A Reflection on Teaching Religion and Diversity…online

worldI have been teaching about religion and cultural competency online since 2010.  I began doing so because (a) I had a newborn and wanted to spend less time on campus and (b) the university was asking us to create more online courses. I have tweaked the courses a lot over the years and gathered ideas from colleagues across the country.  It is a challenge and takes some fine balancing to teach such topics online. It is definitely time consuming! 😊😄Some say it is a bad idea to teach uncomfortable/controversial topics online. I think it can and should be done. I think so mainly because online offers more students opportunity to take a variety of classes that they may not otherwise be able to take because of their time and life commitments.  Secondarily, I have found that my online students are more open with their discussion than me student in my face-to-face courses (their is some literature out there about the perception of being somewhat anonymous online).

I am currently teaching an online course about religion and society. 🏯⛪🔯🔱It is a Sociology course so the readings are based on the theoretical frameworks of the traditional through post-modern Sociological theorists.  Because of where we live, I find approx 90% of the students to be former Catholics who do not currently practice a religion AND have a disdain for organized religion (LOTS of research out there on this, especially as it relates to 20 and 30 year olds). The students have been most interested in how religions address the LGBT community & people of color, and the role of women or lack thereof within some religions.

When I teach the cultural competency course (in Social Work) students are required to pick a culture that is different than their own and explore that culture’s food, socio-cultural, religious and other traditions and customs.  🎎🙇👭👬👳👲Culture is broadly defined but mostly in the course we study and discuss various social identities. In the end students tend to focus on national origin or religion, therefore most students choose either Judaism or Islam for their ongoing project/paper.  Given the state in which we live students also tend to choose Cambodian, Vietnamese, Cape Verdean, or Brazilian cultures also and thus often end up at a Catholic Church or Buddhist Temple.

This semester in the Religion and Society course, no student has chosen Islam. I asked if anyone had interest in exploring Islam for their research paper and that I had often sent students to a specific Islamic Center in our state and that the center is welcoming, etc., etc. A few brave students emailed me to say that they were interested but scared to visit a Mosque or Islamic Center.  We discussed back and forth about their fears and the pros and cons of this research topic.  In the end, no student chose Islam. I was disappointed, but each year I am learning new things about teaching topics that some students find uncomfortable, challenging, and/or are afraid of.


Facilitating Learning

  1. Even though our college and universities push us to teach online so that more students have access and can take courses, some courses really are best taught face-to-face.
  2. If I chose to teach anything related to diverse identities online then I have to require students to engage in more discussions than usual. There is typically a question/topic per week and students respond to me and to two other students. I then compose a lecture-like post based on all of their responses so and ask them to respond to that post.  So that’s at least 3-4 opportunities to discuss a topic and engage in some teaching & learning.
  3. Again, if I chose to teach anything related to diverse identities online I should think about requiring at least two (at the beginning and at the end) face-to-face meetings so that we can all see each other, have an open discussion, more forward, and end together.  This seems to defeat the purpose of teaching online, which is why hybrid is usually a good option.
  4. I like students to think about the possible wide range of topics and choose for themselves, but… it is an undergraduate course and even though it goes against my pedagogical style I could pre-select topics and say “Pick from these topics only” thus pushing students out of their comfort zone. This might be helpful to some students and patronizing to others.

If you teach about the broad topic(s) of diversity:

  1. Do you teach online, hybrid, or face-to-face?
  2. Do you allow students to select their own topics or do you have a pre-selected list?
  3. What other suggestions would you give me as I move forward in teaching this solely online?

Respectful, constructive comments and discussions are welcome, please.  Thank you.


Food and Pre-Schoolers: Parenting Woes

IMG_20150705_141618I think I have posted about our son and his food choices before. When we’re up against a wall and think he’s food deprived (is that really possible) we let him eat Wendy’s kid’s meal because he’s usually always eat chicken nuggets. But we know that is NOT a good choice every day or for the long-term pre-school/kindergarten years.  This, at left is his typical meal. Not too bad really…

Fruit and processed turkey! It’s either this, rice with mixed veggies but only Uncle Ben’s NOT usually West African jolof rice, or pasta with butter sauce. He’s entering pre-K in the fall and I want him to start eating breakfast in the mornings at home because his new school will not serve breakfast, he’ll need to eat at home. So I’m contemplating cereal (which is usually eats just fine) and oatmeal (which he has yet to try).  My real wish is that he eat the food we eat so that I cook one meal (like normal families right? LOL). I’ve read LOTS of blogs and consulted with all my friends on the eating issue.  I understand it is a phase and that eventually (I have teenage nephews as proof) he will eat and eat a lot!

I think we should have started earlier introducing some of our ethnic foods to him , but we are without parents and our in-laws helped as they could but no one thoughtfully guided us in feeding him and introducing foods. I have realized that it takes a village and lots of time and patience and we got on that boat late (we do other things quite well for advanced-age parents)! Specifically, we’d like to introduce more green things such as okra and spinach which we and our friends and family cook and eat often….I’m not going to push the meat and chicken, but would like an alternative such as beans.

Aside from my concern for his nutrition intake, I’d like to make sure he embraces his cultures through food – an important form of socialization right?

Any other parent out there have tips on introducing new foods? I’m interested in all suggestions but am particularly interested in parents: (a) who have recently introduced green veggies and (b) with specific ethnic traditions and foods and how you introduced those foods?



Being True to Me: I am an ecclectic sporadic blogger with average writing skills!

ecclecticIt’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve had a lot going on – finishing the semester, getting the boy ready for summer, grieving, … Lots going on that needed to be settled and cleared.  I have spent some time pondering this blog.  I read a LOT of other blogs and know that the authors of blogs which attract the most readers (and make money) have a consistent theme/topic on which they write.  I contemplated finding one or two topics on which to write in order to be consistent and have dedicated readers.

I could blog about motherhood, academia, cultural competence, Alzheimer’s, being African American, being a mother to a black boy, being married to an immigrant, being a social worker, etc., etc., etc. Not one of those topic is more important to me than the next. So I decided that my blog will be an eclectic mix of the things that interest me.  Be prepared to read about our summer jaunts, my summer readings lists, my sabbatical, my volunteerism with the Alzheimer’s Association, my attempts to explain racial relations to my 4 year old, the adventures of my niece who will soon be here from Africa, our adventures as non-Catholics in a Catholic school, soccer, futbol, food, wine, and so much more!

Stay tuned. Be patient with my writing. I hope to post interesting stories and/or tips and I hope you’ll keep reading and leaving comments!

Thanksgiving Thanks for My Privilege – Day ??(I’ve lost track of the days and am behind!)

I made a valiant attempt to do 75 days of posting honoring my mom and 27 days of Thanksgiving Thanks posts, but…life, job, family all got in the way! LOL How do I become a full-time blogger? I guess I go on sabbatical…1.5 semesters and counting…Until then…

PrivilegeI have read several friends’ posts and a few articles this month on privilege.  Most of these authors write about one’s ability to complain about having a name misspelled on a Starbucks cup, complaining about a commute to work (in a car), or complaining about all the SPAM messages on one’s tablet, etc…Peggy McIntosh made popular the notion of naming, acknowledging, discussing, deconstructing, and then doing something about privilege.  McIntosh started with the BIG one, white male privilege.  Other scholars followed suit with able-bodied privilege, Christian privilege, heterosexual privilege, etc.  As I used each of the privilege worksheets in class with my students and facilitated discussions I became increasingly uncomfortable with my own privilege. What? A woman of African descent has privilege?!

The first time I said it out loud in class my students looked at me oddly. After all I had allowed them to follow that typical pattern of thinking in which we only view women and people of color as oppressed individuals.  Which is one perspective and depending on who, what, where, how, and why that vulnerable oppressed persona may fit. As I write this blog I am waiting to hear the Grand Jury decision on officer Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown.  I am 44 years old and I feel as if I have sat-in-waiting many many times before…so, I fully acknowledge that there is still a great amount of oppression for youth, men, and women who have brown, red, yellow, black skin; accents; unacceptable documentation; not enough resources….

AND another reality of 2014 is that many people who have the life I have had and currently have, also have much privilege. I grew up with more than enough resources. I have an advanced degree. I have a full-time job. I am heterosexual, born in the U.S., and am able-bodied.  Yes, I am a proud woman of color. I have many challenges based on those two identities – separated and combined.  But at the intersection of all of my identities, I am privileged.  Primarily because I can use my socioeconomic status to combat what comes my way based on biological sex and race. I am thankful that I have enough privilege that I can Code Switch and take action. It’s often exhausting work and sometimes I refuse to do it. But mostly I acknowledge my privileged statuses, and use them when and as I can to combat the isms. I’m also attempting to make our 4 y.o. son aware of his privileges…that’s another blog!

Today I am very thankful that my momma raised an aware, proud, activist Black woman! Thanks momma! Privilege comes with responsibilities.

Thanksgiving Thanks (day 18): Honoring My Mom’s Legacy of Cultural Capital

daughter and momA stream-of-consciousness because that’s how I flow blog without regard to the scholarship on this topic (I can take time off form being an academic right?).

I’m always reflective in November. Even before my mom passed away. It happens to be the month in which so many people I care for were born, including my mom and son.  My mom left me a great legacy. There’s stuff, but what is most meaningful is the non-tangible.  These past couple of weeks I have been particularly reflective on the legacy of cultural capital she left me.

I teach a class on cultural competence.  That class is about human service workers being able to work effectively and compassionately with people of different social identities (race, ethnicity, religion, ability, sexual orientation, etc., etc., etc.).  There is a different type of cultural competence that I’ve been reflecting on lately.  The first snow has fallen on Loon Mountain and folks are going skiing….

In undergraduate and again in our doctoral program I read Bourdieu’s work along with some post modern takes on cultural capital.  The term is broad, vague, ill-defined, not ethnically relevant, maybe even unnecessary, except when you realize it is necessary…I am sure that in proper society no one goes around speaking of their cultural capital, but we know it when we see it.  I’ve been particularly reflective about ethnic-specific and regional differences in cultural capital.  I’m not ready to write a thesis about this, but I am aware of that in my travels around the country, living in different regions and being blessed enough to have friends from different backgrounds, I’ve noticed that we each have cultural capital in different ways.  And even with our country’s growing diversity I am struck that we still revert to a WASP standard of cultural capital (orchestra outings, certain types of art, music, skiing, apple picking, specific books, etc.).

When and how does cultural capital become diversified? I know that in the African American community there are organizations that have been formed in an attempt to inculcate children with some forms of cultural capital. And while depending on the region of these by-invitation-only groups a child may get the typical reproduced messages about cultural capital with some sprinkling of ethnic-specific cultural capital (i.e. sharing of some art by famous black artists and musicians). But for the most part the cultural capital being instilled and passed on is still lodged in the WASP world. It’s o.k. and it’s not o.k. Every ethnic and racial group has much to contribute to the mickle bag (a term one of my eccentric high school English teacher used ad nausem…I think she made the term up!) of what can be considered to be part of the cultural capital suitcase. I’m sure someone has written an article (or two) about this; and maybe I’ll go look it up…but my point is that some of our parents do an amazing job of providing some elements of cultural capital (which we then hopefully build upon for ourselves) and I’d like the scholars, theorists and pundits to consider adding futbol (soccer), and Gordon Parks, and hair braiding, and making tamales, and…you get me right? Cultural capital should be culturally competent & relevant.

For me, I am thankful that my mom laid a foundation in our multi-cultural, multi-value, multi-activity house and elsewhere that allows me to move with some ease within and between cultures with my well-packed cultural capital suitcase. It’s that ability to code switch (a show on NPR now) that really makes me a culturally competent individual with capital. And I’m thankful. Thank you mommy! I’m hoping to reproduce some culturally relevant capital with our son. Here’s hoping I can build upon my mom’s legacy and also hoping I don’t drive our son crazy in doing so!


Raising Multi-Cultural Children

Not matter what box you check for yourself or your child; you are raising a multi-cultural child.  In my home this is particularly true because my husband and I come from different cultural backgrounds and have both been exposed to many different cultures that influence our home life.  We each speak more than 1 language, we eat a variety of foods from different cultures, we listen to a variety of music, and we attend events that are representative of our varying cultural perspectives. My husband and I should not be the exception in how we expose our child to the world. You cannot escape the fact that the U.S. is a diverse place and in order to live you need to be aware of and comfortable with difference.

Statistics show that by 2020 the majority of the U.S. will no longer be Caucasian.  I teach in two fields that use the demographic information of the country and I use this information in my courses often.  I think we have already arrived at a society in which the people with “brown faces” have outnumbered the people with “white faces.”  Being aware of and able to work side-by-side with and live with people of a variety of cultures is no longer optional.  I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting every state in the union, so I’m sure there are some places where you can go and still have a homogeneous experience. But if you want your child to be mobile, have options, be successful, and not be isolated then you need to be raising a multi-cultural child.

K-12 schools are more diverse (as are the snacks & lunches kids bring with them); diverse school lead to diverse college campuses; which leads to a diverse work-force  – at least 50% of current jobs ask if you are bi-lingual (usually this is code for Spanish, but knowing another language other than English is helpful).

So…along with reciting the ABCs, counting, teaching hand-washing, stranger-danger, and ALL of those other big & small lessons we teach…we should be exposing our children as often as possible to other cultures. And not just in passing or as a tourist attraction type of thing – as a fact of our daily lives.  Role model acceptance and awareness.

  1. Invite a family from your child’s class over for a play-date, lunch, or dinner
  2. buy a book or watch a video/movie that introduces a new culture
  3. if you watch Nick, Jr. or Sprout talk about the different characters and their value
  4. learn a song or poem in a different language (together) and then look up something about that culture to discuss
  5. cook a meal from a different culture together
  6. if funds allow – travel to a place where you can experience a different culture first-hand

Here’s a resource or two to help:

Teaching Your Child Tolerance

From Scholastic


Teaching Tolerance

Diversity is not scary it is beautiful and it is our reality!

P.S. In my world multiculturalism and diversity goes beyond race and ethnicity, but I know that for many people exploring different racial groups and ethnicity is a start. But int he true sense of diversity we include ability, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

Hair and Cultural Awareness

Observations and Ramblings about my hair and some recent encounters related to hair:

I teach a range of courses in a School of Social Work. One of the courses I teach is a course on diversity. In social work we refer to the use of skills, ways of thinking and behaving, and understanding in such a manner that a person’s various identities are considered – cultural competency. I’d have to write another blog just to fully cover cultural competency, but suffice it to say that it can occur in many small and larger ways in any number of contexts.

A couple of days ago I was pleasantly caught off guard when the director and owner (CB) of my son’s day care center complimented me on my hair.  Like many women I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my hair and have changed my hair more times than I care to remember.  Hairstyle, length, and texture are especially touchy subjects for women of color.  Hair can be political for women of African descent living in American (think of the puffed out afros of the 60s and 70s). People sometimes have strong negative reactions to natural hair, braids, dreadlocks, etc. stating that none of the mentioned styles are professional (that’s another blog post for another time)



Currently I am wearing my hair semi-natural. Semi because it still has chemical in it and it’s not completely natural and I’m putting styling product in it to enhance the natural kink (or curl as the styling product states on the label). Needless to say my friends who have known me for some time might ask “What is going on with you and your hair?!” So anyway…it’s cute in a “I’m not sure what to really do with it” way. I’ve been thinking a lot about raising a son who sees his mom with natural hair so that he knows that beauty is not necessarily about straight relaxed perfectly combed hair. I’ve never had strong feelings about what’s going on with my hair until I had my son, so this is all kind of new. I typically change my hair a lot but it has nothing to do with wanting a certain type of hair, it has more to do with boredom and the fact that I have options and it’s fun to play around with hairstyles, wigs, braids, waves, etc.  Anyway…as I was dropping my son off CB was in the room and she just commented on my hair being natural, she said she liked it and that it worked for me because I have a pretty face. I smiled and laughed because it was something my mom would say! But I felt nice…most Caucasian women I’ve known don’t know enough about black hair to know when my hair is natural or not. My friend PC always notices my hair and sweet in her encouraging comments and questions – it’s always a nice cultural exchange! My pleasure in CB’s comment had less to do with me being cute and more to do with my satisfaction that I knew the day care we chose really had a culturally competent leader (as required by NAYEC).

Day care center teachers are notoriously white and female. So enrolling our African American son in a suburban day care center caused me some anxiety. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and until I moved to Atlanta had not seen African Americans in the majority let alone in positions of power and prominence. And I don’t expect great diversity where my son goes to daycare because the center, while adjacent to a city full of immigrants, is located in the suburbs. I chose this day care because it is owned and operated by a woman, it is not a franchise chain, and it is close to home. The teachers are wonderfully nice, my son is safe, well cared for, learning new things, and the kids are incredibly cute! I teach cultural competence for a living and write about it as often as I can. It is a skill that encompasses many levels of understanding, behavior, and thinking. It is more than just knowing when a black woman’s hair is natural versus straightened with chemicals. In this context this simple small exchange said a lot to me. The fact that CB displayed cultural competence around something as benign as my hair was a pleasant bonus!

Flashback to a week ago when my son and I were at the mall with my friend BD (culturally competent Caucasian woman). We stopped to play at the indoor playground. I was a little bit nervous because he’s young (15 months) and the children there are appeared to be at least 3 years old and older. But in fashion true to himself, my son jumped right in there with the other kids and slid down the slide (head first) and climbed into the cars and ran around the carpet enjoying himself as if he had been there a thousand times! There was a little girl who was about six years old or so and she was the type of child that likes children younger than her – you know the type who will end up being a teacher or a social worker – she kept holding the hands of the younger kids, but in particular kept wanting to hold/lift up my son. Her mom kept telling her to let my son run on his own and to not hug/hold him. I was bordering on being annoyed and thinking “how cute.” And then she patted his head and said “He has fluffy hair!” My friend BD looked at me, rolled her eyes, and said “It’s time to go.” So we smiled, scooped up my son said “bye” to the little girl and left.

Do you take on a 6 year old around cultural competency? Probably not. I’m an educator so maybe the “right” thing to have done was to say to the girl “Yes, different people have different kinds of hair, that’s what makes the world so beautiful” or something like that. But I’m not always in my culturally competent educator mode and sometimes I just want to enjoy my time out with my family and friends. I’m hoping that the little girl will grow up to meet many different kinds of people with many different types of hair and that she will appreciate each person and her hair for who she is!