Diversity is the fountain of life. Without it, eubacteria would still stain the oceans a uniform rust color. Diversity makes change, experimentation, adaptation and evolution possible. When ecosystems are diverse, life thrives. When human populations are diverse, culture flourishes.
Few places on earth are as diverse as the bay area. Residents brush shoulders with Ethiopians and drag queens, Muslims and hippies, quadriplegics and republicans. The bay area shows the world that diverse peoples can live together peacefully, mixing yet maintaining distinct identities. Of course, tensions arise, and communities do not interact as much as they could. Chinatown, the Mission, the Marina, and the Castro are too often separate worlds.
We still have a long ways to go, but few places offer such excellent opportunities for these groups to interact as the community colleges of the bay area. Stereotypes are exploded, gender is challenged, disability is transformed, and class lines are blurred.
Sometimes, however, students are nervous around each other. Put them at ease through icebreakers and interactive activities, and, when appropriate, use their differences as class material in the form of readings, listenings, discussions, presentations, and shared writing. For example, a Saudi Arabian student gave a presentation on the history and culture of his country, challenging misconceptions and addressing controversial issues, such as the prohibition against women driving, which inspired a lively, but respectful debate. Although many of us still disagreed with the prohibition, we came to respect the culture of Saudi Arabia, as he came to understand why many people object to the law. Rather than representing a division, diversity presents students with an information gap that can be the exploited in communicative exercises and writing assignments. People are curious about each other, and our curiosity can draw us together.
No two students learn the same way. No one is incapable of learning, however, as long as the teaching style suits. Include a range of activities, such as mingling exercises, vocabulary review activities, jigsaw readings, guided discovery, role plays, case studies, songs (for grammar or topical material), collaborative projects, task-based learning (for instance, having students research campus resources), authentic listenings (such as, current news programs), and authentic tasks (like writing to politicians). Keep experimenting with methods until everyone in the class is reached. As long as a student continues to make an effort, never give up.
Diversity drives evolution, enriches culture, and informs education.