FACULTY COLUMN: Students connect when faculty represent

Indigo Magazine


Ask a recent Washburn graduate for the most significant influence on their academic success. Most graduates will respond with the name of a Washburn University faculty member. Students engage in classes when they feel seen and supported by their instructors, leading to higher rates of retention and graduation. Faculty should ask themselves if they “see” students as individuals with intersectional identities and incorporate those into course curriculum and teaching practices. Representation in our classes engages students and boosts success because they can identify with the material taught. How can faculty do this regardless of their subject material?

• Learn students’ names and pronounce them correctly
• Assign texts written by authors with diverse identities
• Incorporate examples of achievements by people with diverse identities in the area of study
• Provide cultural background information on topics in order to give all students context for material they may not know otherwise
• Use diverse popular culture references
• Incorporate diverse names, locations, languages, etc., when creating situational examples for students

Experts conducting research on student success, retention rates and graduation rates in higher education have proven the importance of instructional practices of representation. More importantly, students at Washburn testify to this as well. When I asked BIPOC Washburn students in an anonymous 2019 survey what faculty could do to welcome BIPOC students into their classroom, one student shared, “In what they teach, they could apply more lessons to people of color, from talking about history or math, when we try to apply things to real life situations. This will make us feel more comfortable in our environment and help us be more engaged in the learning.”

Other students surveyed replied similarly. Washburn University students want to succeed and know that connecting to course content and faculty make that happen. When faculty know how we can engage students and increase student success in our courses, we have an opportunity— a responsibility—to represent students in our curriculum and teaching practices.