Achieving the “Demographic Imperative”: Barriers and Possibilities for Diversifying Teacher Education at UD

Jill Ewing Flynn, Assistant Professor of English Education, University of Delaware

Jill Ewing Flynn,
Assistant Professor of English Education,
University of Delaware

Our guest blogger today is Jill Ewing Flynn, Assistant Professor of English Education at the University of Delaware.  She writes on behalf of the Collaborative to Diversify Teacher Education at UD.   The mission of the Collaborative is to cultivate teacher candidates from groups historically underrepresented in terms of access to and successful completion of teacher education programs.  The Collaborative consists of faculty members from across the University community that seek to recruit and prepare teacher candidates who better match the demographics of students in Delaware public schools and nationwide, with a focus on race/ethnicity and social class. Other members of the Collaborative from the College of Arts and Sciences include Deborah A. Bieler, Associate Professor, English Education; Hannah Kim, Assistant Professor, Social Studies Education; from the College of Education and Human Development, Lynn Worden, Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Studies; and from the School of Education, Rosalie Rolón-Dow, Associate Professor, Social Studies Education/Urban Education; and Carol Wong, Associate Professor.

“I appreciate that the kids, they can automatically be like, ‘Okay, somebody looks like me.’ I may not be able to do anything for them, but, right off the bat, they may sense some sort of empathy.”

“In the classes that we have, you have these little blips about minorities. You can learn about them from a book, which kind of bothers me, honestly. You can’t learn about kids from a book, people from a book.”

“I don’t think that ignoring differences is good, either. You’re black, or you’re German, or you’re whatever you are. Me saying, ‘I don’t see color,’ that is absolutely—pardon my French—bullsh*t.  That’s absolutely ridiculous because it exists, and stuff happened.”

These comments were made by University of Delaware undergraduate teacher education majors in focus groups made up of students of color, first-generation college students, and students from low-income backgrounds. As these students noted, recruiting and preparing a diverse teaching force benefits all teacher candidates as well as the students they serve, from Pre-Kindergarten to high school. Their comments also highlight a palpable problem in so many teacher education programs: the lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity.

The nationwide problem that some scholars call the “demographic imperative” encompasses three related issues in teacher education: “1) the increasing diversity of the students enrolled in U.S. public education; 2) the gap between such students and their teachers in terms of their lived experiences; and 3) the disparity in educational outcomes between students of color, low-income students, and their white middle-class peers” (McDonald, 2007, p. 2049). Across the U.S., colleges and universities are working not only to increase the diversity of their student population and to increase the educational outcomes of students from underrepresented groups, but also to reap the benefits of a diverse student population[1].

For programs that prepare future teachers, the benefits of diversity take on heightened importance, given teachers’ direct role in shaping the perceptions and abilities of future generations. Teacher preparation programs that include diverse student and faculty populations and embrace diversity systemically can help narrow the achievement gap (Irvine, 2003; National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force, 2004) and develop a teaching force that advocates for equity and works in partnership with members of the diverse communities in which they practice (Cochran-Smith, 2004). With the generous support of a 2012 President’s Diversity Initiative grant, the Collaborative to Diversify Teacher Education at UD, a diverse group of teacher education faculty from across the UD community, has been studying how these challenges manifest themselves on our campus and what can be done to overcome them.

As is true nationwide, the University of Delaware’s teacher candidates tend to be white. In our undergraduate programs, where the majority of our students earn teaching certification, approximately 21% of the UD students enrolled in teacher education programs in Fall 2012 were of a “minority” status (11% were first generation college students, 8.5% were racial minorities, and 5.1% were low-income; note that students may belong to more than one category).[2] In contrast, the 2012-2013 Delaware public school student population is 32% African American, 13.8% Latino/Hispanic, and 3.5% Asian, while 52% of Delaware’s public school children are students from low-income households (See Figure 1.)[3]

Figure 1: Percentage of Students of Color and Low-Income Students in UD Teacher Education and in Delaware Public Schools

Narrowing the demographic gap between the students we prepare and the public school students they teach is the Collaborative’s major goal.

What we did.  We designed and implemented a research project during the 2012-2013 academic year utilizing a mixed-methods approach (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004) in order to triangulate data (Denzin, 1978; Mathison, 1988) about how our teacher education programs consider diversity and how underrepresented students perceive or experience diversity. Our project included four data sources. We conducted interviews with the ten faculty members who coordinate our teacher education programs. In addition, we collected data from three student focus groups: two of current teacher education majors, and one of former teacher education majors. We also invited more than the more than 4000 UD undergraduate students from underrepresented groups—students of color, first generation college students, and/or low income students—to participate in an online survey. Six hundred and twenty-six students completed the survey, including 102 (16.5%) current teacher education students. Finally, we analyzed institutional data on enrollment and graduation rates since 2006.

What we found. The findings of our public scholarship project parallel and build on other published research. The data revealed that the graduation gap between low-income and non low-income teacher education students was twice that of the overall University of Delaware student population (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Graduation Rates of Low-Income and Not Low-Income Students at UDDeterrents to Teaching.  All data sources indicated that a major deterrent was a negative view of the teaching profession; for example 47% of survey responses indicated such a view. The second major deterrent was money. Salaries were the principal concern: the second most frequent reason cited by survey participants for not going into teaching was “salary too low” (43%). Participants expressed concern that the effort necessary to be a teacher as compared to the salary—the return on investment (ROI)—was not worth it.

Deterrents to progress in the major. Additional financial barriers included tuition and program fees. More than 70% of survey respondents identified tuition and housing costs as extremely to moderately challenging. Students who left teacher education reported that student loan forgiveness for going into teaching and scholarships for teacher education majors might have helped keep them in the major. Teacher education fees were rated even more of a barrier than certification test scores or grade point average requirements. Furthermore, when we analyzed results by subgroup, those with family income at or below the poverty line perceived teacher education fees as being more challenging to their degree progress. Combined with the low graduation rate of low-income students discussed earlier, we see that the additional costs of teacher education programs are a serious issue that needs attention.

While the majority of students did not identify a lack of academic support as a barrier to their degree progress, a question about resources on campus yielded surprising results. The survey asked how familiar students were with various support/enrichment programs and services available at UD. (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3: Percentage of Students Who Were Not at All, Slightly or Moderately Familiar with UD Programs and ResourcesMore than 90% of current or former teacher education students were at best minimally or not at all familiar with programs like McNair Scholars or Student Support Services. Even the organization that specifically targets teacher education students, ASPIRE, was not fully recognized, with 79.2% of current or former teacher education students being moderately, slightly, or not at all familiar with the program. All of these resources and programs are operating on UD’s campus and serve as potential supports to students from underrepresented groups; however, clearly they need to be better publicized and utilized.

UD’s racial environment.  Fifty percent of program coordinators expressed concern about the homogeneity of students and staff in teacher education programs. In focus groups, students of color questioned whether the university valued their presence and expressed the feeling that they were merely a token. Students of color, particularly Latino and Asian students more than other teacher education students, were more likely to say that their teacher education program never strengthened their sense of racial/ethnic identity. African American students were more likely to say they felt the need to minimize an aspect of their culture in order to fit in. African American students were also more likely to say that they felt they were expected to speak on behalf of all members of their race/ethnic group, that they felt left out because of their race/ethnicity, and that they witnessed their race being stereotyped. These results are similar to those reported from a broader survey on UD’s racial climate: “White students more frequently expected and found the campus climate to be welcoming for all people and groups than students of color” (UD Campus Climate Survey Results, Report to the President, 2011, p. 4). A number of issues related to campus climate at the University need to be addressed in order to better recruit and retain diverse teacher candidates.

Way forward. Findings of our research suggest that (1) advocating for the teaching profession as a whole, (2) centrally coordinating and supporting outreach and support efforts, and (3) improving the campus climate are essential steps in addressing the demographic imperative at the University of Delaware. As teacher educators, we need to market our profession as a dynamic career centered on social justice and giving back to the community to help address goal #1. We also need to speak out publicly to counteract the negative public discourse around education. To achieve goal #2, the University can coordinate and promote the student support services already on campus. It is also important to provide financial and staff support for outreach and leadership development programs such as ASPIRE, the Academic Support Program Inspiring Renaissance Educators. As another important facet of student support, we must pay closer attention to the financial burdens of teacher education majors, exploring options for eliminating or subsidizing program fees, establishing scholarships for students underrepresented in teacher education, and work with the Delaware Department of Education to develop loan forgiveness programs for Delaware teachers. To improve the racial campus climate, goal #3, the University needs to facilitate culturally responsive teaching and increase the diversity of our student body and faculty. UD’s “Commitment to Delawareans” and recent increased outreach efforts by the Admissions Office are important first steps toward this goal. To diversify our faculty, deans and chairs can mandate that searches be framed in ways that require a commitment to diversity and equity in addition to teaching and research expertise.

Creating thriving, diverse teacher preparation programs is not only a valid end in and of itself but also an investment in a robust educational ecology: strong collegiate teacher candidates from underrepresented groups go on to become strong teachers who will educate thousands of P-12 students from underrepresented groups, who will then become strong college applicants. The Collaborative to Diversify Teacher Education at UD looks forward to using the public scholarship framework in partnership with the University as a whole to address these issues.  If you would like to read the full report, please click here.  Questions and comments can be directed to Jill Ewing Flynn at


Cochran-Smith, M. (2004). Walking the Road: Race, Diversity, and Social Justice in Teacher Education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Colbeck, C.L., & Michael, P.W. (2006). The public scholarship: Reintegrating Boyer’s four domains. New Directions for Institutional Research, 129, 7-19.

Daye, C., Panter, A.T., Allen, W. & Wightman, A. (2012). Does race matter in educational diversity? A legal and empirical analysis. Rutgers Race and the Law. Retrieved from

Denzin, N. (1978). The Research Act: A Theoretical Introduction to Sociological Methods. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Ellison, J., & Eatman, T.K. (2008). Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University. Syracuse, NY: Imagining America. Retrieved from

Gurin, P., Nagda, B. A. and Lopez, G. E. (2004). The benefits of diversity in education for democratic citizenship. Journal of Social Issues, 60(1), 17-34.

Henry, W.J., Fowler, S.R., & West, N.M. (2011). Campus climate: An assessment of student perceptions in a college of education. Urban Education, 46(4), 389-718.

Irvine, J.J. (2003). Educating Teachers for Diversity: Seeing with a Cultural Eye. New York: Teachers College Press.

Johnson, R.B. & Onwuegbuzie, A.J. (2004). Mixed methods research: A research paradigm whose time has come. Educational Researcher, 33(7), 14-26.

Mathison, S. (1988). Why triangulate? Educational Researcher, 17(2), 13-17.

McDonald, M. (2007). The joint enterprise of social justice teacher education. Teachers College Record, 109(8), 2047-2081.

National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force. (2004). Assessment of Diversity in America’s Teaching Force. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

Park, J.J., Denson, N., & Bowman, N.A. (2013). Does socioeconomic diversity make a racial difference? Examining the effects of racial and socioeconomic diversity on the campus climate for diversity. American Educational Research Journal, 50(3), 466-496.

UD Campus Climate Survey (2011). Retrieved from:


[1] Both qualitative and quantitative research have demonstrated clear educational benefits of diversity on the student body, including reducing prejudiced attitudes (Daye, Panter, Allen, & Wightman, 2012), deepening learning experiences and developing more nuanced notions of individual and group identities (Henry, Fowler, & West, 2011), and more actively participating in society as democratic citizens (Gurin, Nagda, & Lopez, 2004). In fact, both ethnic and socioeconomic diversity have recently been identified as essential ingredients in favorable campus climates (Park, Denson, & Bowman, 2013).

[2] Data from Spring 2012 enrollment figures (provided by Barbara VanDornick in the Delaware Center for Teacher Education).


Perils and Prospects of Disclosing Disability Identity in Higher Education

Margaret Price, Associate Professor of English, Spelman College

Margaret Price
Associate Professor of English
Spelman College

Stephanie Kerschbaum, Assistant Professor of English, University of Delaware

Stephanie Kerschbaum
Assistant Professor of English
University of Delaware

Our guest bloggers are the organizers of the Disability Disclosure In/And Higher Education Conference sponsored by the Center for the Study of Diversity and held October 25-27, 2013.  Their post provides their account of the issues they confronted in organizing and implementing the conference, ways in which it broke new ground and ways in which it fell short of some of their goals.  The complexities of disclosing one’s disability in a higher education environment are addressed and ways to ameliorate some of the problems disclosure entails are discussed.

What does it mean to “disclose” a disability? This is a question relevant at all levels of university life. Students with disabilities must discuss their accommodations with their professors, with fellow students, and with disability services offices; disabled faculty and staff members must figure out how to arrange accommodations, although they may not be sure whom to approach or if it’s even safe to do so, due to concerns about how they may be perceived as a consequence of disclosing a disability. Our ongoing research on disability and disclosure has revealed that the process of disclosing a disability in a higher-education setting is multi-layered, often risky and generally not well-understood. In October, 2013 we joined nearly 100 other scholars and activists to explore these issues and more at the Disability Disclosure in/and Higher Education Conference sponsored by the Center for the Study of Diversity and held at UD’s Clayton Hall.

Exploring disability disclosure helps clarify some of the misunderstandings that persist where disability is concerned. For example, in January 2012, the American Association of University Professors issued a report titled “Accommodating Faculty Members Who Have Disabilities.” The report states at one point, “Unless a disability and the limitations it creates are obvious, the institution may need information about the nature and extent of the disability” (4). The implication here is that disclosure is not necessary when a disability is “obvious.” However, our research as well as our personal experiences as disabled faculty members have indicated to us exactly the opposite: even if a disability is readily noticeable by others (as is the case with Stephanie’s deafness) there almost always remain significant gaps in understanding that affect access, accommodation, and social interaction. People may not be used to making sure Stephanie can see them while they are speaking, or they may unwittingly take actions that prevent access, such as turning off lights or not using microphones during a presentation.

Put another way, even when “deafness” is readily identified as Stephanie’s disability, and “not-hearing” as a limitation caused by her disability, that information offers little concrete understanding of what her disability entails. Nor does it communicate what actions, moves, or accommodations might be necessary in any given situation. And when a disability is not immediately “obvious,” (as is the case with Margaret’s mental disability), even if diagnostic labels are shared and information about a particular disability is provided, few people will know what to do or how to respond to build greater access, accommodation, and support. We refer to this kind of knowledge as “disability literacy”. Building broader disability literacy—not just for individual disabled people but for everyone involved in higher education—is vital, and it is hard work whether or not a disability is “obvious.”

Carrying out that hard work requires looking carefully at the complex choreography of social interaction within academe. Our research shows that disability repeatedly disrupts people’s expectations about how interactions unfold and ways to respond to them. Such responses might include making sure that deaf people who lip read are looking at you when speaking; recognizing symptoms of a panic attack and being able to calmly negotiate that event; or developing a repertoire of means for enabling students to participate in classroom discussion (see Yergeau).

These examples illustrate that disabled students, faculty, and staff regularly have to name, point to, and work around their experiences of disability in all kinds of settings—from classrooms to professional interactions to office cubicles—that expect or require specific ways of behaving within them. What we advocate for here is not more diagnostic labeling of particular disabilities or medical conditions, but rather, a way of building collaborative and interdependent efforts that bring together faculty, staff, and students with disabilities and those who identify as nondisabled to broaden all kinds of access to higher education.

In our work organizing the “Disability Disclosure in/and Higher Education” conference, we identified the work of broadening access as not just our job as organizers in collaboration with those who made accommodation requests, but as an interdependent effort involving all of the conference attendees and participants. This work involved creating an environment in which attention would be paid not only to material, social, and physical accommodations for particular individuals, but also to the ways that all participants’ behaviors and practices would need to change and adapt as well. For example, we not only focused on ensuring that wheelchair users could enter the space, move within it, and use the bathrooms, but also on providing other kinds of access not always imagined or included in many large academic gatherings.

For people with chemical sensitivities, we worked to reduce and eliminate fragrances (providing fragrance-free soap and shampoo for participant use at the conference); we offered a quiet room that was tucked at the end of a corridor with comfortable furniture, natural light and snacks; we assembled a schedule that provided ample down-time opportunity; we provided photographs of conference spaces accompanied by crowd-sourced descriptions; and we integrated interaction badges into the conference to provide a means for participants to nonverbally signal their preferred level of interaction.

The conference became a site of participatory access, with attendees sharing responsibility for a collective commitment to access by (re)shaping the conference environment in various ways, such as by bringing soft pillows to the presentation rooms, pointing out hazardous areas (such as stairs) that needed to be marked for greater visibility, and inviting audience members at sessions to lie down or arrange their bodies in any way they would find comfortable.

While we believe such work ought to be part of everyday event planning for accessibility, we were also repeatedly reminded that there will always be forms of access that require that attendees disclose a disability, an experience, a need, or make complicated prior arrangements. And, despite our best efforts at incorporating broad accessibility, a number of inaccessible elements remained throughout the event. For example, we were reminded that the people present at the conference represented some of the most privileged disabled people: those who are healthy and well enough to travel, who can afford to spend three days in a rarefied space engaging in intellectual and social conversation, and who can procure institutional funding or other financial support (especially for those who came long distances or from other countries to attend).

We also confronted the ways that disability literacy deeply engages intersections between disability and other identity categories. Whiteness provides both of us enormous privilege, and affords us, in many cases, the energy and inclination to call out our disabilities and to engage in work that will expand access—for ourselves and for others—across myriad institutional spaces. Both of us make choices every day regarding the degree to which we will call attention to—or keep under wraps—our experiences of disability, and we also make choices about how much to invite others to think about their own experience of disability through interactions with us.

At the conference, disclosures of all kinds emerged, and more than one participant remarked, “I didn’t know I was going to talk about this.” It is not surprising that disability identities became an essential subject at a conference focused on the theme of disability disclosure. However, another kind of disclosure—involving the intersection between disability identity and racial, gender, and sexual identity—was more fraught. Attendees at the conference were overwhelmingly white, an observation remarked upon by both attendees and presenters. In her plenary remarks at the conference Mel Chen raised vital questions about the range of bodies and minds “allowed” in academia, noting that through disclosure, through shared exploration of different—disabled—positionalities, productive work can happen that might expand access to higher education for all bodies and minds.

As Chen pointed out, racialized identities intersect with disabled identities to create different avenues and possibilities for claiming space, disclosing a disability, requesting accommodation, or doing the work of asking others to think about and through disability. Ironically, Chen was speaking from a space that was limited both temporally (he was asked to share a plenary spot with another presenter) and in terms of representation (he was one of only two featured speakers of color). For some participants, then, the conference space was not a space where they could bring “their whole selves,” as Kathleen Martinez, another conference keynote presenter, asserted. We have reflected deeply on what this means, and believe it’s critical for university administrators, faculty, staff, and students alike to continue these conversations.

In composing these reflections, we have turned repeatedly to P. Gabrielle Foreman’s powerful words in her essay “A Riff, a Call, and a Response,” in which she calls upon us to remember the (numerous) privileges we held, and still hold, as organizers and as scholars. As Foreman underscores throughout her essay, working towards social justice and equity in academic spaces requires continued—and constant—vigilance. She writes, “Quite predictably, without structures of accountability that help produce the constancy and consistency needed to rebuff the creeping and often invisible replication of power, it continues, even when those of us who care deeply about those very issues are at the helm” (315).

Disability justice, a movement that centers the experiences, knowledge, and needs of people of color, is growing, yet its gains seem to emerge in gatherings such as this conference and the annual Society for Disability Studies conference only peripherally. What will create institutional change to help redress these inequities? How can we consistently work to check our privilege and join Foreman in asking hard, important questions: “What does it mean to be a good citizen in the field? . . . How do we challenge hushed entitlements and rethink our institutional processes? . . . What are the rights and privileges, the responsibilities, of belonging to fields that study the culture and the concerns, the lives and literary production, the circulation and consumption of disempowered groups—as someone who belongs to relatively empowered groups, as all of us, in part, today do?” (316).

As organizers, we cannot offer answers to these questions in this space, but we do want to offer two things. First, we offer a sincere account of our planning process, of our efforts to enact a just space, and our accountable awareness that our efforts were only partially successful. Second, we offer ourselves as listeners and contributors to an ongoing conversation about the issues raised by the conference. These questions include the resonant queries from Foreman, as well as questions regarding what it means to “gather” as a community and what it means to be safe, safer, or unsafe in all kinds of spaces across higher education. We look forward to your comments, and we give our deepest gratitude to all those who are exploring these questions with us.

Works Cited

Foreman, P. Gabrielle. “A Riff, A Call, and A Response: Reframing the Problem that Led to Our Being Tokens in Ethnic and Gender Studies; or, Where Are We Going Anyway and with Whom Will We Travel?” Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 30.2 (2013): 306-322.

Kerschbaum, Stephanie L., Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Sushil K. Oswal, Amy Vidali, Susan Ghiaciuc, Margaret Price, Jay Dolmage, Craig A. Meyer, Brenda Brueggemann, and Ellen Samuels. “Faculty Members, Accommodation, and Access in Higher Education.” Profession (December 2013). Web.

Yergeau, Melanie. “Reason.” In “Multimodality in Motion: Disability and Kairotic Spaces.” With Elizabeth Brewer, Stephanie Kerschbaum, Sushil Oswal, Margaret Price, Michael Salvo, Cynthia Selfe, Franny Howes. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 18.1 (2013): n. pag.