“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”
What is diversity? To me, diversity is how we distinguish ourselves from others rather than how others distinguish us from one another. It took me many years to embrace myself as who I am. As a first-generation college student from a small coastal town in Turkey, I always knew I was different in a little place that didn’t have much room for ethnically and religiously diverse families.
My journey of self-discovery took me a long time. I want my students to feel comfortable in my class and always feel like their differences bring them unique opportunities, not drawbacks. I want to create an inclusive environment where my students can share any of their problems with me. While teaching at the University of Hartford, one of my first actions as an instructor was to invite all my students to my office hours so that I could ask them their preferred pronouns and names. Two students explained how they didn’t want to use their given names or pronouns. This assured me that I should never take information about someone as a given and always ask. Understanding these issues and giving the students a chance to define themselves increases their motivation, respect for the course and the instructor.
I have seen first-hand how important it is to create an environment where different students are comfortable and confident that their unique views and opinions are respected and welcomed. I firmly believe that taking steps to encourage such an inclusive community is essential in ensuring that all students can reach their full potential, as Harvey Milk once said.
My own experiences (blended with my training) helps me conduct a classroom with specific goals of giving everyone a voice, revitalizing their intellectual curiosity, valuing their perspective brought upon by their diversity. Students are overwhelmed with plenty of obstacles; the last thing they need is feeling isolated and unwanted. In addition to creating a supportive and relatable learning atmosphere, the promotion of diversity and inclusion also enriches intellectual diversity. This is increasingly essential in the contemporary political atmosphere.
As a researcher working on bullying and inequality, I know that every little step that we take for a more equal, more inclusive society helps us as a whole. Therefore, one of my goals is to provide mentorship to students. I want all my students to realize their true potential. I want to make sure they know one important thing, just like my personal journey, it gets better.