Reflecting Allowed

Roumy Cheese Analogy – First Draft of Visual (feedback welcome)

Estimated reading time: 1 minute, 2 seconds

So I kind of spent some time making my own Roumy Cheese analogy visual. Here it is below… I made a last minute change to the terms under the diagram from “race” to “racism”, gender/sexuality to “hereopatriarchy” and “disability” to “ableism” because that way I would be naming the problem (racism, ableism, heteropatriarchy) rather than the identity group

Roumy Cheese Analogy for Inclusive Education by Maha Bali CC-BY-SA, adapted from Ian McKay’s Swiss Cheese analogy for protection from respiratory viruses. Basically, different causes of inequity (e.g. racism, ableish, heteropatriarchy) require a variety of different interventions (e.g. culturally relevant pedagogy, UDL, trauma-informed pedagogy) in order to meet the needs of diverse students. Black peppercorns in Roumy cheese represent ways in which some interventions meant to support one group of learners may harm another group.

If you would like to give feedback on this diagram, please do so in the comments below, or comment directly on the Google slides that I used to make the diagram. Slide deck is also embedded below, so I can keep updating it and reference folks who help – and I’ll post the latest version of the diagram at the bottom of this post when I reach one 🙂 Thank you in advance!!!

14 thoughts on “Roumy Cheese Analogy – First Draft of Visual (feedback welcome)

  1. I would have one cheese slice for each practice or have the wording align to a slice better. It might just me but I find it slightly off from an ND perspective. Hope that’s okay. Other than that it’s very accessible.

  2. This is really wonderful and thought-provoking! I have recently been in conversations discussing how UDL or similar efforts to address inequities for students with disabilities will likely never be enough, because there are so many different individual and contextual factors that even with multiple pathways and choice (which UDL emphasizes), not every student will have what they need. And what is helpful for some students with disabilities will be harmful for others, much as you describe here with the peppercorns. And that’s just within the focus of ableism, not even considering the other, intersecting, causes of inequity here.

    One question the diagram is raising for me: how to show visually that the causes of inequity are, as you note, sometimes (frequently) systemic? In other words, the analogy works well in one respect, because the “pathogens” here are deeply harmful like viruses. And we should do all we can to protect against them and eradicate them. And further, even when one does some eradication there can be mutations and harms crop up in other ways so vigilance is important. At the same time, though, the fact that these even exist, in the context of inequities, is due to deeper structural issues. I wonder if the idea of individual “viruses” going through holes captures that? It could feel a little bit like these are sort of individual problems, individual diseases, if that makes sense?

    Or maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way: one could say that the perpetuation and spread of the current pandemic is also due to structural issues and inequities, such that some communities and individuals are much more susceptible than others. So the viruses, the individual actions or situations are the symptoms of the much larger structural problem. Just thinking out loud here.

    I think I got hung up on the image of individual viruses and sort of wondered about the structures behind them. But I’m not sure if my hang up really makes sense.

    Thank you for sharing this; it made me really think more deeply, as you can see!

    1. Ah. My thinking was that the SIZE of the virus implies if it is a structural issue or an individual one. And the multicolored ones are intersectional harms… but I get what you mean. The individual viruses makes it still seem… individual.

  3. The 9 layers are good, well done.
    I think they go very well with the ‘roots’ of my tree (+ the rain too).
    Should relevance be highlighted more? Though the 9 are like headings which can be broken down into finer grain ideas

  4. I LOVE THIS ON SO MANY LEVELS! I had tweeted in December about wondering different ways the swiss cheese model could be applied and I love seeing this application (

    One thought that I have is the bottom part of the original visual which illustrates the shift from personal to shared responsibilities and I wonder what might mean in terms of the slices arrangement–are there things that are more personal (and whose “personal” responsibilities) and those that are shared?

    1. I thoght there might be some individual (teacher) vs institutional solutions… but actually I just have one institutional solution, so I never ended up doing it. I was telling Christina that the different size viruses implies institutional vs personal/individual oppressions

  5. Criminology theories are theories of human behaviour that seek to explain rule breaking and unethical actions. What constitutes a crime differs around the world depending on laws. But, they still make a good framework for understanding breaches of rules that aren’t laws.

  6. Maha, your model is pulling together many important concepts and aspects of making education equitable. (I wonder though, should ‘inclusive’ actually be ‘equitable’ in the title? I recall, from my now well-known comprehensive knowledge of your work (:-)) that in the podcast Complicating Diversity and Inclusion ( you state that inclusion is ‘such a problematic term, because it implies there is a thing that belongs to certain people, and they’re being generous by including others into it, by letting others in’.

    As theories are continually being developed, and contexts are continually changing (e.g. Covid) perhaps the model could be presented as something not fixed, and where slices could be added as new ideas emerge. I think the peppercorns are a good inclusion – one person’s enabler is another person’s barrier. I’ve done a few presentations on the affordances and barriers connected with open pedagogy that make just this point.

    The UDL approach helps manage this, alongside an approach where students are partners in the learning process (‘learner agency’ in your model, though maybe this should be a flattening of the hierarchy between learner and educator, as in critical pedagogy, and an emphasis on co-creation), and the application of culturally sustaining pedagogy. Hanesworth’s (2019) paywalled article ‘A typology for a social justice approach to assessment: learning from universal design and culturally sustaining pedagogy’ ( proposes a taxonomy combining UDL, students as partners and culturally sustaining pedagogy.

    Hope these thoughts are helpful Maha. The peppercorns are probably key in highlighting the fact that strategies for equitable teaching, learning and assessment work for some people and not for others and attentiveness to individuals’ needs is vital (alongside a flexible approach such as UDL).


    1. Ha, you caught me here. I do problematize the term “inclusive” and I do use Equity more often, find it a better term for what I mean… I think I will change that. I was thinking of how I might use this image in upcoming keynotes, and I think I will invite audiences to decide what to put in the slices. I think slices can be things like what Hanesworth mentions in their article. I had not reading it, but it is gratifying that they included 3 of the things I included. But the slices could be more granular, too, right? Like if we look at it from an accessibility angle, you could say “captions”, “asynchronous learning” and mention for whom such approaches work and for whom they don’t. I have been reading and discussing the notion of assemblages and though I am not yet ready to talk about it publicly 🙃 I like the idea of the dynamism there… and I guess getting slices of cheese together is a kind of assemblage and when you have a certain mix of learners in a particular course, you need to assemble different strategies to meet their needs/goals. When we have to imagine learners a priori, as in a MOOC, then we develop personas that represent learners we expect to work with. If we discover a different set of learners show up – what kind of flexibility is designed already to make the space hospitable or at least accommodating (recognizing not every course can be co-created with actual learners). Thanks for making me think…

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