I work online teaching new faculty to teach online for a public college in a part of the Midwest with deep Bible Belt roots. My boss sent a “Merry Christmas” email to all of our online faculty who are scattered across the country, and even a few outside the country. This was my response.
Your cheerful holiday wishes — while undoubtedly well-intentioned — ignore the diversity among our online faculty. I know from personal experience teaching nearly 200 new online faculty at our college that our faculty come from a variety of cultures and perspectives. I have taught many Christians, but I have also taught Jews and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucians, Wiccans, humanists, and atheists. While my courses are secular, the people who take these courses are encouraged to be open about themselves to create a genuine human presence in an online setting, and in that process they often reveal part of their cultural background, sometimes including their religious or spiritual affiliations. I am inspired by this, reminded that one of the wonderful things about online education is that it opens us all up to a much wider world of experience than we might otherwise encounter in our everyday lives. This is a valuable thing for us as educators and for students at our college. I am sometimes concerned that the college and its leadership have a blind spot with regard to diversity that prevents them from recognizing its inherent value in education. That’s what crosses my mind when I see holiday wishes expressed that invoke mainstream traditions without also being fully inclusive. At a public college like ours, and especially in an online program such as ours that has a broad reach beyond the immediate geographical and cultural region, it is my hope that we can recognize and encourage diversity through greater sensitivity to the full spectrum of human experience that our faculty represents.
Sincerely wishing you and your family a joyful holiday season.