Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 10, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 10,
Number 2

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity and Learning: “A Defining Moment”
Institutional Diversity in a New Nation: Lessons Lived, Lessons Learned
The Pedagogy of Sentipensante: Recasting Institutional Core Agreements
Transforming Our Institutions for the Twenty-first Century: The Role of the Chief Diversity Officer
Creating Institutional Transformation Using the Equity Scorecard
Curricular Transformation
Service Learning, Multicultural Education, and the Core Curriculum:
A Model for Institutional Change
Drop It Like It’s Hot! Hip-Hop in the Twenty-First-Century Classroom
A Sustainable Campus-Wide Program for Diversity Curriculum Infusion
Campus-Community Involvement
El Camino Real: Where Culture and Academia Meet
Faculty Involvement
Advancing Diversity through a Framework of Intersectionality: Inclusion of LGBT Issues in Higher Education
Transitioning on Campus: Creating a Welcoming Climate for Transgender People
Complicating Diversity Categories: Jewish Identity in the Classroom
Student Experience
Dealing with Student Resistance: Sources and Strategies
Beyond Tourism: Race, Space, and National Identity in London
Graduate and Professional Degree Attainment for Students of Color
Affordability of Postsecondary Education for Students of Color
Diversity and Learning Resources

The Pedagogy of Sentipensante: Recasting Institutional Core Agreements

Based on Laura Rendón’s contribution to “Envisioning the Next Generation of Diversity Work: Core Agreements and Correspondences,” 2006 AAC&U Diversity and Learning conference

Standing at the podium at the 2006 Diversity and Learning conference, Laura Rendón evoked an emotion that both unites and divides those of us involved in campus diversity work: fear. We face formidable barriers, and we take personal and professional risks when we dare to challenge them. The most solid of these barriers are perhaps the very shelters that house us: our institutions, and the belief systems that sustain them. Yet by recasting the core agreements of our institutions, we restructure their foundations, housing ourselves anew and overcoming our shared fear to be united instead by our desire for change.

According to Rendón, revamping our institutional belief systems is the key to moving diversity work into the twenty-first century. These belief systems, she says, “are the hegemonic structures that perpetuate the status quo.” Sustaining those institutional structures are our core agreements. Rendón speaks of two different categories of agreement: agreements about “diversity,” and agreements about “teaching and learning.” She indicates the need to “reframe” these agreements.

Speaking of agreements about diversity, Rendón cites the agreement of silence: the refusal to discuss difference for fear of creating discomfort. She calls us to consider what things would be like if, instead of shying away from our “discomfort,” we were to “embrace” it; she suggests recasting difference not as a detriment, but as an asset. A second agreement regarding diversity is the belief that diversity initiatives can be minimized, that only “cosmetic” changes are necessary. Rendón recommends that we rethink this agreement and demand “structural changes”: new faculty, new recruitment processes, new curricula, improved campus climates, and accountability for those in leadership positions. She calls us to “institut[e] the scholarship of diversity,” to use “qualitative and quantitative” arguments as we recruit new workers to our cause.

Just as essential to our rebuilding project are the agreements about teaching and learning. Rendón points to the monoculturalism that pervades our universities with its insistence that “Western structures of knowledge” are preferable to any type of “knowledge created by women, indigenous people, and people of color.” She calls us to dismantle this belief and create an “agreement of multiculturalism.” Calling into question Western beliefs about intellectualism, she insists that “mental knowing” is not the only type of intelligence—we must promote all forms of knowledge, including emotional knowledge, musical knowledge, and especially the “deep wisdom” that comes with multifaceted learning. In order to do this, we must reframe our agreement “to work with diverse ways of knowing in the classroom.” Finally, Rendón critiques the “agreement to avoid self-reflexivity.” She argues that our tendency to privilege hard work detracts from our ability to take the time to interrogate our own complicity with oppression. If we privilege self-reflexivity, she adds, we will be able to ask the crucial question, “To what extent am I carrying the oppressor within me?”

If we deconstruct and reframe our core agreements, Rendón argues, we will develop institutions that are more inclusive, democratic, and just. Inspired by the writings of Eduardo Galeano, Rendón refers to the new pedagogy she envisions as “sentipensante,” or “sensing/thinking”: a “multi-human” approach that “unites what I call the poetry of teaching and learning with the rationality of teaching and learning.” This pedagogy, as Rendón imagines it, attends not only to our entire selves but to all people; it excludes no one and nurtures all strengths, regardless of historical privilege.

Sentipensante may, at this stage, seem like an impossible ideal. Yet change begins from within, and it begins at a local level. By taking Rendón’s lead and examining ourselves, adjusting our values, revising our curricula, advising our students, and forming and nurturing the relationships we need to promote change in our institutions, we can strengthen our position as diversity workers, hands committed to the rebuilding of our institutional structures. Thus may we reconstruct our institutions as homes without fences, shelters without barriers.

Laura Rendón is professor and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Iowa State University. To listen to a podcast of her address, please visit www.aacu.org/Podcast/DL06_podcasts.cfm.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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