A word meaning different things to different people. And there are classes at Belmont dedicated to create an understanding of just what those differences are.
Lacey Lyons, an adjunct professor, teaches her Third-Year Writing classes by focusing on a different disability each semester. During the semester, she assigns students to a family affected by the disability to interview and write an advocacy paper through the Kindred Stories project for the Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt University.
“I feel like one of the things the advocacy portion of what we do does well is it gives you guys an end goal,” Lyons said. “You’re not just writing a paper for me, you’re writing a paper that has an objective beyond ‘I’ve got to turn in this paper because it’s a requirement from Belmont.’”
To Lyons, the importance of classes focusing on diversity lies in exposing students to new experiences, to different ways of life.
“There are people living a life you never thought of,” Lyons said. “What diversity classes do is they teach you to relate to people in a way that you might not be able to.”
Belmont doesn’t boast the most diverse student population in Tennessee. In fact, only 18 percent of enrolled students don’t classify themselves as white, according to Forbes. And those numbers only take into account racial diversity – it says nothing about any other kind.
“Just speaking from a standpoint of disability, the big thing is those populations feel so underrepresented most of their lives, and they’re in some sense used to feeling underrepresented,” Lyons said. “To have someone listen to them, to have someone pay attention to them, to have someone say ‘tell me your story,’ they’ll love you forever just for that. Because no one asks.”
Because of the low percentage, Belmont students may not be exposed to the same chances for new experiences as students at other universities. But it doesn’t mean they are exempt from even trying to get those experiences.
“We have to be intentional when it comes to diversity,” said Dr. Sybril Brown, a media studies professor. “Diversity is not an option. Diversity should be integrated into every topic.”
Dr. Syb, as she prefers to be called, teaches a class called Covering Diverse Populations, a class challenging students to think about the stereotypes and biases present in the media.
“My hope is to help students become more curious and have a greater awareness of other people as well as a greater awareness of what they don’t know,” she said.
Both classes are service-learning courses, something both professors think is an integral piece of the puzzle.
“It’s the difference between learning and doing. I can sit in a classroom all day and be told something, but until I am made to feel uncomfortable, until I am made to feel like ‘the other,’ I may not fully comprehend or understand what is does feel like to walk in someone else’s shoes,” Dr. Syb said. ”The service-learning component is extremely valuable in helping students really feel what it feels like to be different.”
Belmont offers classes about diversity in more than just the media and English departments. The sociology, humanities and social work departments all have options for students interested in getting exposed to new experiences. But the benefits of taking these classes don’t only lie within the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I feel like, in pretty much every profession, you have to be able to deal with diversity. You have to be able to look at a diverse world. You have to be able to deal with that. You can’t just, ‘everybody looks like me, everybody’s my life situation,’” Lyons said.