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Moving the Needle Through Inclusive Teaching

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Jon Stone

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Jon Stone

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Valentina Iturbe-LaGrave

When classes begin next month on the University of Denver campus, it will mark the beginning of a quarter unlike any the institution has previously experienced. Social distancing and masks will be required; classes will be a hybrid of in-person and online; and everyone will likely have experienced a summer of debate about racial justice and inequality. For Valentina Iturbe-LaGrave, this rapidly shifting reality is changing the way she interacts with faculty across the university.

As director for inclusive teaching practices at DU, Iturbe-LaGrave works with faculty to incorporate more inclusivity in the classroom.

“Inclusive teaching practices is not about teaching about diversity or teaching about race. It’s a humanizing pedagogy that helps students learn better, engage better, retain information better and bring it back to their discipline of study,” she says. “This is ultimately what every professor wants to do.”

Iturbe-LaGrave has designed and implemented programs to help faculty members better understand and connect with all the students in their classrooms. By holding workshops and meeting with them one-on-one, she helps take what professors want to teach and make it more dynamic and more vibrant for the needs of their students.

“It was almost like faculty were waiting for someone to fill this type of position to address the questions, concerns and needs that existed on campus,” she explains. “There were a lot of gaps with what it meant to have inclusive excellence as a framework and then put this into action in your educational practice.”

Iturbe-LaGrave came to DU in 2016 when racial and social tensions were already high following the election. She says a lot of faculty sought her out immediately to help with international students who were the target of presidential executive orders. Given the events that have unfolded this summer, she is increasingly busy working particularly with faculty of color.

“I have to be there for a lot more faculty who need support with how to teach when their very well-being is on the line,” she says. “Their families are impacted, their personal feelings are impacted, and their students may be impacted.”

In an effort to reach all faculty across the University, next week Iturbe-LaGrave will help launch the Faculty Institute for Inclusive Teaching (FIIT), an asynchronous, interactive, self-paced online program on inclusive teaching. FIIT is designed to help faculty build upon their inclusive teaching practices, or for those just beginning, to help them incorporate inclusive teaching into their curricula.

Iturbe-LaGrave was also selected this summer as one of DU’s representatives on the Equity Champions Coalition through the Colorado Department of Higher Education. The group is comprised of representatives from all the state’s institutions of higher education and is focused on erasing Colorado’s educational equity gaps through essential system changes and policy decisions.

“I like to build things that last and make change. I like to create actual structures within organizations,” she says. “I would like to see how we can solve and address the issues of marginalized communities on a state level, not just institutionally.”

That continues to be her goal through her work in the Office of Teaching and Learning. This fall, 26% of the incoming first-year class identifies as students of color. Iturbe-LaGrave considers this evidence that the needle is moving in the right direction at DU.

“We are creating very cool entry points for all faculty, and we are rolling out programming for them so that we can ensure that 26% stays with us and that they have an amazing experience with all their faculty,” she says. “This is what higher education looks like, and we are just becoming more representative of our community.”

Valentina Iturbe-LaGrave was recently featured in a Chronicle of Higher Education article about inclusive teaching. Please click here to read more.