Assistant Professor of English Hardeep Sidhu, who was recently appointed Director of the Ethnic Studies program, discusses the importance of creating an inclusive campus environment both inside and outside the classroom.
Written by Jess Evora, Assistant Director, OSILD
Photos provided by H. Sidhu
The Worcester State University (WSU) student population is so beautifully diverse in countless ways. Our students form an impressive population whose resilience cannot be underestimated. Assistant Professor of English, Hardeep Sidhu – who also serves as Director of the Ethnic Studies program – recognizes this, and feels it is important for us to understand that acknowledgement is simply not enough.
Professor Sidhu is intentional in his attempts to ensure that his own teaching strategies take into consideration the unique experiences and perspectives that our students bring to the table.
“Some people may think of teaching as the means to the ends for research,” Professor Sidhu said. “For me, it’s the other way around. So, I was so excited to get this job [at WSU], and I came in ready to hit the ground running.”
Teaching and Living Diversity
Professor Sidhu arrived at WSU two years ago, and teaches English classes that range in topics from plays to comics to films, and much more. Much of his research focuses on race and ethnicity. “I think one of the reasons why I like teaching literature is because it helps you get outside your own perspective and learn about people’s stories. It helps you empathize,” Professor Sidhu said.
“Celebrating difference is something that we need to do more of, and knowing that people are willing to do that can be encouraging,” Professor Sidhu said. “…especially if a student feels that they completely stick out from the crowd, or if they feel their identity is a liability.”
In Fall 2017, Professor Sidhu piloted a course called Narratives of U.S. Immigration. “It’s a literature class about immigrant stories,” Professor Sidhu said. “And I wanted to do it because it’s a complex and heated social issue that students want to learn more about. It was also important to me because my parents are immigrants.”
Growth as a Leader Since Arriving at WSU
“Having come to WSU so recently, I think the thing that I learned was to appreciate how much our students are doing,” Professor Sidhu said. “They have a lot on their plate and there’s a wide range of responsibilities and experiences that students have here.”
“Before coming here [to WSU], I was focused solely on prepping my classes.
I was focused on my teaching goals,” Professor Sidhu said. “Then I got a sense of how much our students are doing, and how much that experience adds to what they can do in the classroom. So I think learning to be flexible to the students’ needs has been a big part of how I’ve grown over the years.”
“I build into my classes now, in a way that I didn’t a few years ago, a lot of student-led activities, student-led assignments, readings, where students can help build the class that they are taking,” said Professor Sidhu. “I don’t know my blind spots, and students can fill that in sometimes.”
With such a beautiful perspective on teaching and such an intentional research focus on issues of race and ethnicity, Professor Sidhu was recently appointed Director of the Ethnic Studies program, a role that will allow him to continue his growth as a leader on campus.
The Influence of His Own Identity
Professor Sidhu with his son, Theo.
“I’m brown. My parents are immigrants. I’m South Asian American,” Professor Sidhu said. “I think that that has shaped what I choose to study. There’s that direct connection. I have my experience as someone from a minority racial and ethnic and religious group in the U.S., and so understanding how race works was really important to me as a student, as well as helping other people understand.”
“I try to understand that students are going to come at the material from a different place, and that this place is valid and influential in how they read and how they analyze the coursework,” Professor Sidhu said. “So making sure students know that they are heard and validated in their perspective is a big part of my teaching style.”
“Having been a brown kid in the U.S… my dad is a bearded and turbaned Sikh man, there’s a way of feeling socially vulnerable and culturally underrepresented that has an impact on how you see things,” Professor Sidhu said. “And it impacts the way that I read books and view film, and take in material.”
“However, there are also the other parts of my identity that I realize I didn’t mention, because I don’t feel vulnerable in these identities,” Professor Sidhu said. “I’m a man. I’m an American citizen. I’m straight. I’m cisgender. I think that those things are important to acknowledge in the same way that acknowledging my racial and ethnic identity is important. I’m in a culturally dominant group in some ways and in a vulnerable position in other ways.”
Contributions Outside the Classroom
In November of 2017, Professor Sidhu and fellow faculty members hosted an open event regarding immigration issues, including DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and the January 2017 travel ban.
“We [the faculty involved] wanted students to feel acknowledged and voice our support,” Professor Sidhu said. “We also wanted to inform the WSU community on immigration issues, and to make sure our DACA students didn’t feel excluded.”
Professor Sidhu is also actively involved with the Office of Multicultural Affairs. In addition, he was involved in creating (along with fellow faculty in the English department) the Student Outreach Committee to foster a sense of community among English majors and minors.
Professor Sidhu will continue his involvement outside the classroom, but will always remain focused on celebrating both our similarities and our differences inside the classroom, as well as adapting to the ever-evolving needs of our diverse student population here at Worcester State.
Thank you Professor Sidhu for your leadership both inside and outside in the classroom, as well as for your commitment to the celebration of diversity on campus.
The Office of Student Involvement & Leadership Development