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What is Our Role as Faculty?

Let me begin by stating, without any attempt to prove, that I believe that Hispanic-Americans are simply sensitive barometers of the educational environment. When the teaching is good, effective and appropriate; when there is a vital, supportive and challenging community at school; when the students have a keen, passionate interest in physics; and when friends and family help support, encourage, and focus the pursuit of physics then Hispanic-Americans will become physicists in as large a number as any other group.

I do not mean to state that all these things need to be present in order to produce Hispanic-American physicists. Without too much trouble I can point out Hispanic-Americans who have studied physics in spite of indifferent teaching, a chilly and hostile environment at school, and personal and familial sacrifice in order to satisfy an unquenchable need to understand the universe. And without too much trouble I can think of Hispanic-Americans who became physicists without encountering significant barriers.

But when these four factors are not present then we begin to lose people -- not just Hispanic-Americans, but African-Americans, Native Americans, women, and white males. All groups suffer though some groups seem to be more sensitive to negative factors.

Rather than try and determine why these groups are more sensitive I would rather focus on the question -- What can we do to make studying physics a more challenging, engaging, and productive experience for all students?

Why are Hispanic-Americans not well represented in physics?
Juan R. Burciaga

NTFUP Meeting on Diversity
Dallas, TX 2002


The question What is our role as faculty? is a serious one. But in the classroom our major responsibility is to the students. And our role can be described with four criteria.

As faculty we bear the brunt of establishing the learning environment of the course ... and in part of the entire curriculum. And this is a dramatic shift in the paradigm of the professoriate.

A few years ago many of us might have responded that we only are responsible for teaching and were not directly responsible for any learning that occurred in the course.

However, as educational research has shown, teaching and learning are not separable.

But why should college faculty take the lead in this effort for a more inclusive physics community?

As Maurianne Adam explains in Cultural Inclusion in the American College Classroom (Teaching for Diversity, 1992, Editors: Laura Border, Nancy van Note Chism) college faculty have the most freedom in terms of content and pedagogy. And by learning a variable, flexible repertoire of teaching strategies we can address a variety diverse backgrounds and perspectives.