In the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2 states:
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
At its core, this declaration recognizes the variety of humans that inhabit this planet and challenges any government, organization, group, or entity that seeks to undermine or threaten this diversity. The declaration includes the categories it does partly because people have been marginalized throughout the world based on many of those categories. The United Nations presents this article of inclusion because history has proven that diversity—especially when it takes the form of open cultures where human rights flourish—contributes to the furthering of cultural growth within the human family.
A discussion about diversity should acknowledge three factors: culture, identity, and power. In this class, we will navigate these factors from many perspectives, including your own. Centuries ago, social changes inspired humanist and Enlightenment philosophers to explore a wide range of new discussions relating culture, identity, and power to progressive ideas of inclusion. This exploration has evolved rapidly in the last 60 years. Since the beginning of this millennium, social changes have inspired a wide range of new discussions and opportunities to reimagine our place within the human community. The goal of this class is to provide an opportunity for you to come together with other students and examine what the topic of diversity means in the current moment. You will apply critical thinking and analysis skills to engage in constructive, inclusive, and insightful conversations about the role of diversity in our collective future.
As you work through this module’s content and the course as a whole, consider the following:
What factors shape your own diverse experiences?
How do these factors inform how you see the world?
What factors of diversity are absent from your day-to-day life?
How might knowing about these factors of diversity change your perspective?
In this module, you will explore four general education interdisciplinary lenses to inform your study of diversity: humanities, history, natural and applied sciences, and social science. They represent the perspectives of these different academic disciplines. As you go further in this course, you will see how each field of study approaches diversity and frames the critical analysis tools of bias, agency, methodology, and intention. By the end of this course, you will better understand diversity; its effect on various social, economic, and political institutions; and its major influence on the future of society.
Beliefs, Assumptions, and Values
Beliefs are convictions that people feel certain are true. For example, you may have a belief in a higher power, your own abilities, or a political party. Beliefs help us to quickly process, categorize, and evaluate information. The formation of our belief system is influenced by our culture, family, personal experiences, and education. Our beliefs inform the assumptions we make about the world.
Since beliefs are shortcuts our brain uses, they sometimes lead us to jump to conclusions or make assumptions. Assumptions are ideas that people accept as true without proof. Whether right or wrong, assumptions are not always based on valid information and are formed primarily from previous experiences and our belief system. Examples of assumptions include someone who is not good with numbers assuming they cannot pass a math class, or fans assuming that when a professional athletic team spends millions on new players, it will make the team better.
Our values influence our beliefs and assumptions. Values are the principles or standards that a culture considers important (for example, freedom, loyalty, fairness, responsibility, and independence). Values influence people’s traits, routines, rituals, and behaviors. Your personal values are stable, long-lasting principles that reflect what is most important to you and how you make choices in your life. For example, hard work and dedication lead to success; or, if you want a task done right, do it yourself. Values reflect who we are as individuals, what is most important to us, what we take pride in, and how we conduct ourselves.
How do beliefs, assumptions, and values relate to diversity? The world’s populations have grown exponentially since the end of World War II. Although we have always been a global community, populations, global trade, and fast-paced travel have grown and developed significantly. In addition, large-scale diasporas have made it impossible to ignore the complex and varied spectrum of human diversity. Diasporas are populations of people who have left their home countries and moved to other locations while maintaining their original cultural practices. Because of these factors, we can no longer ignore the fact that not everyone around us will share our beliefs, assumptions, and values. The skills you will be working on in this class provide you with tools for engaging with the larger world around you. Critical analysis lets you see, hear, and learn about another person with clarity and empathy.
As you begin to wrestle with the ever-shifting topic of diversity, you will notice that much of what is described in your readings exists within systems of beliefs, assumptions, and values. Research is often motivated by personal curiosity. This curiosity influences every aspect of what scholars write about. The research questions that get answered depend on who forms the question and the beliefs, assumptions, and values of entities that approve and fund the research. Thus, personal beliefs, assumptions, and values can have a significant impact on how research is conducted, and ultimately what we as humans claim to know.
Talking about diversity can be very intense. The topic includes a wide range of experiences that bring out big emotions in all sorts of people. Regardless of age and education, all humans learn better when they feel safe. The best way to create safety in our class discussions is to acknowledge our collective humanity and our potential vulnerability. Because we can’t know how others want to be treated, we engage with thoughtfulness and assume best intentions in others to understand what others mean.
A technique from peaceful conflict resolution is particularly helpful here: In conversations with others, instead of using “you” statements, we aim for “I” statements. A “you” statement is one that assumes the intent of the other person, such as, “you said a thing I don’t like ….” In contrast, “I” statements frame our experience, such as, “I find this idea difficult because ….” Turning conversation to your own thoughts and experiences and leaving space for others to bring their experiences is a way to open potentially divisive conversations into opportunities for learning together.
The goal of our classroom discussions is to process our individual critical thinking about the topics within the class. To this end, prioritizing respectful dialogue, listening, and learning together deepens the effect of each discussion. While speaking about diversity in a diverse community, notice what informs your opinions. Remember that all the posts in our discussion threads represent people who have real human experiences and emotions. Appreciating your classmate’s ideas and experiences even when you don’t agree supports a safe environment for learning. It is also important to notice that even ideas of what constitutes “respect” have cultural specificity that may be different for different students. If someone in a discussion shares an opinion that feels offensive, remember that the first goal is to learn from each other’s differences. If you are unsure, ask questions of each other. If it feels comfortable, share a personal experience that influences your personal opinion.
This class gives you the opportunity to explore a topic related to diversity and contextualize the importance of diversity within your personal experiences, field of study or profession, and society. As one of the culminating experiences of the General Education program at Southern New Hampshire University, this class will also enhance critical thinking skills, communication skills, and cultural awareness.
To practice these skills, you will examine a specific topic using researched evidence. The topic you choose will be a single issue, event, or situation related to diversity. You will focus on how the topic impacts a significant population by leveraging one of four general education interdisciplinary lenses. When choosing a topic, you may find it helpful to consider your personal or professional experience. For example, if your major is human resources, an issue you might consider is pay equality in the workplace. If you are a nursing major, perhaps you want to explore access to healthcare in impoverished communities. Maybe you are a gamer and would be interested in exploring the representation of women and men in video games. Whatever you choose, you will need to obtain instructor approval of your topic. You will also be able to modify your topic until Module Two.
Please be sure to review the Project Guidelines and Rubric in the Assignment Information area. Your project is due in Module Seven. All the assignments you complete in this course relate directly to the work you will do on your project. Be sure to review and use the feedback on assignments given along the way by your instructor to strengthen the final submission of your project.
United Nations. (n.d.). Universal declaration of human rights. https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights