Robin Phelps-Ward

Robin Phelps-Ward will serve as co-facilitator for the diversity curriculum and pedagogy labs.
Image Credit: Michael Staton / Clemson University

CLEMSON — The importance and impact of the sit-ins that took place on the Clemson University campus during the spring 2016 semester were not lost on faculty in the College of Education. Even as the semester drew to a close, faculty and students involved in the Student Affairs and Higher Education doctoral programs met to help each other put the issues and the campus culture into perspective.

The College of Education will hold the first of three diversity curriculum and pedagogy labs on Oct. 5 to actively discuss diversity issues in an open and honest way while exploring how these issues might best be tackled in a classroom setting. Robin Phelps-Ward, assistant professor of higher education and student affairs, will co-facilitate these labs and continue the conversation with students.

“The most frequent feedback that we got from students from those initial talks was that they wanted to talk more,” Phelps-Ward said. “Students need a space to process what they feel and unpack the complicated baggage that comes along with issues like religion, culture, race or gender; when we do that we become less reactive to an issue when it arises.”

Phelps-Ward and co-facilitator Jeff Kenney, doctoral student in the Educational Leadership doctoral program, don’t want to treat the labs as a classroom atmosphere; they want participants to take the time to “warm up” and not feel rushed so they can spend the required amount of time to get past superficial topics and any initial trepidation. The work for the diversity curriculum and pedagogy lab was spurred by the Social Justice Pretreat for master’s students in the Student Affairs program. The facilitators in this preliminary meeting included higher education and student affairs faculty members Phelps-Ward, Michelle Boettcher, Rachel Wagner, Natasha Croom, Pam Havice and Tony Cawthon.

Once participants have gotten past inhibiting fears involving cultural misunderstandings or saying the wrong thing, the labs can explore alternative teaching methods for delivering diversity education. This could involve anything from painting and poetry to using the body as a sculpture. The freedom to explore innovative teaching methods is what the labs are all about.

“If we want honest feedback and involvement to determine what would be effective in the classroom we need an environment defined by care,” Phelps-Ward said. “People tend to get comfortable when they realize that the people around them share the same fears, so we will spend time getting those fears out in the open.”

The first lab meeting tackles the topic of cultural narrative and the body. Participants will be asked to rethink their concept of the physical bodies and, subsequently, their identities. Facilitators will also explore the impact of society and media on these conceptions. Tentative topics to be covered in future sessions include intersectionality and solidarity and diversity and inclusion in the information age.

Although the seeds of these labs were sown in College of Education graduate programs, the labs are open to all Clemson University undergraduate and graduate students who want to participate and become part of the process.

“These labs might change the way participants view the world and those around them,” Phelps-Ward said. “If that happens they won’t just apply these lessons to their careers, but to their lives.”

The College of Education Diversity Curriculum and Pedagogy Lab will be held in Tillman Hall, room 218. Space is limited, and registration is required for the lab. To register, visit Descriptions, dates and times for the labs are listed below:

  • Stories of the Flesh: Cultural Narrative and the Body – 7-9 p.m,. Wednesday, Oct. 5
  • More Complicated and More Connected: Examining Discourses of Identity and Social Justice – 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26
  • Filter Bubbles and Echo Chambers: Diversity and Inclusion in the Information Age – 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30