Teaching Beyond Tolerance
Jeff King, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Cross-Cultural Research
Department of Psychology
Western Washington University

What an inviting theme, Teaching Beyond Tolerance! This is certainly in line with Western's commitment to diversity as reflected in its Engaged Excellence Strategic Plan:

Diversity: Western appreciates the importance of diversity of thought and people and seeks to become more diverse. We honor the contributions of all members of the campus community. We are committed to listening to all sides of an issue and opposed to any form of discrimination.

And again, the plan acknowledges the importance and impact of the goal for teaching diversity:

Cultural diversity contributes to academic quality and a student's experience at Western.

While the themes of inclusion, diversity, and difference have always been critical issues for our educational institutions and broader society to address, globalization has brought them more so to our attention and awareness. Teaching beyond tolerance to our students as they prepare to go out into the world and share their knowledge is an action that combines learning with compassion, and social justice. These instructors recognized here are changing the world through imparting this type of learning to the eager hearts and minds of our students. It is one thing to provide literature, either through textbooks or articles as a means of conveying knowledge, but to teach tolerance in its deepest way, the way that changes lives, requires much more than that. The teachers honored here know this well and engage their students in the “much more.” I encourage every reader to delve into their profiles and learn from these exemplary teachers. This is the real stuff!


This year's Innovative Teaching Showcase theme, Teaching Beyond Tolerance, seeks to honor faculty who aspire to address inclusion, diversity, and difference in their courses in a variety of ways. The following instructors have been nominated by their colleagues and selected by the CIIA Advisory Board for inclusion in this year's Showcase:

  • Nicole Brown, Associate Professor in the English Department, teaches a visual rhetoric class focusing on social justice issues and has her students examine how texts and images create meaning, make arguments, and mobilize action. Nicole’s teaching philosophy gets to the core of “the beginning of understanding” when it comes to diversity when she tells her students to “suspend your own understanding of the world long enough and clearly enough to see another’s perspective as applicable as your own.” She recognizes the non-specifics that go into allowing students to participate in this type of learning by: creating a nurturing and safe classroom environment for exploration of self and other ways of knowing; for experiential knowledge along with course materials; for the opportunity to enter into conversation with those that hold different life experiences, values and expectations. Furthermore, her teaching is enhanced by her encouragement to her students to dialogue, debate, and discuss, and in the process learn how to effectively negotiate this territory.
  • Jill Heckathorn, Senior Instructor in the Department of Physical Education, Health, and Recreation, focuses on social justice by using experiential and service learning throughout her curriculum to engage students with people with disabilities, older adults, and persons from diverse cultures. Jill’s teaching style can best be described by “Wow!” Her encouragement of students to enter that “space-in-between” has resulted in students experiencing “something on higher ground; something close to reverence.” Her personal respect for the sacredness of connecting lives in authentic relationship is reflected in her teaching strategies; including experiential learning as a means to understanding what could not be understood otherwise, collective discussions in the classroom, emphasis on personal reflection of lessons learned, and an embracing of ways of knowing that exist outside of the classroom.
  • Carolyn Nielsen, Assistant Professor in the Journalism Department, incorporates diversity and representation issues in her newswriting and reporting classes via course materials, methods, and assignments. Clearly, Carolyn “walks the talk” and this has, in turn, shaped the method by which she conveys what diversity is really about. She recognizes the importance of experiential learning—that it teaches in a way that reading a textbook or set of articles cannot. She teaches her students how to be aware of themselves, their biases, and their socio-cultural context, combined with critical thinking in order to capture the “meaning” of competent journalism. Furthermore, she helps students learn how to access cultural resources to further inform them in their use of language and understanding the cultural nuances of the languages spoken within various cultural groups. Finally, Carolyn recognizes that teaching diversity should not be an add-on, stand-alone lesson, but part of every discussion.

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