The Group

I led this discussion with faculty and staff at my university, as the opening exercise for a half-day workshop on diversity.

The Program

I led a plenary session discussion of Langston Hughes' "Theme for English B." There were about 60 participants from across departments and disciplines at the university. Following my session, they were going to break into small groups to discuss case studies of challenges related to the changing demographics of the university.


I began by asking participants to think and write just for themselves about a classroom situation in which (whether as student, teacher, child, adult) they became acutely aware that they were different from others. After this brief reflective exercise, we talked as a larger group about the assignment given in the poem. What is its purpose? What conditions does the instructor give to ensure that it will be true, and why those conditions? I then asked people to talk at their tables for 15 minutes about the student's response to the assignment, working from their own notes about what seemed most important in that response. In closing, I invited participants to reflect on what the poem suggests about connecting across differences in the classroom.

Next Time

The conversation was thoughtful and cohesive despite the large group and wide range of university personnel and disciplines represented. It led to interesting reflections about how we get to know students, the importance both of individual background and common context, and whether humanities faculty can get to know their students more easily than math and science faculty by virtue of their subject matter.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed it and I think that my colleagues did too. A nice experience!

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