Understanding Self to Engage With the “Other”: Pedagogical Approaches to Teaching About Identity and Belonging in Graduate Education

Understanding Self to Engage With the “Other”: Pedagogical Approaches to Teaching About Identity and Belonging in Graduate Education

Louise Michelle Vital
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4836-3.ch008
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In this chapter, the author utilizes a reflexive approach to examine their experience revising a core course focused on identity, belonging, and exclusion in a categorized world that is housed in an international higher education graduate program in the United States. The author describes their positionality as a first-generation American and daughter of Haitian immigrants and how it informs their approaches in the classroom. Included in the chapter is a description of the author's teaching philosophy and how it is operationalized in practice. This is followed by a discussion on how external events, both locally and globally, including the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice in the U.S., has implications for their teaching. The author includes a description of course activities followed by excerpts from students' evaluation of the course. The chapter concludes with the author's reflection on student outcomes and their teaching experience.
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Setting The Stage

As a first generation American and daughter of Haitian immigrants, my positionality has largely shaped how I view and understand the world while simultaneously informing my core values. I understand how my cultural context influences how I live, shape, and make sense of my life within a larger global context. A central element of my understanding is the increasing interconnectedness of the global community in which we all live. I recognize that what happens globally effects what happens locally and likewise, that we can examine the local to best understand global phenomena (Darian-Smith & McCarty, 2017). Through my teaching, scholarship, and service, I seek to listen to and learn from those I meet to better understand challenges in marginalized communities globally. Likewise, I endeavor to help my students discover how education can be used as a tool for addressing those challenges. Interrogating my positionality, adopting critical reflexive practices, and striving to minimize negative impacts to the people and places I encounter is a critical component of how I engage in the world. These practices also shape how I prepare students in the classroom environment.

International higher education is a multifaceted component within the broader scholarship and discipline of higher education. As an educator who teaches in an international higher education graduate program, I seek to help my students understand the implications of higher education and their international higher education practice to society in a variety of contexts. I strive to foster the development of their reflexive stance (Schön, 2017) so that in their future practice, they have “an awareness of the self in the situation of action and of the role of the self in constructing that situation” (Bloor & Wood, 2006, p. 145). This awareness is important because my students are entering professions that require them to engage with students and colleagues from around the world and need the competencies to have healthy, ethical, meaningful, cultural exchanges and positive interactions. I ask my students to consider how they will work in “cross cultural, globally diverse settings” (Gopal, 2011, p. 374) that enables them to “function, work, succeed [and] make a difference” (Jooste & Heleta, 2017, p. 46) in the communities in which they will work and live. For this to occur, I believe students must have an understanding of their positionalities, adopt critical reflexive practices, and determine for themselves their ways of being while in their roles as international higher education practitioners.

In order for me to strive for such ambitious goals in my courses, I often use myself as a case for study by sharing vignettes from my own lived experiences, including my experiences as a researcher and educator who works within an internationalized context. Students seem to be more willing to de-construct their own ways of being and knowing when they find that I, their instructor, also wrestle with notions related to marginalization and privilege, self and other, inclusion and exclusion, and the implications of power in a variety of contexts. Jones (2010) explained, “engaging in intersectional reflexivity requires one to acknowledge one’s intersecting identities, both marginalized and privileged, and then employ self-reflexivity, which moves one beyond self-reflection to the often, uncomfortable level of self-implication” (p.122). Jones’ conceptualization of reflexivity resonates with me because it forces me to confront the juxtapositions of my various identities that shift my own social (Lindemann, 2007) and spatial (Logan, 2012) positions depending on my location, particularly between the U.S and Haiti. I often note to my students “the hyphen” that exists for many, including my own Haitian hyphen American identity. That hyphen serves as a bridge or fence depending on my location, physically or figuratively, and it can also be a source of tension for me: Do I belong here? Am I taking up too much space? Why am I not fitting in? Am I an insider or an outsider in this moment? I recognize that my U.S. citizenship, American accent, and U.S. passport separates me from the ethnic background my parents socialized me in. Likewise, being reared in a Haitian household, community, and church with the 1980’s “Haitian boat people and Haitians have AIDS” sentiments as a backdrop to my childhood stamped me with an otherness that indicated to me that I did not quite belong; I was not “American American.” Drawing from my dual identities in my teaching helps me to support my students as they explore for themselves not only their own identities and sense of belonging and exclusion but also how they might shape the environment for others that fosters or limits their sense of belonging and exclusion in the world.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Categorization: In the context of this work, the process of putting individuals into groups based on actual or perceived characteristics.

Justice: Acts, behaviors, and beliefs that are fair and equitable.

Equity: Fairness that is free of bias.

Power: The assumed or bestowed capacity to have influence or dominion over individuals, entities, events, or nature.

Global: Applying to the whole world; having world-wide implications.

Critical Reflexivity: The act of questioning and challenging own assumptions, thinking, and actions especially as it relates to engagement with others and the power dynamics that are embedded in those interactions.

Positionality: One’s social, historical, political, and cultural contexts that shape their self-identity; how one is in relation to others, how one understands and views themselves in relation to the world.

Higher Education: Formal education after high school or post-secondary schooling that results in an academic degree.

International: Involving more than one country; involving countries beyond one’s own country of origin or residence.

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