Keynote speaker encourages peers to act as professors

Keynote speaker for the fourth annual Blackboard Jungle Symposium Dr. Lani Guinier spoke about diversity, women and peer-to-peer learning in her lecture “Diversity, Opportunity and the Shifting Meritocracy in Higher Education” on Thursday, March 24 in the Ira Allen Chapel. Before Guinier began her speech, Chief Diversity Officer Wanda Heading-Grant as well as University President Daniel Mark Fogel and Provost Jane Knodell spoke about the importance of diversity and the Blackboard Jungle Symposium at UVM. This particular symposium had an emphasis on women’s history. “To begin the symposium celebrating the importance of women is an honor,” Grant said. President Fogel emphasized the importance of women in his introduction of Guinier as well. He described Guinier as “someone who exemplifies the former and current strength of women across the world.” Guinier is a civil rights attorney as well as the first tenured black woman professor at Harvard University, Knodell said in her introduction. Guinier began with a series of anecdotes regarding her time as a law professor as well as experiences of her colleagues regarding ways of successful teaching. Her lecture’s theme, Guinier said, was “peer-to-peer learning.” She encouraged UVM professors to consider this method when teaching the required diversity courses at UVM. Peers are best at explaining concepts because they just went through the process of learning it themselves, Guinier said. The anecdote that she discussed most in her lecture was a “Critical Perspectives” course that she taught at the University of Pennsylvania. She described this student-led seminar as “creating a space for critical conversations where people feel free to speak honestly.” She identified three values in the classroom for UVM professors to consider when teaching diversity courses: the importance of sharing power, creative experimentation and critical reframing. She concluded her lecture by discussing the roles of students and teachers as “lifelong learners. “I was learning from my students just as they were learning from me,” she said.