Creating a Trustworthy Environment for Students to Learn Empathy

Professor Xiafei Wang giving a lecture.
Professor Xiafei Wang

In a world where embracing differences and understanding diversity is more important than ever before, Professor Xiafei Wang wants students to embrace others’ differences and take a stance on social justice. But her first goal for students is to gain a deeper understanding of their individual self and presumptions they hold so they can have an open conversation. That’s her focus in “Human Diversity in Social Contexts” (SWK 328), a course she teaches in the School of Social Work at Syracuse University’s Falk College. “I hope students can spend some time to think about how their own personal experience influences their values and how they interact with others,” Wang says. “The second goal is that I hope my students can be curious or have sympathy for people who are different who do not have privileges, privileges that they have or have totally different or disadvantaged living experiences.”

Megeno Adbi, a sophomore Social Work major, took SWK 328 to explore the depth of diversity. Adbi feels Professor Wang allows students space to grow.

“Professor Wang is amazing, she doesn’t hold anything back when speaking on such topics, she will emphasize to us in any aspect,” Adbi explains. “She understands that people have different upbringings, but in her class she wants people to be at the same level of understanding.”

Professor Wang’s decorated background provides her students with a unique look at diversity. Wang served as a research assistant “Evaluation of Chinese National Working Committee on Children and Women & the United Nations Children’s Fund Joint Child-Friendly Spaces Project in China,” funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund. Working with refugees who were persecuted in their own country for their different religious practices, Professor Wang shares this experience with her students to encourage them to embrace differences.

Adbi believes the benefits of taking a diversity course with Professor Wang who Adbi described as “humble, gentle and understanding person” allows her to enhance his understanding of how important diversity is not only to the field of social work but to all aspects of daily life.

Professor Wang was raised and went to college in China and experienced an authoritarian-style way of teaching that she felt was isolating and unapproachable. In the courses she teaches, she strives to create a safe, trustworthy space for students to discuss aspects of diversity, including white privilege and systematic structural barriers that marginalized populations face, encouraging her students to be agents of change.

“As social work instructors, we need to think about how we approach students if we want to truly value diversity,” Wang says. “It’s not just how we teach a course, but how we value it in our daily life and how we meet our students’ needs.”

Graduates of Falk College’s School of Social Work promote the wellbeing of communities and social justice through careers in gerontology, mental health and medicine, social services agencies, advocacy organizations, schools, court systems, and many others. For more information about the School of Social Work, visit the Falk College website.