved to gray-haired, white males.
As the U.S. demographics continues to evolve with minority groups increasing in number, it would behoove that our educational institution reflect the change in their numbers.
However this is not the case. Data from a 2001-2002 survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that the student population is becoming more and more varied with white students making up 60 percent of the population with Hispanics and blacks making up 17 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, 90 percent of all public school teachers are white. And a significant percentage of schools, 40 percent to be exact, do not have a single minority teacher on staff.
The significance of having diversity on faculty addresses the importance that the cultural component has on learning. Culture has a significant impact on the way that a person learns, how they absorb, synthesize and disseminate information in the classroom.
For instance, research shows that in the case of American Indians the dominant culture of the classroom puts them at a significant disadvantage. In American Indian culture where a spirit of cooperation is promoted, the competitive element of the dominant classroom culture does not coincide with their traditions. Thus they do poorly and are labeled as unteachable when the methods employed at them are not the most beneficial and conducive to learning.
Especially for certain groups like first-generation students, the socialization in American society is aided when you have an ally, a teacher who is of a similar background.
Here at the UA, the ratio of the student demographic to a diverse faculty is woefully disproportionate. Despite the push to becoming a more diverse student body the faculty does not reflect this trend, with whites holding two-thirds of the positions of the instructional faculty.
Moreover, according to e-mails from the Black Political Forum, the UA has terminated the tenure of professors Elwood McDowell and Vernon Howard Jr. of the Africana Studies Department. They are touted as two of the most popular black professors on campus, yet reasons for their dismissal have been unsubstantiated despite their contributions to students of all races.
If we are to become a university more accommodating toward minorities, then we need a faculty that is just as diverse as the students they serve.
Susan Bonicillo is a junior majoring in English. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.