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Teaching a Diverse Student Body: Practical Strategies for Enhancing our Students’ Learning

Introduction to Teaching a Diverse Student Body

In the aftermath of racial incidents at the University during the spring of 2003, President John T. Casteen III and Gordon F. Rainey, Jr., the newly elected rector of the University’s Board of Visitors, created two groups charged with evaluating University initiatives that address diversity and identifying action steps and policy changes. The Special Committee on Diversity of the Board of Visitors and the President’s Commission on Diversity and Equity are currently working in concert to create a vision and action plan to achieve a more welcoming community for every individual.

The President’s Commission specifically is “charged with assessing the quality of the student experience within the University in all of its aspects, with special attention to experiences unique or generally germane to women and minority students.” We divided the Commission into four main subgroups: Student Life and Climate; Faculty and Staff Recruitment and Retention; Curriculum; and Community and Business Models. We are working diligently gathering current data, following up on recommendations from prior reports, considering the merits of a wide range of proposals and studying “best practices” here and elsewhere. We are operating as a working commission by engaging members of the University community in focused discussions about all of these issues and when possible working with appropriate offices to put recommendations into place now instead of waiting until the final report.

Our final report will acknowledge the Teaching Resource Center as the home and source of many of the “best practices” to be found anywhere across the nation. The TRC has consistently provided services and resource materials designed to enhance the teaching abilities of faculty and teaching assistants at U.Va. Teaching a Diverse Student Body has been an invaluable resource guide since 1994. The editor of this handbook has revised it to keep in step with U.Va.’s increasingly diverse student population. TRC staff understand the importance of embracing diversity within our classrooms because of the opportunities it creates for teaching and learning. They are in step with current research which informs us that “students who interact with peers of different backgrounds or who take courses with diversified curricular content show greater growth in their critical thinking skills than those who do not do so, and they also tend to be more engaged in learning.”*

We highly recommend Teaching a Diverse Student Body. We encourage you to embrace its principles: keep it close at hand, refer to it often, and try out its teaching strategies. Your effort will certainly be rewarded-both in the quality of your classroom dynamics and in meeting the challenge of preparing all our students for the diverse world of the 21st century.

*Jeffrey Milem, “Why Race Matters,” Academe: Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors, Volume 86, Number 5 (September- October 2000).

Co-Chairs of the President’s Commission on Diversity and Equity

Angela M. Davis
Associate Dean of Students
Director of Residence Life
Associate Professor of English Language and Literature, General Faculty

Michael J. Smith
Thomas C. Sorensen Professor of Politics
Director, Interdisciplinary Program in Political and Social Thought