Have you ever wondered why we tend to shy away from conversations related to identity, oppression, power, and privilege in the classroom? Have you ever wondered why so many of us find it challenging to address racial micro-aggressions, intersectionality, and stereotype threat within academic spaces? Why is it that when we try to engage sensitive topics in the classroom around issues of diversity and inclusivity, we often become fraught with fear and defensiveness? Have you ever wondered how you can become more effective in managing constructive conflict within the classroom and enhance your capacity for fostering a better climate of trust? Many scholars believe that infusing culturally responsive pedagogy into our daily classroom practices, not only has the capacity to enhance interpersonal communication and interaction among our students, but it also has the potential to improve the quality of race relations on our nation’s college campuses (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2009; Wing Sue, 2009).

What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

Culturally responsive teaching is guided by a vision of justice and a pedagogy that seeks to transform as well as inform (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, p. 24). One of the essential components of this pedagogical practice is that it allows for diverse populations within higher education to create mutually enhancing learning environments. According to Ginsberg and Wlodkowski, “culturally responsive teaching occurs when there is respect for the backgrounds and circumstances of students regardless of individual status and power, and when there is a design for learning that embraces the range of needs, interests, and orientations in a classroom” (p. 24).

This endeavor allows for more intentional and imaginative instructional practices (2009). One way to do this is to transition classroom dialogue from “safe spaces” to “brave spaces” (Arao and Clemens, 2013). For this context, “safe spaces” are environments where students feel they are able to openly struggle with difficult dialogues concerning race, cultural inclusion, and diversity. A “brave space,” on the other hand, involves having courageous conversations about difficult topics. Having a courageous conversation means that all participants go through the painful process of seeking a new way to understand challenging issues (ie: racism, sexism, classism, etc.). The transition to creating “braves spaces” for faculty and students allows for a more genuine commitment to enriching cultural awareness and sensitivity through the process of taking risks.

What Does this Pedagogical Practice Look Like within the Classroom?

Currently, Dr. Lynn Hampton is engaged in this pedagogical approach in her instruction of a newly designed TCU CRES course titled, Engaging Difference & Diversity in America. In this course, students learn how to think critically and analytically about culturally diverse issues in our society. Throughout the semester, students are guided on a journey to help them frame dialogue around diversity and social justice. In doing so, they not only learn how to engage in courageous conversations about race and racism—they also learn how to interact authentically with one another by creating a space for constructive confrontation and critical interrogation. Thus, helping them transition from a “safe space” to a “brave space.”

Why Is Cultural Responsive Teaching Necessary at an Institution Like TCU?

A consistent body of research documents that students frequently consider race a taboo topic for discussion, especially in racially mixed settings—the importance of a course like “Engaging Difference and Diversity in America” is that it fosters a learning environment that supports students in the challenging work of authentic engagement with regard to issues of identity, oppression, power, and privilege. As a result of their participation in this type of culturally responsive learning environment, students not only grow in their understanding and awareness of the reality of racial inequality in our society, but they also learn how to engage with one another over controversial issues with honesty, sensitivity, and respect. The reason this instructional practice is so effective is because it has been proven to enhance students’ capacity for improved cultural competency. As an institution, TCU’s mission is “to educate individuals to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in the global community.” In short, if we truly want to equip our students to be global leaders, we need to coach them on how to confront one another across differences. This means we must change our ideas about how we (both teacher and student) learn; rather than fearing conflict, we have to find ways to use it as a catalyst for new ways of thinking and new opportunities for growth (bell hooks, 1994).

Strategies for Implementation

Recently, Dr. Lynn Hampton and Desmond Morris, TCU’s Director of Distance Learning, attended Cornell University’s Train the Trainer Faculty Institute for Diversity in an effort to find a viable framework for equipping instructors with the tools needed to effectively integrate culturally responsive and inclusive teaching practices into the curriculum at TCU.

As a result, the Koehler Center for Instruction, Innovation, and Engagement at TCU is developing a three-day
Faculty Institute for Diversity to be offered Summer 2018, modeled after Cornell University’s long-standing and highly successful workshop. The Faculty Institute for Diversity provides an opportunity for faculty to identify culturally- bound assumptions and consider how they might influence interactions with students. Faculty will also examine course content for diverse perspectives and apply specific dimensions of inclusive teaching models to their course. In turn, participating in this institute creates a network of teacher-scholars who can promote best practices for incorporating diversity into the curriculum and addressing the needs of diverse learners.


Arao, B., & Clemens, K. (2013). From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces. In L. Landerman (Ed.), The Art of Effective Facilitation (pp. 135–150). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

“Faculty Institute for Diversity,” Center for Teaching Innovation, Cornell University.

Ginsberg, M., & Wlodkowski, R. (2009). Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching in College (Second Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

hooks, bell (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.

Wing Sue, D. (2009). Racial Microaggressions and Difficult Dialogues on Race in the Classroom. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, Vol. 15, No.2, 183-190.

Lynn Hampton

This article was written by Layne A. Hampton, Lecturer in John V. Roach Honors College, and 2018 Koehler Center Diversity Fellow, and Desmond Morris, Koehler Center, for the Spring 2018 Issue of Insights Magazine.