Student Voices on Diversity

  • Tempe Union High School District Student Voices on Diversity Focus Groups Project

    Assistant Principals for Activities at all seven high schools have identified students to participate in the Student Voices on Diversity Focus Groups Project.


    Student Criterion:

    A diverse group of students (6-8)  that are representative of the diverse demographics of the school community (e.g. religion, differently able, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) and other attributes such as being full time students, leadership, cultural awareness, teamwork, and advocacy skills. These students were recruited through classes and campus organizations.

    The students met with Dr. Cliff Moon, TUHSD Coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion, and members of the TUHSD Community Diversity Advisory Committee. The semi-structured interviews lasted from 1-2 hours.

    Prior to the interview, the purpose and objectives of the session was verbally presented and each student also completed a Student Self- Assessment.


    Purpose:

    The school district is interested in hearing and listening to the students’ thoughts and experiences regarding diversity on your school campus. This involves:

    1. Giving you the opportunity to express your perspectives/thoughts on diversity related issues that might include but are not limited to cultural awareness, your knowledge about the cultures that are in the school, your attitude about the different cultures, your expectations of others who may be different from you, etc.
    2. Identifying the positives and the challenges of diversity within the school.
    3. Giving you the chance to generate possible solutions to the challenges that diversity can bring.
    4. Giving you the chance to be a transformative force in education. In other words, giving you the chance to speak out about how you would like your educational experience to be.

    Beginning:

     Each student completed a survey (Self-Assessment for Students) the printed discussion norms were presented.  Read the self-assessment results here pdf

    Themes:

    1. Students reported that they have mostly benefited from the diversity in their school.
    2. Diversity is complex and is beyond the concepts of race and ethnicity.
    3. Students learn better when they feel comfortable and welcomed in their school.
    4. Students say that diversity of the school improves their learning and social experiences.
    5. Academic success should not be the only factor in determining what constitutes an excellent school.Planning diversity related events requires the input from diverse groups of students.
    6. Students can/should reach out to other students across cultures.
    7. Groups of students of color reported that on campus they have been aware of negative stereotypes some people hold about them.
    8. Some students of color feel that race has some bearing (usually as an impediment) on their academic success.
    9. Some students describe students of color as tending to spend time primarily with members of their own racial/ethnic group, but attribute this solely to comfort and familiarity with their group.
    10. Tolerance of diverse perspectives is an important value to have.
    11. The students are more likely to be involved with peers and friends that include diverse groups.

    Concluding Thoughts From Dr. Cliff Moon, Coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion:

    When educators devise plans or approaches to address the diversity in their schools, the students’ voice may be in-advertently excluded from the conversation. This is unfortunate, for the students have such a stake in the learning about diversity (inclusive of diversity’s positives and challenges). It has been said that “. . . the most important partners in the mission of any school are its students. If their schools do not hear their voices, respect their perspectives, and use their energies, young people will ally themselves with some other group that does.” (Cushman, 2017).

    The project was not exhaustive in the number of students representing the high schools and perhaps several voices that should have been heard were not a part of the discussion on diversity and inclusion. However, it is sincerely hoped that the individual school administrators will follow up with these and other students regarding perspectives, values, knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about the diversity encountered within the school community. The following approaches might be considered:

    1. Promote the habit of consulting students on matters affecting their schooling.
    2. Stimulate productive peer-to- peer dialogue on diversity related issues.
    3. Provide mutually respectful protocols for accessing and acting on student input.
    4. Provide for students’ direct leadership in deciding, designing and implementing positive change efforts, with adults as mentors in addressing diversity.

    According to the Spectrum of Student Voice-Oriented Activity paradigm, most of the opportunities for students to express themselves falls within the realm of “expression” and “consultation”. In order for students to have a sense of agency in their education, we must do better in affording them true leadership which involves “ Planning or co-planning, making decisions and accepting significant responsibility for outcomes, guiding or co-guiding group processes, and conducting or co-conducting activities” ( Prioritizing motivation and engagement by E. Toshalis, and M.J. Nakkula, M. J, 2013, p. 195. In Anytime, anywhere: Student-centered learning for schools and teachers by R.E. Wolfe, A. Steinberg, and N. Hoffman (Eds).)

    It was a pleasure to meet and talk with these students. Some students were deliberate in their ideas, some were idealistic, and some were a bit reserved. However, the project was not just about accessing their voices but providing a forum in which they were learning to listen to each other in ways that acknowledge and promote their individual role as a transformative force in their education. By doing so we join with other educators who “. . . emphasize the fundamental role that student voice plays in school improvement and understanding that students provide useful insights regarding challenges and possible solutions” (Cook-Sather, 2006; Levin, 2000; Yonezawa & Makeba, 2007).  Many of our students have the capacity to assist the school district in creating cross cultural opportunities that align with and embraces the idea of “excellence in teaching and learning.”