Time to Talk: A Qualitative Study of Students' Perspectives on Diversity and Representation in their Classrooms

This report presents findings from a Kentucky Student Voice Team 2024 study into students’ experiences with and perspectives on cultural diversity and racial representation in their classrooms and schools.


In 2022, the Kentucky Student Voice Team  (KSVT) conducted a large-scale statewide investigation into students’ experiences with race and culture in their classrooms called Race to Learn.

Data from this study came from a survey of thousands of students across the Commonwealth, and findings centered on students’ desire for more and better conversations about race and culture in their classrooms.

To dig deeper into the quantitatively driven patterns that emerged from the 2022 study, KSVT sought to carry out a follow up qualitative study which could highlight and share the rich stories of students from a range of geographic locations across the state.


In so doing, this report speaks youth to power-a bedrock of KSVT’s decade long practice of education action research intended to center Kentucky students’ voices and experiences.

This small scale study relied on predominantly qualitative methods to collect and analyze data. Guiding research questions included:

  • How do Kentucky students experience issues of cultural diversity and racial representation in their classrooms and schools? And how does this vary, if at all, by students’ racial identities?
  • What do Kentucky students desire in their classrooms related to experiences of cultural diversity and racial representation?

These questions were generated based on central findings from the 2022 KSVT Race to Learn Study and a youth-designed survey of 10,725 Kentucky middle and high school students. The findings section of this report highlights themes that emerged from analysis of data, supported by illustrative student quotes.

Finding #1

Kentucky students want to see cultural diversity and racial representation in their curriculum. They also desire to have authentic discussions of and engagement with that content with their peers and teachers.

Finding #2

Especially outside of the classroom, racial microaggressions exist in Kentucky schools. Students desire support in being allies with and for their peers of color.

Finding #3

Students recognize a racial mismatch between most Kentucky teachers and Kentucky students of color. At the same time, students are hopeful about their school’s ability to create more inclusive educational environments.

Implications for Policy and Practice

Normalize talking about diversity and difference in  class to support students’ understanding of themselves and others-historically and today.

Students reported that they desired to learn about cultures outside of their own and to see a diversity of historical and contemporary figures and issues in their curricular materials. Whether or not students identified as young people of color, students in this study sample reported wanting more and better opportunities to learn, make sense, and talk about issues of race, cultural and diversity in their classrooms, with support from their teachers and peers.

Increase support, training, resources, and professional development for teachers and staff on issues of racial and cultural inclusion in the classroom and school.

Students of diverse racial backgrounds are aware of the racial mismatch between most teachers in Kentucky and Kentucky’s students of color  (which is also characteristic of teacher-student demographics in the US more broadly). Rather than ignore that reality, students we spoke to talked about wanting their schools  to consider the adoption of what is commonly called ‘cultural competency of ’DEI’ (diversity, equity and inclusion) trainings so that their teachers, administrators, and counselors could get the support that everyone needs to learn about cultures outside of their own. In  particular, students of color in our study sample speculated this type of training and support would foster a greater sense of social belonging for themselves and their peers.

Share this report: