Staff from Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Fairness, Justice and Equity recently hosted a lunch-and-learn for faculty about neurodiversity in the classroom on Nov. 30, 2022, at the College of Education building. Standing, from left, are Salem Horn, Lisa Strayer, Jadon Vanzant, Austin Dooley and Director Michelle Stevens. (MTSU photo by Stephanie Wagner)

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — MTSU’s College of Education’s Center for Fairness, Justice and Equity has worked hard this semester to support the college’s faculty, staff and educators-in-training through hosting a calendar full of fun and educational events.  

“Hosting these events is a key part of the center’s commitment to support the professional and personal development needs of the college, providing resources and training to help all members become more informed, inclusive and successful members of their professions and larger communities,” said center Director Michelle Stevens. 

The overall mission of the center, which opened in spring 2022, is to cultivate an inclusive and diverse College of Education by intentionally recruiting diverse faculty, teacher candidates and educational personnel from a multitude of backgrounds. 

Events aimed at that goal this semester included student success workshops, student forums, faculty and student lunch-and-learns, students of color collective meetings and cultural awareness and humility workshops.  

“Since this was our first semester rolling out a calendar of events, we learned a lot about what offerings best suit the needs of our community,” Stevens said. “Workshops on cultural awareness and cultural humility we hosted for students, faculty and the wider educational community were very successful — we hosted 10 and had 240 unique participants. Our work even extended beyond campus with two workshops for Youth Leadership Rutherford.”  

Next semester, the center will continue to host the students of color collective meetings, a reduced number of bigger impact lunch-and-learns, cultural awareness and cultural humility workshops and a partnership with Murfreesboro City Schools through monthly food drives as part of the district’s Backpack Food program. 

Stevens encouraged those interested in getting involved to keep up to date with all the center’s happenings at https://www.mtsu.edu/fjecoe/events.php.  

Neurodivergence in the classroom 

Recently, the center hosted a faculty lunch-and-learn with speaker Tim Odegard, holder of the Katherine Davis Murfree Chair of Excellence at MTSU’s Center for Dyslexia, about how to best serve people with neurodivergence — those who behave, think or learn differently than those who are neurotypical —  in the classroom. 

“Today’s event was to help the College of Education faculty and staff with understanding the potential value and risks of taking a neurodivergent perspective of students,” Odegard said.  

Faculty attended the free event both in person and online, in-person attendees enjoying a complimentary lunch, and the Center for Educational Media staff was on hand to record the presentation.  

Odegard shared his personal story with neurodivergence as a person with dyslexia and his years of research on the subject, warning not only against the risks of deficit-based stereotypes toward those in the neurodivergence community but also stereotypes that frame them as gifted “others.”   

“Spaces for this population should be based on reality without these forceful negative or positive stereotypes,” Odegard said. “They should have the freedom to be seen as individuals.” 

Associate education professor Katie Schrodt attended the event and said she loved hearing the personal story of her colleague Dr. Odegard.  

“I was truly impacted by the why behind his work,” Schrodt said. “It is so important for us to hear the stories of people from marginalized communities. It makes us more empathetic people and inspires us to take action. After this event, I feel like I am better prepared to serve children in my community and teach teachers at MTSU.” 

To learn more about the support and opportunities available from the Center for Fairness, Justice and Equity, visit the website at https://www.mtsu.edu/fjecoe/index.php.