Do natural sciences stigmatize the social sciences

Collection of themes

Diversity-oriented teaching finds itself in a tense relationship between the focus on the characteristics of diversity and the claim not to stigmatize anyone. In order to remain able to act within this tension, it is necessary to deal with this ambivalence as well as good self-reflection.

According to Perko (2009), teachers face a dilemma:

"On the one hand, teachers should focus their attention on the diversity of the students, and on the other hand, students should not generally stipulate certain characteristics, behaviors or approaches according to certain diversity characteristics."

Nicole Auferkorte-Michaelis and Frank Linde (2014) formulated this ambivalence again from the perspective of the students:

“On the one hand, students want to be accepted as part of the academic community, do not want to be perceived as“ different ”, but as“ normal ”students (Reay at al. 2010). On the other hand, when they are in the course, they clearly want teachers to address them with their specific needs and interests. If teachers manage to adapt to this, this is rewarded by sustained commitment ("academic engagement") on the part of the students and the associated in-depth learning strategies (Hockings 2011) "

Identifying and taking into account differences between the students in a course makes it possible to take into account the individual requirements in the planning and to give all students a chance to acquire an education. What demands are made of this group and what resources and competencies are available to the people in this group to cope with, opens the view for possibilities of changes in organization and teaching. For example, in the form of different learning paths, individualized forms of examination, the provision of targeted information or the establishment of specific funding offers.

On the other hand, there is a risk of marginalizing certain groups through the focus. If lecturers highlight individual students, e.g. with "What do you say as a disabled person / foreigner on this topic?", The students concerned could feel uncomfortable. This can be counterproductive to the positive intention to recognize certain identities and should be avoided. A focus on certain personal characteristics and highlighting them can lead to a reproduction of social attributions (cf. Castro Varela 2010; Merchil & Vorrink, 2012; Katharina Walgenbach, 2014, p. 100). Instead, attention should be paid to a differentiated analysis of (marginalized) groups in order to perceive the heterogeneity within this group:

• Students are entitled to equal treatment, individuality, self-description and the ability of the person to act. They should not be reduced to a specification by third parties (lecturers or students) based on certain characteristics.

• Attributions are often used to legitimize existing inequalities. (e.g. "Women are not good at math, that's why only men work here")

• Attributions, be they thought in a positive or negative sense, always produce a form of demarcation and otherness. Those affected often perceive this as unequal treatment and exclusion (cf. the term othering used by Spivak 1985). Affected students report on their personal experiences in this instructive video.

For teaching that is appropriate to diversity, knowledge about study-related personal characteristics is fundamental. At the same time, it requires the establishment of a “routine of reflection” that ties the use of this knowledge back to the uncertainty and insecurity of teaching. Without this long-term reflection, there is a great risk that inequalities will be reproduced. To deepen and develop a reflection routine with a focus on diversity-appropriate teaching, the practice-oriented article “Basis for gender and diversity-reflecting (digital) teaching” by Barbarino, Belz and Kanbiçak (2020) is recommended.

The British Higher Education Academy (HEA) has created a guide entitled “Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education”. This should help to develop inclusive learning and teaching while taking diversity into account without stigmatizing:

"Our inclusive approach does not focus on specific target groups or dimensions of diversity, but rather strives towards proactively making higher education accessible, relevant and engaging to all students." (Liz Thomas & Helen May, 2010, p. 5)