The Secret Isn’t Sorry

By TaLisa Carter

Inclusive pedagogy is quickly becoming a permanent part of the academic landscape. It is on our syllabus smushed between learning objectives. It pops up as a bullet on the faculty meeting agenda. And it hangs out alongside other expectations of job candidates. Inclusive pedagogy seems to be everywhere. But is it?

Fact 1: Most faculty are not experts in diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging (DEIB) – nor any of the former or future words added to the list. Although professors may want to be inclusive in their classrooms – not everyone knows how.

Fact 2: As experts in our respective areas, we know what we don’t know. And despite our desire to meet the call for meaningful inclusion in our classrooms, the ask – for many – is daunting. It means more reading, more prep, more time, more questions, more work. Many of us are not full-time faculty – and even those of us who are – feel overwhelmed that we are now expected to learn another area. This tension between desire and reality has caused many to feel guilt, shame, irritation, annoyance, and confusion.

Fact 3: We do not want to screw up. For some broaching topics related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging brings fear and anxiety. This may be particularly true for white, heteronormative, male, and/or other faculty who align with identities traditionally in the majority. Nervous to make an egregious or irreversible mistake, many professors avoid DEIB topics altogether. Others approach DEIB related topics with deep insecurities, a lack of confidence, and a plethora of apologies at the ready. But apologies won’t fix it.

The secret to inclusive pedagogy is not sorry.

As an Inclusive Pedagogy Fellow, I have interacted with a host of faculty who have inclusive intentions but are afraid of missing the mark. I have spoken with professors who feel out of their depth addressing DEIB issues and apologetic for not being experts in the subject. I have sat in meetings where faculty ask for reading lists hoping inclusion will seep from the pages into their pedagogical tool kits. In contrast, I have watched faculty light up with empowerment. I have been thanked for sharing my approach to inclusion in the classroom, a skill I previously undervalued. Most importantly, I realized that my journey towards being inclusive in my classroom has just begun.

“I realized that my journey towards being inclusive in my classroom has just begun”

Through these interactions, I have learned that the first step forward for many of my colleagues is to stop grieving the fact that they are not experts in topics related to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. The second: to stop looking for a magic book, webinar, assignment, etc. that will solve the problem of inclusion. And the third: to commit to a lifetime of learning. The smartest among us admit what we don’t know.

Be human. Reflect. Be kind. Be intellectually curious. Be genuine. Try. Try Again. Ask for help. Own what you know. Own what you don’t. Inclusive pedagogy is a journey. Teach on.

Author Bio

TaLisa J. Carter, Ph.D. is dedicated to understanding the interactions of deviance, social organizations, and race. Dr. Carter is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Justice, Law & Criminology at American University in Washington, D.C., an Affiliated Scholar at Urban Institute, and an Affiliate with the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence! at George Mason University.

Suggested Resources

(Note: This list is not exhaustive nor magical, but meant to guide readers forward in their inclusive pedagogy journey and commitment to lifelong learning.)

Myers, V.A. (2014). What if I say the wrong thing?: 25 habits for culturally effective people. American Bar Association.

Allen, C., Albert, K.A., Fasching-Varner, K., Mitchell, R. (2014). Racial battle fatigue in higher education: Exposing the myth of post-racial America. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Flynn, Jr., J.E. (2015). White fatigue: Naming the challenge in moving from an individual to a systemic understanding of racism. Multicultural Perspectives, 17(3), p. 115-124.

I also encourage people to listen to podcasts from diverse people to broaden their perspectives: