College of Education’s The Bridge promotes diversity through research discussions

The Bridge, located in the College of Education, promotes diversity, equity and inclusion by facilitating research discussions, workshops and mentorship between students, staff and faculty across campus.

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Teachers’ support of students’ basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness facilitates learning, academic performance and wellbeing in college students.

Like many other academic spaces, MU has experienced significant racial unrest over the last few years, and very little has changed within classrooms. To move forward and thrive as a community, it is crucial to identify possible solutions to improve race relations across campus and student retention.

The Bridge is a step moving forward by providing opportunities to reduce the gap between research and practice, therefore preparing pre-service and in-service teachers to be change agents in their classrooms.

The Bridge was founded in 2015, is located in the MU College of Education and is ran by Diversity Engagement Coordinator Theresa Metz. Metz describes The Bridge as “a brave space for students, faculty and staff to develop and expand their multicultural knowledge, awareness and skills.”

In 2017, Doug Carnine wrote in the journal Exceptional Children that one aspect of improving education is the ability to bridge research and findings to practice. Additionally, there is an increase by both research scholars’ and educators’ recognition of the relational nature of learning.

“The goal of the Bridge falls in the realm of what the Bridge is about,” Metz said. “Inclusion, diversity and equity… [to] see and present what scholarship is being done to impact policies and practices.”

According to The Bridge’s website, the program was developed in an effort to expand social justice perspectives and address critical societal needs through opportunities for learning, training and service-related endeavors of diversity, inclusion and equity. In essence, to be a world-leading college in inclusivity and equity efforts. “The Bridge is open to everyone on campus and gives us a chance to connect research to practice while allowing for interdisciplinary collaboration,” Metz said. “Most of our presenters are by recommendations or just word of mouth.”

The Bridge’s website lists that it provides programming, activities and opportunities for individuals in the College of Education to connect with one another. These connections aid in the understanding of shared humanity while valuing our different cultural assets. Programs and activities provided by The Bridge include a Research Discussion Series, One-on-One Support, a Student Discussion Series, Movie Screening & Discussion Series, Real Talk & Cookies with Dean Kathryn Chval and a Book Discussion Series, among many others. A research discussion held at The Bridge on April 2 led by Shannon McClain from the Department of Educational, School & Counseling Psychology, explored student-teacher relationships and academic outcomes. McClain’s research discussion focused on the importance of teacher trust, especially for students of color.

“Student-teacher relationships are important for collegians because this interaction is a strong predictor of college learning and success,” McClain said. “These relationships are related to greater levels of classroom engagement, academic and cognitive skills development, academic self-challenge, academic self-concept and sense of belonging.”

McClain also said, “Student-teacher relationships are important for all students, but research has found that this is especially true for students of color in predominantly white schools,”

McClain cited an article written by Christopher Niemiec and Richard M. Ryan in the journal Theory and Research in Education, explaining that relatedness in the classroom is deeply associated with a student feeling that the teacher genuinely likes, respects and values him or her.

“Within predominantly white universities, these relationships are especially important for students of color,” McClain said.

Bini Sebastian, a counseling psychology Ph.D. student, attended McClain’s research discussion session and found value this research discussion.

“Dr. McClain’s research touched on a subject that is rarely talked about in education. She was able to describe trust in a way that we could all understand,” Sebastian said.

The Bridge’s social justice work is critical to college students’ success. The literature review found that African American students report higher levels of unfair treatment by teachers, and African American males are particularly likely to perceive teacher discrimination.

Students of color are at risk for reduced teacher trust and therefore are less likely to have those positive academic and social outcomes related to student-teacher relationships.

What factors can Mizzou use to improve outcomes for students of color? Sebastian says artistic expression could be one of the keys. “I am big into the arts, and this provides them the chance to learn more about themselves and where they are in their own development,” Sebastian said.

Edited by Janae McKenzie | jmckenzie@themaneater.com

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