Assessing Graduate Students’ Sensitivity To Gender, Race, Equality And Diversity: Implications For Curriculum Development
Catherine A. Hansman
Knowledge about graduate students’ awareness of and sensitivity to issues of gender and race is crucial to constructing effective curricula. The purpose of this study was to assess the existing levels of awareness toward issues of race and gender to plan more effective programs and classes for graduate students. Findings indicated that the group surveyed had moderate sensitivity to and understanding of women’s and minority issues. When the scores of the sub-categories were examined, however, differences in scores became apparent. Implications for curriculum planning are that faculty members should encourage sensitivity to diversity in all of their classes through small group discussions, case studies, presentations concerning racial and gender issues, and readings that encourage multiple views of issues.
Racism and sexism are persistent problems in our society and these problems continue to grow even as our country becomes more diverse. These societal problems manifest themselves through individual behaviors or through institutional practices that perpetuate racist or sexist habits or customs. Practitioners who work with a diverse population in educational institutions increasingly find themselves in situations that require them to engage effectively in cross-cultural exchanges between themselves and their students or clients. As professional educators who work within the fields of counselor education, adult education, higher education student services (a counseling related program), and educational administration, we are concerned with the level of sensitivity and awareness our graduate students have concerning race and gender issues. It is our view that we should play an important role in introducing issues concerning diversity and fostering awareness and tolerance of differences among our graduate students.
Knowledge about individual awareness and sensitivity to issues of gender and race have been discussed as crucial to constructing effective counselor-based education (Pederson, 1988; Ponterotto 8,: Pederson, 1993; Sue, 1978) and adult education programs (Cunningham, 1989; Hayes & Colin Ill, 1994; Tisdell, 1995). Since graduate education courses should provide training for adult educators, counselors, student affairs professionals and school administrators who will in turn practice in settings where they interact with the larger diverse population of learners, curriculum should incorporate readings, reflection and discussions concerning the important issues of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation (Cunningham. 1989; Bailey, Tisdell, & Cervero, 1994). However, to plan programs and classes that focus on these topics and stimulate discussion, active listening, and increased understanding among students, more information is needed concerning the current awareness and sensitivity of graduate students in these programs toward issues of race and gender. The problem this study addressed, then, was the lack of information concerning the level of awareness of racial and gender issues of typical graduate students in adult education, counselor education, higher education student services, and educational administration programs. The purpose of this study was to discover the existing levels of awareness toward issues of race and gender in order to plan more effective programs and classes for graduate students.
Incorporating readings, reflection and discussions concerning the important issues of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in graduate level curriculum means being inclusive of the diverse student body that may populate graduate classes. “Inclusivity means attempting to provide curricular course content in pedagogical style that reflects the gender, racial and economic class makeup of the participants themselves as well as attention to the wider institutional societal contexts in which they live and work” (Tisdell, 1995, p. 3). Tisdell goes on to describe levels of inclusivity in curriculum and pedagogy: Level One reflects the diversity of the participants in the class or learning activity, Level Two pays attention to the diversity of the institution sponsoring the activity and the wider contexts in which participants live and work, and Level Three reflects the changing needs of a diverse society.
Tisdell’s levels of inclusivity give faculty members a background from which they can frame their own curriculum content concerning race and gender issues. While faculty members may want to be inclusive of all racial and gender issues, frequently the politics of knowledge production and dissemination at local levels may get in the way for planning inclusive curricula. “What counts as knowledge in a particular learning context–and decisions about what gets included in the curriculum for a given learning activity–are decisions made with attention to the politics of ….educational context and to what is seen as `real’ knowledge relevant to this educational context” (Tisdell, 1995, p. 11).
The “real knowledge” Tisdell mentions reflects the power and politics of knowledge production and dissemination, both inside the educational institution and in the outlying communities from which graduate students come and subsequently return. This real knowledge, many times seeped in historic and institutionalized oppression, provides the background for students’ beliefs and actions concerning gender and racial issues. As teachers and researchers, we endeavor to plan classes and curricula and “become instruments though which our students begin to reflect on the multiple and varied realities that they, like we bring to the classroom” (Sheared, 1994, p. 27). However, in order to plan curricula that encourages an understanding of reality of racial and gender issues, we wanted to first know how aware our students typically are concerning these issues. The purpose of our study, then, was assess the existing levels of awareness toward issues of race and gender in order to plan programs and classes for graduate students that address these issues.
The site for this study was a mid-size southern university whose graduate school enrolls about 1800 students. The university is located in a rural southeastern state, and students typically are from and return to practice in rural settings. The programs of interest in this study are located in the College of Education, whose graduate enrollment during Fall 1997, the period of this study, was 7.2% of the total university population. Masters, educational specialists and doctoral degrees are all available in this College of Education. In any one quarter, 70-75% of the graduate students attend school part time (J. R. Diebolt, personal communication, March 25, 1998). Demographics were collected to help us understand the population surveyed. The Quick Discrimination Index Social Attitude Survey (QDI) (Ponterotto, Burkhard, Rieger, & Grieger, 1995) and a short demographic survey were given to 73 students enrolled in master of education courses in adult education, counselor education, or higher education student services. The majority of participants in this study were between the ages of 2040. Eighteen percent were adult education master degree students, 50% were in counselor education programs, 14% were higher education student services majors, and 18% were in educational administration or other graduate education degree programs. Twenty-four percent of the participants were African-Americans, 75% were European-Americans, and 1% were of other ethnic backgrounds. Of the total participants, 75% were female and 25% were male. Only 19% of those surveyed had taken a multicultural or cross-cultural counseling course; the rest reported never participating in either of these classes. The demographics reported are consistent with the enrollment patterns in the programs examined and reflect actual population of students.
Two graduate courses specifically designed to address issues of race, class, and gender are available in the College of Education in this university: Foundations of Multicultural Education, offered as a curriculum course, and Cross-Cultural Counseling, offered as a counselor education course. The College of Education conceptual framework at this university declares that “educators must be active in dealing with issues of culture, diversity and equity; understand the political nature of education; and have the skills to effect change” (College of Education Conceptual Framework, 1995). The framework indicates that faculty members should acknowledge diversity in all of their classes.
In order to ascertain graduate students’ awareness and sensitivity to gender and multicultural issues, the researchers chose to use the Quick Discrimination Index Social Attitude Survey (QDI), developed by Ponterotto et. al. (1995). The QDI contains 25 Likert-type self-report items in an inventory that measures attitudes toward racial diversity and women’s equality and can examine both cognitive and affective components of prejudicial attitudes (Ponterotto & Pederson, 1993). It also allows researchers to look at both racial and gender issues together on one survey. The survey was developed to be used with older adolescents and adults and “fill a need for a reliable, valid, and moderate-length self-report measure of attitudes regarding racial diversity and women’s equality” (Ponterotto, et. al., p. 1017). The QDI asks participants to choose on a Likert scale how strongly they agree or disagree with statements such as “Generally speaking, men work harder than women” and “Overall, I think racial minorities in America complain too much about racial discrimination” (Ponterotto & Pederson, 1993, pgs. 156-157). Considering the total scores, participants can fall into one of the following groups: (Ponterotto & Peterson, 1993, p. 158)
Score 25-50 indicates that the respondent is very insensitive to and
unaware of minority and women’s issues.
Score of 51-75 indicates low sensitivity and little awareness of minority
and women’s issues.
Score of 76-100 indicates moderate sensitivity to and knowledge of minority
and women’s issues.
Score of 101-125 indicates high sensitivity to and knowledge of minority
and women’s issues.
Since raising issues of racism and prejudice frequently results in politically correct responses, approximately one half of the items were written in reverse order to control for response bias. Secondly, to “control somewhat for potential subject demand characteristics and evaluation apprehension” (Ponterotto, et. al., 1995, p. 1081), the title Social Attitude Survey appears on the survey instrument, not the title Quick Discrimination Index.
Ponterotto et al. initially tested the instrument with a sample of 187 women and 97 men; “66% of the subjects were Caucasian, 21% African Americans, 6% Hispanic, 3% Asian American, 1% Native American, and 3% `other'” (Ponterotto et al., 1995, p. 1020). The coefficient of variation for the QDI was 13.4%, falling within the 5% to 15% range recommended by Dawis (1987). Subsequent small revisions to the instrument and further testing revealed a final Cronbach’s alphas for the QDI of .88 for the total score. The testing “established a measure of convergent validity for the QDI and found the instrument to be relatively free of social desirability contamination” (Ponterotto et al., 1995, p. 1029).
Other empirical studies involving 875 adolescents and adults were conducted to develop and validate the Quick Discrimination Index (QDI). The test was found to be internally consistent and stable and to have promising validity (Ponterotto et al., 1995).
The data were collected within the same month from graduate students enrolled in master of education degree programs in counselor education, adult education higher education student services (a counseling related program), and educational administration. During the academic term of data collection, all classes that were offered by a program area targeted above were surveyed. To avoid duplication and provide confidentiality of responses, the last six digits of the social security numbers were requested from participants. No other data that would identify students was requested.
SPSS 6.1 computer program for MacIntosh computers was used for data analysis that yielded mean and standard deviation comparisons. Except in one instance (courses), categories that had fewer than nine entries were excluded from data analysis.
Means and standard deviations were calculated for the group as a whole as well as several sub-categories: Race, Age, Program Area, Gender, and Courses Taken. Within the range of 0-125, the mean scores for the entire population surveyed was 80.32 with a standard deviation of 11.98, indicating that although the group surveyed had a moderate sensitivity to and understanding of women’s and minority issues, there was some variance within the group. When the scores of sub-categories were examined, differences in scores became apparent.
The mean score for African Americans was 87.88 with a standard deviation of 10.77. European American’s mean score was 77.88, with a standard deviation of 11.49. African Americans’ mean score reflects their moderate, but not high, sensitivity to minority and women’s issues. Though barely above the low awareness cut-off score of 75, European American’s mean score indicated a moderate awareness of these issues.
Age was also a variable used to sort mean scores. The descending order of scores was: Ages 31-35 (M=83.62, SD=14.80); Ages 36-40 (M=82.45, SD=11.84); Ages 20-25 (M=80.85, SD=10.29); Ages 26-30 (M=77.79, SD=12.34); and Ages 41-45 (M=76.91, SD=8.12). There were too few scores in the age group over 45 to report. These scores indicated that all age groups are within the moderate category.
Data were also examined by program areas. The descending order of scores was: Higher Education Student Services (M=86.5, SD=10.60); School Counseling (M=81.75, SD= 12.66); Community Counseling (M=80.77, SD=8.90); Adult Education (M=78.77, SD=14.34); and Educational Administration (M=74.10, SD=7.77). There were too few cases in other program areas to report data. Except for students in Educational Administration, whose score placed them in the low awareness category, all other program areas’ scores indicated that they had a moderate awareness of gender and race issues.
Gender was also a sub-category that was used by the researchers to examine scores. Males scored lower on the QDI than did females. The mean score for females surveyed was 82.89 with a standard deviation of 10.67. The mean score for males surveyed was 72.55 with a standard deviation of 12.66. While the females’ mean score indicates that they are moderately aware of gender and racial issues, the males’ mean score indicates that they have a low awareness and sensitivity to these issues.
Students who had taken either Foundations of Multicultural Education or Cross-Cultural Counseling courses scored higher than those students who had taken neither of these courses. In descending order, the mean scores and standard deviations for the different groups are: Students who had taken Cross-Cultural counseling (N=2, M=87.5, SD=2.12); students who had taken Foundations of Multiculturalism (N=12, M=85.00, SD =11.41); and students who had not taken either course (N=58, M=78.71, SD=11.67. Only one participant reported taking both courses; interestingly enough, her or his mean score was 105, indicating a very high awareness and sensitivity to racial and gender issues.
The mean score for the entire population surveyed was 80.32, denoting that the group surveyed had a moderate sensitivity to and understanding of women’s and minority issues. These scores indicate that although the students are moderately aware, they still lack basic understandings of issues concerning race and gender which are essential to them in their practices as adult educators, counselors, and school administrators.
Examination of the scores by subgroups revealed that although African American participants’ awareness (M=87.88) was somewhat higher than European Americans (M=77.88), their score was still well within the moderate level. Women’s mean score of 82.89 indicates also that they are only moderately aware of issues concerning race and gender, but males’ lower score (M=72.55) puts them in the low awareness category. It is noteworthy that African Americans and women scored only in the moderate range and not the high-awareness range. Perhaps this is due to the historic and geographic context of rural southern culture. Ponterotto et al. (1995) and Ponterotto and Pederson (1993) theorize that people who live in urban settings are more accepting of racial diversity and women’s issues because the diversity of their day-to-day contacts allows them to interact with more diverse groups of people. Since participants in our study reside in rural communities, the low to moderate awareness scores of some groups in our study may be an example of Ponterotto and Pederson theory.
Perhaps the most significant finding of this study, however, was that participants within the graduate programs of school administration had the lowest scores (M=74.10) within any of the groups surveyed, which placed them in the low awareness category. Since school administrators are essential to implementing diversity training programs within educational institutions, it points out how institutionalized customs and norms may perpetuate sexism and racism. If school administrators are unaware or unwilling to address racial or gender issues within their school setting, they are setting the tone for a non-responsive culture in both educational institutions and communities. Graduate curriculum for school administrators should include courses which heighten sensitivity to racial and gender issues.
The most promising finding, however, was the high scores of those students who had taken the Foundations of Multicultural Education and/or the Cross-Cultural Counseling courses. Although the number of students surveyed who met these requirements was very small in this study, their high scores on the QDI may indicate that courses that focus on issues of race, class, gender and sexual orientation issues may indeed foster sensitivity towards these issues by students in the courses. Further research is needed and should focus on discovering if sensitivity is consistently raised following these courses.
This survey reflects in general a low to moderate awareness of issues of race and gender by graduate students in a rural southeastern regional university. This could in part be due to the rural setting within which the study took place and the historic oppression of the southern culture in the United States. Since students who participated in this study come from and return to rural settings, their beliefs are probably indicative of the larger societal view, or Tisdell’s Level Three, in this rural setting. The question becomes, then, how do we, as educators, become, as Sheared (1994) says, “instruments though which our students begin to reflect on the multiple and varied realities that they, like we, bring to the classroom “(p. 27)?
Who has the power to determine what counts as knowledge is extremely important to understanding how issues of race and gender can be emphasized in graduate level courses. College and university faculty members frequently serve as both teachers and researchers and have the power to “produce knowledge in their research pursuits; they also determine what research is `good,’ what research is to be published and disseminated, and what of the resulting literature is to be included in the curriculum” (Johnson-Bailey, Tisdell, and Cervero, 1994, p. 65). As the College of Education Framework at our institution states, faculty members should acknowledge diversity in all of their classes. This acknowledgment can take many forms: small group discussions, case studies, presentations concerning racial and gender issues, and readings that encourage multiple views of issues. Through these activities, students may begin to become more sensitive to and aware of issues of race and gender that they face in their practices as adult educators, counselors, higher education student services administrators, and school administrators. Sensitivity and awareness are the first steps toward change.
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CATHERINE A. HANSMAN Cleveland State University
MARY H. JACKSON, DALE F. GRANT, LEON E. SPENCER Georgia Southern University
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