The crucial role of lecturers in dealing with diversity in higher education. A study on lecturers’ diversity ideologies and practices, their impact on students and the development of an intervention trajectory.
Compared to other regions, the Flemish educational system scores highly on quality, yet poorly on equality: significant achievement gaps between youth with and without a migration background and those with low versus high socio-economic status (SES) persist in secondary and tertiary education (European Center for Statistics, 2014; PISA, 2015; 2018). These inequalities in turn reduce the future career opportunities and living standards of already vulnerable youth with a migration and/or low socio-economic background. Previous research has shown that these achievement gaps cannot be explained away by individual or family factors (such as IQ, parental education or home language) (Agirdag & Korkmazer, 2015), and that the approach to diversity at school is a crucial but underexposed factor. Specifically, it has been shown that an intercultural/pluralistic approach that recognizes and values socio-cultural differences reduces achievement, while the reverse is true for color-blind approaches that ignore socio-cultural differences and emphasize individuality (Celeste et al., 2019; De Leersnyder et al., 2020). In many European higher education institutions meritocracy, equal treatment and uniqueness are core values. A color-blind approach is most tempting and, therefore, often dominant. Students with a migration background and/or low socio-economic status are still confronted with misunderstanding or unconscious behavior (micro-aggressions, white middle-class blindness, language prejudice etc.) (De Vroey et al., 2016; Jansen et al., 2017).Concretely, minority students in higher education experience up to 4 times as much discrimination as their peers in the majority group, feel less at home at the college or university and suffer from higher drop out rates and slower study progress (e.g. Diversity Monitor UvA, 2016; O’Keeffe, 2013). A student’s ability to develop a sense of belonging within the higher education institution requires a caring, supportive and welcoming and a safe environment. This can be achieved not only through the development of positive student/faculty relationships and the presence of a well-equipped counseling center, but also by a pluralistic study environment that embraces diversity and difference and does not see diversity as a deficit, but as an actual resource and asset to thrive in higher education. Part of the pathway towards more inclusive higher education institutions is the employment of staff with a diverse background, because they can act as role-models for the students and that having a lecturer with the same migration and/orsocio-cultural background is linked to better study results (Llamas, Nguyen & Tran, 2019). However, creating an inclusive diversity climate is not solely the task of staff with a migration an/or lower socio-economic background. An equitable and inclusive learning environment in which diversity can be activated as capital and an environment that embraces cultural differences related to ethnicity and/or social class also relies on the diversity qualities and skills of staff belonging to the majority group. This PhD thesis focuses on the socio-cultural sensitivity of higher education staff and their awareness of implicit assumptions and/or Western frameworks translated into their curriculum and didactics. It also examines the impact of lecturers' diversity ideologies and practices on their students' sense of belonging and study results, and sets out first steps towards interventions that can promote a pluralistic climate in higher education.