Becoming a Teacher of Diversity and Social Justice:
Influences, Purpose, and the Classroom
Recordings of Professors' Inspiring Personal Stories
Principal Investigator: Terezia Orosz, MSW Student
Research Supervisors: Rose Wong and Sarah Taylor (Social Work)
This page highlights audio and video interviews with six CSUEB professors on the subject of diversity and social justice (DSJ) in university teaching. The objective of the interviews is to explore (a) what factors influenced them to become DSJ teachers, (b) how they characterize their purpose, and (c) stories about how they include DSJ content. In 2013-2014, the investigator interviewed the following professors representing five departments:
Interview #1: Patricia Jennings (Sociology and Social Services)
Interview #2: David Bowen (Engineering)
Interview #3: Becky Beal (Kinesiology)
Interview #4: Nina Haft (Theatre and Dance)
Interview #5: Maria Nieto (Biological Sciences)
Interview #6: Eric Kupers (Theatre and Dance)
This research project is part of Terezia Orosz's Master of Social Work research class. According to Terezia, "I chose this topic for her MSW project because of the massive inequalities found in education. I wanted to interview instructors with experience teaching for diversity and social justice to explore what influenced their personal DSJ development, and to discover stories that might encourage other teachers for DSJ." Click to see the semi-structured interview guide, participant consent form, and research paper.
The following four interviews were added in 2014-15. Students in the Master of Social Work Program, Lee Porscha Moore and Serom Sanftner, interviewed the four professors and wrote the summaries of the interviews respectively.
The following two interviews were added in summer of 2014. Rose Wong, Assistant Professor of Social Work, conducted the interviews and wrote the summaries.
Findings: Themes on Influences, Purpose and DSJ Teaching Approaches
Theme 1. Personal Influences and Background
Participants described early influences such as family and religious values of social justice, and exposure to DSJ at college in courses and among peers. Participants also talked about their personal experiences of oppression and privilege related to social class, race, gender, and ability. "I guess it's always been part of my being. I could even go further back into my own experiences as a non-conforming gendered person and the awareness of power. Forms of inclusion and exclusion were apparent to me probably when I was five or six. So it's always been part of how I see the world." – Prof. Becky Beal
Theme 2. Teaching Goals and Methods
Participants talked about student engagement and empowerment, their efforts to connect theory to real life, as well as building awareness of bias and skills for critical thinking. "My goal is to get them to question, to think critically, and to ask questions that sort of disrupt the normative order, and to do the hard work that has to be done ... to be committed to develop their social justice spirit so that they’re willing to do the work that it takes to really makes change in the world." – Prof. Patricia Jennings.
Theme 3. CSUEB is Special, Teaching at a Diverse University
Many interviewees spoke about the unique aspects of teaching at CSUEB. Participants referenced the depth of learning to be experienced in a diverse classroom, where students could share and learn from each other’s knowledge. "I found ... an incredible amount of acceptance and openness ... so many people who have been marginalized and disenfranchised have gathered here. There's a real openness that has touched me a lot." – Prof. Eric Kupers
Theme 4. Teaching DSJ in STEM Subjects
Participants from science departments spoke about the ways that they bring diversity and social justice into their classes. "I don't want to produce engineers that are thinking only about money and the technological aspects of it. I want them to realize they exist in a society." – Prof. David Bowen
Clip #1: (4 min.)
How her background and early experience of social class opened her to diversity and social justice. How she deepened her understanding of race later in community college.
Clip #2: (4 min.)
Goals and approach in teaching research. Calming students' anxieties, developing their social justice spirit and sociological imagination.
Clip #3: (8 min.)
Student engagement, moving towards more hands-on assignments, and students' positive responses to applied projects. How student engagement relates to diversity, and strategies to bring a more diverse pool of undergraduates into post-graduate education.
Clip #4: (7 min.)
Difficult dialogues in the classroom, including how she uses herself as example in the classroom to model uncovering bias. Prof. Jennings emphasizes how to acknowledge students' experience, while reframing examples of prejudice.
Clip #5: (4 min.)
Prof. Jennings shares challenging situations in the classroom, and the positive impact when students speak up.
Clip #6: (3 min.)
Discovering her own bias in a story about assumptions around remediation. How she opened herself to discover a stereotype with a Chinese American student by having names written at the bottom of an assignment.
Clip #1: (6 min.)
Prof. Bowen shares about his experiences that opened him to diversity as an engineering student at UC Berkeley and later in the Peace Corp. He describes taking Chicano and Asian American studies electives when most of his classmates chose to take finance or extra engineering courses.
Clip #2: (9 min.)
He describes how his work in Kenya influences what he teaches in the classroom, and designing machines and tools with people in mind. He shares how he tries "to instill in students the power that engineering has for transforming people's lives."
Clip #3: (7 min.)
He describes how the lack of diversity in engineering is disheartening, and how students respond to his courses. He shares about advising the club Engineering for Planet, People, and Prosperity.
Clip #4: (9 min.)
He describes classroom projects in human factors designed to capture the imagination of students and their creativity to design something that serves people. He shares about the Society for Women Engineers, the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, and outreach projects to local high schools to get them excited about engineering and math.
Clip #1: (10 min.)
Prof. Beal describes her interest in consciousness change in how people practice sport, and her early awareness of power, inclusion and exclusion. She shares how her pedagogy has evolved after attending a conservative school, and then being encouraged to be political at Northern Colorado. How her family supported her as a gender nonconforming person.
Clip #2: (8 min.)
She talks about racial formation theory in sport, the social justice option in kinesiology, and the challenge of being a white person teaching a class on racial dynamics. Her classroom strategies to keep student voices at the forefront, actually listen to students, and facilitate constructive conversation.
Clip #3: (5 min.)
She describes how teaching at CSUEB is easier because students "get it". She shares about the challenging experiment of a class student-led 6-week project for the Tunnel of Oppression.
Clip #4: (3 min.)
She describes how the humanities and social sciences would benefit from lab time, and the advantage this gives STEM subjects.
Clip #1: (6 min.)
Prof. Haft describes her early influences volunteering in a boarding school for deaf kids, and her learning around language, inclusion, and culture. Her early influences also include the women’s anti-violence movement, a women’s political dance collective, and martial arts.
Clip #2: (4 min.)
Her experience of dance as a patriarchal art form, and western culture's view of the body. She describes being treated differently in ballet because of her body type, and her discovery of modern dance and martial arts where she could feel powerful.
Clip #3: (7 min.)
She describes teaching all forms of dance, and dispelling the fallacy that European dance is somehow better. She shares about how she tries not to set up her classroom as a completely hierarchical situation.
Clip #4: (6 min.)
She shares a challenging story of dealing with prejudice when it came up in a student presentation about ballet folklorico. She describes her excitement and pride in successful student projects defining what dance was for them, and figuring out what they wanted to say.
Clip #1: (5 min.; Starts at 0:00)
Prof. Nieto describes how biology relates to social justice and diversity, her influences in early life growing up in the 70's with political parents, and her detour into writing fiction with a social justice heroine.
Clip #2: (8 min.; Starts at 5:00)
How science can dispel bias and prejudice, giving the example of intersex variance and prejudice over gender identity and sexuality. Lawyers in the case against Prop 8 used her work to build their case in the Supreme Court. Read her brief here.
Clip #3: (9 min.; Starts at 13:00)
How she presents information to students without giving her opinion, teaching them how to come up with their own analysis on controversial issues such as abortion, contraception, and vaccines. The challenge of teaching about female circumcision in a way that respects people’s cultural views.
Clip #1: (7 min.)
Prof. Kupers describes growing up going to protest marches in a family committed to social justice, and the connection between social change and being an artist. He shares his early prejudice when he first started teaching at CSUEB, and his realization that students here have "an incredible amount of acceptance and openness".
Clip #2: (3 min.)
The experiential process of collaborating to create performance pieces in a diverse group with different communication methods and backgrounds.
Clip #3: (7 min.)
His personal story of becoming a professional dancer and being told to change his body, and how this influenced his commitment to getting people of all sizes and abilities into modern dance. In diverse groups he takes students on a journey to learn about disability and inclusion through dance.
Clip #4: (3 min.)
His goal to support students to access their creativity in the service of transformation and healing.
Clip #5: (6 min.)
He describes the challenge of teaching students who aren’t necessarily interested in social justice, inclusion, and accessibility, and his exploration into strategies that make the class meaningful for them. How he brings wheelchairs into class to explore different types of movement.
Clip #6: (9 min.)
He describes the misconception that dance for people of all abilities is a "charity thing", and his view on cutting edge research around inclusion and diversity.
In this 5-part video, Professor Ben Bowser discusses his exposure to diversity and career exploration, ultimately leading to his current position teaching sociology as a faculty at CSUEB. Professor Bowser states that he has always been interested in “social justice,” and that including it in his curriculum for coursework has been a success, Professor Bowser also discusses how his interest in social justice developed throughout his formative years, his experiences as a racial minority, and the challenges he faced in pushing for change and a new way of thinking. Furthermore, Professor Bowser states the importance of students learning diversity and social justice, but he critiques CSUEB’s lack of language requirement as a prerequisite for graduation.
Prof. Bowser discusses his exposure to diversity and career exploration. He talks about his college years, his experience as a merchant marine, and graduate school journey. He links these experiences to his position as a sociology faculty at CSUEB teaching social justice.
Prof. Bowser explains how he incorporates diversity and social justice in coursework. He shares the successes he had with teaching diversity and social justice as well as his view about using the term “social justice”.
Professor Bowser touches upon his personal challenges during his formative years, including sharing his experiences living as a racial minority during his undergraduate career. He also discusses his publications and the importance of challenging those who are most resistant to change.
Professor Bowser explains how social justice materials can and should be integrated into other disciplines and gives some examples and illustrations of social justice in other disciplines.
Professor Bowser explains how students can benefit from social justice and justifies why diversity is important for students to learn. He also critiques CSUEB for not having a language requirement.
Professor Rita Liberti describes her experiences growing up “poor” in a first-generation non-English speaking household and it how it influenced her life. She explains how she found her desire to grow in academia and how issues of diversity, oppression, privilege, and marginalization are topics that she enjoys teaching within her classes at Cal State East Bay. Her favorite part about teaching has been the students and the experiences that they bring to the classroom, which she has been successful in bringing out through her assignments and in-class discussions. Professor Liberti also mentions how she realized her own white privilege and how it has shaped the way she leads her classes.
Professor Liberti discusses how her childhood and youth growing up “poor” and experiences with socioeconomic class have influenced and led her to where she is today. In addition, her father’s immigration journey and her growing up under a first-generation non-English speaking household have shaped her experiences.
Professor Liberti grew up not having a model of higher education due to having parents who were not educated themselves. Her mother offered to support her through college if she wanted, and she studied physical education at Edinboro State College, planning to become a PE teacher. She struggled through her early years in college, wondering if she, as a member of the working-class belonged in a university. However, the support of faculty helped her to feel welcome, and she developed a desire for further learning. She went on to get her master’s degree and taught at the university level where her “consciousness” of many issues was raised in regards to marginalization and oppression, including her own identity as a sexual minority. She went further in her education to get her Ph.D. and eventually came to Cal State East Bay, wanting to be part of our campus’ diversity. She feels that it’s the students that make the campus what it is, allowing for her to teach about social justice, making it a more enriching experience.
According to Professor Liberti, teaching social justice in the classroom setting has been the core of her teaching experiences. The classes she teaches about sports are really more about identity—exploring students’ identity in the context of their gender, sexuality, race, etc. Given the diversity of the students, the responses from the students have been unique. Differences are talked about, as well as the “threads that link” each of them together. These issues can be discussed in a real and meaningful way and that is what makes it enjoyable.
Professor Liberti gives students assignments where they can engage and learn, not just on an intellectual level but also on a personal level. This is what makes for classroom success and yields powerful experiences. Challenges in teaching social justice curriculum have been the same for many years—sharing the personal ways in which social justice issues have affected students’ lives, especially with people they don’t know well, as they divulge parts of their identity. However, these challenges can be great learning experiences. She shares how a class that she took in the past on African American women in sports history was a difficult process in making her realize her own white privilege but was one of the best learning experiences she’s had. She hopes that her students are challenged and can get something similar out of her classes and feel respected through the process.
Professor Liberti wants to encourage other people who want to teach social justice issues to be able to “let go” and allow students to have a certain measure of power in being able to lead and participate in discussions. Empowering students by bringing out their unique voices has been a core objective she tries to implement, and she has found that most students have been eager to share their experiences in the classroom setting.
Professor Stevina Evuleocha teaches in the Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Cal State East Bay.
Professor Evuleocha grew up in an upper-middle class family that strongly emphasized education. Her father was a businessman who later became a politician, and her mother was a schoolteacher. She was taught values to respect the people who worked for the family to take care of the house, and though she was class conscious, she did not view others as less than her. Her first experience with diversity did not occur in her household, but in the social world. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in African literature and did her thesis comparing “Kill Me Quick” and The Native Sun, with underlying themes of class consciousness. Her graduate work was in International Affairs with an emphasis on Development of African History, exposing her to more consciousness about class, race, and other divisions within society. After completing her graduate work, she came to Cal State Hayward (now East Bay) and recognized the lack of diversity on the campus. The university at the time struggled with retention of African American students, particularly African American males. The diversity was not only lacking in the student population but also amongst faculty. As a member of the faculty’s diversity committee on equity, issues around recruiting and retaining students of color were discussed, eventually leading to more action to recruit students of color (such as at black churches) and recruit faculty. She has seen a significant change in the campus since, and notes that Cal State East Bay is approaching equity in that it reflects the greater East Bay. In the College of Business, she started as an adjunct faculty and had just had her first child, and found that there were no campus policies around maternity leave, even when she had her second and third children. She was frustrated and had to work around her needs creatively, and was excited when the Clinton administration passed the Family Leave Act. When she had her fourth child, she was finally able to take maternity leave and decided to take it fully, on top of her sabbatical. These issues are personal but reflect issues in the larger society.
Professor Evuleocha remembers reading “Pedagogy of Success” and exploring what learning and teaching looks like. She believed from the beginning of her teaching that she was not to be the one to dominate the class, but communicated to her class that her class was to be a “two way street.” She wanted to make her classroom a place where the rich stories from each person’s experience can be explored. She also emphasized working within project teams instead of just individually based assignments, and required that the project teams be diverse so that it reflects the actual work the students will do after graduation out in the workforce. She incorporates diversity and social justice into the classroom in a way that students can actually implement them in real life. She also uses examples, such as disability rights, to engage students in thinking about good business practices, not just legal practices. She teaches students that diversity in and of itself, if not practiced well, is useless, and that diversity is a good thing for the health of any organization.
Professor Evuleocha believes that topics such as corporate social responsibility and communication create much space for exploring social justice topics. She has been successful in doing so in her own classroom. One of her tactics is using case examples, encouraging students to explore issues of social justice through the case studies. For example, she gives the students a scenario of them working in a lingerie store and being approached by a customer who presents as “female” but is not really female. She uses this scenario as an opportunity to explore their thoughts and guides them through proper business ethics and law, while raising consciousness about individuals’ rights. Another example she gives is how many places now have family bathrooms and how it was a response to a business need, since the role of business is to make sure there is equity and diversity. She has had these discussions with students because they will encounter these issues in the real world.
Prof. Evuleocha believes that success as a professor in her classroom can be determined when her students can do well in the real world due to the discussions and activities they did in class. Professor Evuleocha also sees the value in what she is able to learn from her colleagues. When she was first serving on the Writing Skills Subcommittee that reviewed the essays that students wrote for their WST, she noticed immediately that some of the topics were biased because international students and students from different cultures would not understand these questions. For instance, a question that asked students about their K-12 education would not be able to be understood by students coming from different parts of the world where there is no K-12 education. By working with her colleagues, they were able to implement change in the ways that they structured the writing prompts to be more inclusive and universal and conducive to a diverse campus.
On an institutional level, participating in Super Sunday and going to different churches to recruit students of color was something Professor Evuleocha viewed as a success. She is also glad to know that there are around 13 bathrooms on campus that are non-gender specific. She feels that there is still a lot of work to be done on an institutional level, but that they are making steps towards addressing issues and being advocates to speak up about the issues that still need to be addressed.
Professor Evuleocha feels that diversity and social justice apply to all disciplines and that it is the responsibility of the faculty to see where the injustices within each discipline exists, and bring awareness of these to the classroom. She asserts that this is particularly important so that those who are “invisible” can be seen and heard. She believes that the injection of social justice and diversity into all disciplines can grow, impacting departments and disciplines across the campus. Even in business, being a major driving factor for change, incorporating diversity and social justice is important and all disciplines should consider infusing these contents into their own classrooms.
Professor Colleen Fong teaches in the Department of Ethnic Studies.
Professor Fong expresses belief in CSUEB being an API-student serving institution. She states that her family was her inspiration to be an educator of social justice and described her parents as the “upwardly mobile generation.” Professor Fong describes how her mother worked on her bachelor’s degree while raising her and what a good experience that was for her as a child to see her mom studying and learning and going to school. She speaks of this experience with fondness and describes having a mom going to college as something that was positive and familiar. Professor Fong states that she still remembers some of the things her mom was learning and being fascinated with it herself.
Professor Fong believes that the time in which she grew up also influenced her teaching about social justice issues, but mainly her mom’s college education, which she would share with her when she came home from class. She was also exposed to some of the struggles that the women who were in art school encountered, especially within the context of “open relationships.” These stories that her mother told here led Professor Fong to reflect in an interpersonal way about different relationships and how they impacted women, particularly for children when they were also involved.
Professor Fong describes her experience in high school in the 1970s. She explains how her school was racially and class diverse, but this diversity was not evident in group interactions, and there were not many spaces for them to get together for projects or just to get to know each other. There would be “race riots” annually in the springtime between the black students and the white students, with the fights so severe that school would close down for a few days. It wasn’t until she got to community college that she was able to really interact with other students from different races.
Professor Fong got her first position at CSU East Bay as a term-by-term instructor in 1983 through an ad she saw in the Oakland Tribune. It was the first class on Asian American Studies offered at CSU East Bay. On top of the class on Asian American Studies, she also had to teach a class on African Civilization, one that she quickly learned and studied in order to teach her class. She appreciated this opportunity to be able to teach a class that wasn’t her expertise and feels that it is an important lesson for those wanting to implement DSJ. Another thing that she feels is important is not just the hard work put in but also being able to have fun and enjoy the work. There was a time that she was very unhappy with her graduate program at the University of Oregon, but was appreciative of having funding for her studies She uses the example of being given the same opportunity as everyone else for fellowships and being a TA, as well as opportunities to get a tuition waiver. When she became a lecturer at CSU East Bay (then Hayward), she received a Forgivable Doctoral Loan Program, allowing her to have her loans forgiven when she decided to take a tenure position at CSU East Bay. She feels that these kinds of financial programs are critical in helping people to finish and get through a doctorate program.
Professor Fong considered applying for positions within sociology or ethnic studies at other universities. She had to consider where and how she wanted to situate herself and who her colleagues would be. She realized that applying for a sociology job would be a risk in being a racial minority and needing to educate her colleagues on considering the importance of race. Gender wasn’t as much of an issue at the University of Oregon as it had five female faculty on staff. However, she realized that the “feminism” that they were talking about didn’t recognized issues of race. Issues that women of color often had to address were oppositional to what white women needed to work on. Even issues around conviction of raped brought up matters of race - black women had a harder time getting stricter conviction because black men had higher conviction rates to begin with. Professor Fong also knew that if she were to apply for ethnic studies department jobs, there would be gender issues. When she started working in the Ethnic Studies Department at CSU East Bay, she found that three of the faculty was women and three were men but who were feminists, and they were able to work well together to address racial inequalities without ignoring gender issues.
According to Professor Fong, teaching about issues of racial diversity, sexual identity, etc. is relatively easy in ethnic studies, but how to translate that to social justice curriculum is challenging. This is especially challenging when students’ lives are already so full, yet it seems there is no extra space to take anything on. However, Professor Fong wants to encourage and empower students to be activists, but this has been the most difficult piece to incorporate. Now, Professor Fong tries to concentrate on the common denominator for all students, such as the fact that all students are consumers and should be conscious consumers. She finds that some students have already thought about it but it’s still a place to start discussions about social justice, such as topics about race, work, employment issues, and beyond, including globalization - where clothes are manufactured around the globe and why. The social justice peace is difficult and she always looks for better ways to incorporate the content and help students to fulfill this learning objective.
Professor Fong notes how students feel comfortable in ethnic studies as an “emotional home” but do not flock to become ethnic studies major. She feels that it may be due to a lack of “legitimacy” which is an issue that she wishes she and her department can be more successful in dealing with.
Professor Fong’s most successful DSJ experiences in the classroom occur when students in GE classes are required to do oral presentations, and she asks students to present a tradition that they participate in regularly in their lives. This is an opportunity to get to know each other and to be exposed to something different while recognizing similarities in terms of tradition. For instance, some students may share about how they celebrate certain holidays but can also discuss birthday celebration traditions amongst friends. This exercise helps students to think about how cultures continue to evolve. Accompanying these exercises with lectures helps students to learn that it can be dangerous to essentialize culture or cultural practice.
Prof. Geron talks about the influence of growing up hapa in a White and African American environment on his teaching, specifically how he brings in his students’ direct experiences and identities into every political science class. One of his teaching techniques is to ask students to unpack historical events and break down the elements to reveal the underlying discrimination and social injustices at play. Another technique is to work with small groups of students so they can learn to make class presentations on challenging topics. He emphasizes that they will be leaders but first must learn to articulate their messages and thoughts as well as take criticism and dialogue with their peers. Prof. Geron also likes to introduce content on contemporary identity politics, such as LGBT identity and politics and the great legacy of local leaders such as Harvey Milk who brought a voice and political participation to a marginalized people.
Prof. Baham describes himself as growing up in a social justice household with a mother who was a San Francisco schoolteacher who established a pregnant mother’s program. His understanding of teaching comes from a childhood with much time spent supporting her with her work. Following a Freirian tradition, he requires students to bring in and use their own knowledge to unlock the material that he brings to them such that they can develop their own perspectives and also use the knowledge in the way they see fit within their own communities. For example, he asks students to read Malcolm X and then create their own civil rights organization similar to those established by Malcolm X but that meet the specific needs of the neighborhood in which each student grew up. In this way, students appropriate the lessons of Malcolm X. Another example, from his African American Sexuality course, is to send students to a community they know very well to engage in a dialogue with people about their sexual lifestyles. Prof. Baham also brings in guest speakers who look like their students but live markedly different lives from those of the students. For example, a feminist pornographer showed and discussed films with diverse body styles and forms of love making which the students could identify with and with which they could open their minds. In summary, his teach approach is to demand that students bring something of themselves from their communities into the classroom.