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Diversity and Inclusion: How to Address in the Hospitality Classroom?

Kevin Roberts, Director of Education, Central Federation

As I contemplated a “hot topic” to address in this special issue of the ICHRIE Communique, I thought back to all the recent articles I have read in higher education publications, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, and thought about what would have the greatest impact on hospitality education.  I recalled many articles related to the current financial issues that are impacting most public institutions of higher education in the United States. I pondered how the current tax proposals in the US Congress would impact our graduate and undergraduate students. I thought about the decades of sexual harassment that has recently come to light, impacting politics, Hollywood, and even college campuses.  While all of these issues are critical to higher education, hospitality programs, and our students, the one that I kept coming back to is the importance of campus climate.  Respecting the differences we have as faculty, staff, and students, and the impact this can have is critical to achieving our mission to educate the next generation of hospitality professionals.
 
I kept coming back to this particular topic because it hits close to home.  In November, the Kansas State University Administration, Student Governing Association, Faculty Senate, and University Support Staff Senate hosted a unity walk and rally to reaffirm the K-State family’s commitment to human diversity and inclusion, and to stand up against all forms of discrimination.  The university took the unprecedented step of canceling all classes so that all students and faculty could attend.  

Inclusion, celebrating diversity, and welcoming all individuals, regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, age, political ideology, level of education, and/or opinion should be at the core of what we teach – we are hospitality.  I am sure we all discuss diversity and inclusion in our classrooms, but is the knowledge of the importance of these issues enough to change actual attitudes, social norms, and behavior?  Especially in a time when our students are so connected to the outside world, yet so influenced and isolated by their network of friends on social media, many of whom have the same life experiences and views that they possess.     

As hospitality faculty, we have long-recognized the importance of internationalization, but internationalization is only one aspect of diversity.  Our industry welcomes and demands graduates who respect diversity in all of its forms.  Almost all hospitality companies celebrate diversity and recognize the importance this has on their overall success.   

While I would say I welcome diversity in all of its forms, the events at K-State forced me to think about how I could be more inclusive in my approach to students and my interactions with colleagues across campus.  More importantly, I wondered what I could do as a hospitality educator to help students recognize, understand, and celebrate diversity. I wish I was able to tell you the answers.  But, I can’t.  Thus, I would welcome colleagues to come together to present novel approaches to teaching this topic at the Annual ICHRIE Summer Conference.  Learning novel approaches from others in our discipline and our industry would not only help all of us to create inclusive hospitality programs, but could help each of us shape our students’ perspective on the topic to better prepare them for their future careers. 

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