Thursday, April 27, 2017

UIS professor uses current events to spark diverse discussions in the classroom

University of Illinois Springfield Associate Professor of Political Science Ali Nizamuddin, Ph.D. is using current events to encourage discussions of potentially polarizing issues among his students. 

“What I’ve tried to do in the classroom is bring together a diverse range of students, not just diversity in terms of ethnicity, religion or language or background, but disability as well. It means ‘the way I look the world is very different,’” he said.

Nizamuddin teaches a range of courses within the political science department and often has students from China, India and African countries in his classes. 

“That really helps when you have this setting, where each (student) is trying to share that person’s experiences, and contributing to the classroom,” he said.

Nizamuddin said he tries to have diverse discussions in all of his classes. He begins by teaching students to approach controversial topics with the premise that the other side is right.

“I’m trying to bring a diverse range of thoughts and opinions and tackling ideas and concepts analytically with empathy,” he said. “To me, the most important thing in the classroom is empathy. That is the general approach, trying to handle diversity in terms of a diversity of thoughts and opinions and in terms of trying to cultivate empathy so that we can try to experience the other person.”

Nizamuddin said he does not suppress opinions that could be construed as racist, and that he teaches and also requires an etiquette of disagreement.

“You have to respect (students) and show that you are neutral and their opinion also matters,” said Nizamuddin. “There’s a lot that other people have to teach us. If we have a receptive heart and mind then we will be open to the internalization of knowledge.”

He said the more intimate class size on the UIS campus lends itself to meaningful discussions and debate between students.

“It allows me to benefit and learn from them too,” he said.

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