Dennis Wilson Wise

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Diversity Statement

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  • University of Arizona
  • Updated 17 May 2021

Please click here for a pdf version of my Diversity Statement.

Dr. Dennis Wilson Wise

Statement on Diversity & Inclusion

As someone who grew up in the Rust Belt of western Pennsylvania, I understand the privilege and responsibility that comes with being an academic who works with a diverse student body. Since no member of my family had ever completed a college education prior to me, I fully grasp how bewildering higher education can be—for instance, I initially had to drop out of college during sophomore year due to the stress induced by a labyrinthine financial aid system. Since then, my academic positions at large state schools have only increased my commitment to understanding the issues faced by under-represented students. When I was a Graduate Assistant Teacher (GAT), I often taught minority and rural students, many of whom worked full-time. Likewise, my current university is an HSI (Hispanic Serving Institution) with broad ethnic and linguistic diversity. In fact, one of the greatest challenges of being a preceptor for my department’s Writing Program, where we’re tasked with training new GATs, is showing them how to effectively work with and respect a diverse student population.

To further this goal, I’ve recently completed a certificate in “Leader in Classroom Diversity & Inclusion.” Overall, I pay close attention to reducing micro-aggressions in the classroom and increasing micro-affirmations. During my early training as a writing tutor, for example, our writing center’s one-on-one setting was ideal for offering immediate feedback on how an individual student might respond to certain kinds of assistance. Since then, I’ve especially sought to develop a pedagogy that affirmsthe academic production of my students rather than one that reminds them, however unintentionally, of cultural, linguistic, ethnic, or economic differences. I see every “area of improvement” in student work as a unique situation that requires its own solution. Unless a student self-discloses, I assume nothing; my motto is to never take anything for granted. Hence, my feedback involves affirming the academic strengths of students while directing them to how certain aspects of their writing can be improved. My feedback always references a detailed grading rubric to help reduce unconscious personal bias and so that students can remain constantly aware of my course’s expectations.

Furthermore, reflection is a major aspect of my teaching practice. Besides the known pedagogical advantages of letting students self-reflect, these reflections help me better assess their unique individual needs and reactions. Are students confident or nervous about their work? What works for them, and what does not? More importantly, do they understand how they can improve their standing in my class? Although I believe that end-of-semester course evaluations have their value, I greatly prefer to get immediate feedback through multiple reflections per semester, plus a mid-semester survey, since this allows me to address immediately any academic issues, challenges, or hurdles my students might be facing. Overall, I’ve found that students respond very positively to flexibility in their instructor, especially the students who are struggling with various non-academic challenges in their life.

Finally, my courses always follow basic principles of Universal Design, which is geared to maximize accessibility. These principles have been hammered into me particularly through my online pedagogy. My online course “Monsters, Ghosts, Aliens, and Others,” in fact, has recently met the Quality Matters Internal Review Standards for online course design excellence, which requires a list of 42 different criteria, several of which emphasize accessibility for hearing- and visually-impaired students.

At the end of the day, although my classes strive for achievable standards of content and expectations, I firmly believe that students learn best in a positive, self-affirming, and inclusive environment. My core pedagogical principle is that the challenge should be in the material—not the syllabus, and certainly not the instructor.

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