Making Space for ‘Real’ Diversity within the Classroom

16 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2010

Date Written: February 4, 2010


This paper discusses concrete approaches for faculty to use when teaching a student body whose demographics are significantly different from the identity of the professor. As a white northern political scientist teaching at a historically black southern university, this work particularly emphasizes the dynamics of race and gender. However, the lessons from this essay are applicable to all of us who need to construct space in which our students can challenge their own preconceived notions. This concern is particularly pertinent to me in that I teach classes on race, law, and western political thought.

If the United States and other pluralistic democracies claim that our very strength is found in the sharpening of our ideas against competing ideas to best approximate the truth, how can we replicate this process in our increasingly diverse classrooms? What might this dynamic look like when the professor at the front of the room is radically different in significant ways from the students they teach? What this means for our classroom is that pluralism must be real—it does not preclude the search for truth and right—it just makes it more complicated and realistic. We cannot merely construct truth in our own images; we must confront challenging contradictions. In the United States, this requires us to take seriously the competing arguments and frameworks presented by the other, generally reflecting issues of race, class, and gender. This talk will examine five elements which I advocate are needed to ensure that this process of pluralistic discussion and discovery is actually occurring in our university and college classrooms. More particularly, the paper examines the potential for classroom engagement in the area of diversity when we consider the factors of audience, grace, power, discomfort, and transformation.

Keywords: Pedagogical values, diversity, pluralism

Suggested Citation

Deardorff, Michelle D., Making Space for ‘Real’ Diversity within the Classroom (February 4, 2010). APSA 2010 Teaching & Learning Conference Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Michelle D. Deardorff (Contact Author)

University of Tennessee, Chattanooga ( email )

615 McCallie Avenue
# 6356
Chattanooga, TN 37403
United States
423.425.4231 (Phone)

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