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Inclusive Classroom Info
Embracing diversity in our teaching is not just important for students from underrepresented groups, or only relevant for courses that focus on diversity itself. All university students should learn about the diverse world in which they live, and all instructors should draw upon diversity to enrich learning for everyone. The resources on this page are intended to help instructors adopt teaching methods and strategies that enhance inclusivity and respect for diversity in their classes.
Some teaching strategies are particularly effective in engaging and supporting learning in students from a wide range of backgrounds. For example, methods that encourage active and collaborative learning improve student engagement and learning for all students, and close the opportunity gap between underrepresented and majority students. The overall effectiveness of these methods has been borne out in research nationally, most recently by a major meta-analysis of hundreds of studies in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Strategies such as cooperative small group learning, problem-based learning, and increased course structure (e.g., guided-reading questions, preparatory homework, and in-class activities) have proved especially helpful to minority students and first-generation students. These methods are at the core of current course redesign efforts to include more student-centered teaching. Similarly, peer-led supplemental discussions or workshops enhance student learning, with especially significant benefits for underrepresented student groups.
These approaches shrink large classes to smaller groups in the same space, reduce academic isolation, and encourage a sense of community and social support. They enhance critical thinking, improve student preparation and accountability, and transform students into active learners. They also employ universal design for learning, a strategy that increases access and support for particular groups of students but that benefits all learners.
Steps you can take
We recommend presenting students with open-ended problems and assignments that have many “correct” answers: the types of questions that require the consensus of a group or contributions from everyone in a group to address.
It’s also important to increase transparency in courses. For example, rubrics improve grading efficiency and consistency, and they also demystify what it takes to succeed on an assignment. Students from underrepresented groups who do not have access to insider academic knowledge can benefit from additional clarity and transparency.
Throughout the semester, you should continually assess student outcomes. Use formal (e.g., student performance, student feedback) and informal (e.g., in-class engagement, participation) evidence to guide your teaching.
Here are some questions you might ask yourself as you consider creating a more inclusive environment in your course:
How does your teaching promote broad student achievement of the skills and concepts you hope they will take away from your course?
Are your methods engaging students from a wide range of backgrounds?
When student outcomes fall short of your expectations or wishes, do you seek out new interventions to address those challenges?
Born, W.L,, Revell, W., & Pinto, L.H. (2002). Improving Biology Performance with Workshop Groups. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 11(4).
Eddy, S.L., & Hogan, K.A. (2014). Getting Under the Hood: How and for Whom Does Increasing Course Structure Work? CBE—Life Sciences Education, 13, 453–468.
Freeman S, Eddy SL, McDonough M, Smith MK, Okoroafor N, Jordt H, Wenderoth MP (2014). Active learning increases student performance across the STEM disciplines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 111, 8410–8415.
An inclusive classroom climate is one that embraces diversity and creates an atmosphere of respect for all members of the KU community. Feeling unsupported and isolated puts students at a high risk for dropping out of college, particularly in their first two years. The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning argues that we can capitalize on the rich array of experiences, backgrounds, and skills that diverse faculty and students bring to the classroom to the benefit of all. Here are some strategies for student-centered teaching that faculty can adopt to promote a sense of belonging, validation, and mutual respect in our classrooms:
- Look for ways to increase student exposure to the diversity of human experience. Choose content and examples that address and model diversity, regardless of the subject. Although issues of diversity may at first glance seem more relevant to some disciplines than others, scholars in any discipline should consider how different frames of reference and cultural assumptions affect the accumulation of knowledge.
- Include issues of diversity as part of the course learning outcomes. Use images of people that represent various ethnicities, races, and genders, and use a broad range of analogies and examples. Make your classroom inspiring for underrepresented students. Discussing the contributions of diverse scholars and providing role models that represent a range of cultures, races, genders, or sexual identities conveys that everyone can be successful.
- Create diverse groups or learning teams. When using instructor-formed groups or learning teams, avoid (when possible) creating groups that either isolate underrepresented students or create homogenous groups of students. Students who feel isolated within their team may lose the benefits of collaborative learning, and may have an amplified feeling of marginalization at the university. Provide guidelines for group interactions, check on group functioning through peer feedback, and intervene to shift or structure groups as needed.
- Reduce stereotype threat. This term was coined by Steele and Aronson (1995) to refer to situations in which the performance of negatively stereotyped groups suffers when that stereotype is activated or emphasized. Strategies such as reframing a task and providing role models can help to counteract stereotype threat.
- Include diversity and disabilities statements in your syllabus. Such statements communicate a commitment to diversity and inclusion from the beginning of the semester. They also provide an opportunity to set ground rules or a code of conduct for respectful and appropriate behavior.
- Reflect on your own background and experiences. Consider how your own background and cultural influences might affect how you have designed your course. Does the material provide an accurate representation of various perspectives? The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan provides reflective strategies for faculty to examine the impact of social identity on teaching.
- Create a gender inclusive environment by using gender inclusive langue and respecting your students' personal pronouns. Set an example for your class and play an active role in using inclusive gender language in your classroom.
Resource: Rocca, Kella A. (2010). Student participation in the college classroom: an extended multidisciplinary literature review. Communication Education 59:2 (April): 185-213
These materials were compiled by Meagan Patterson, an associate professor of educational psychology and a faculty fellow at the Center for Teaching Excellence.
Encourage all students to participate
- Consider assigning roles (recorder, presenter, etc.) to make sure that students have equal opportunities to participate
- Multiple avenues for participation (e.g., pre-class or in-class writing) allow students to draw on their individual strengths
- Consider how quieter students can indicate a desire to speak
Set ground rules
- Everyone performs better when they know expectations ahead of time
- Create an atmosphere of inclusion and respect
- Student participation in setting ground rules can promote engagement and “buy-in”
- Referring to a rule helps take some responsibility off the instructor
Treat students as individuals
- Don’t ask students to speak for their whole group
- Allow students to draw on their own lives and experiences when appropriate; this promotes meaningful learning
Take others’ perspectives and encourage students to do the same
- Acknowledge your own identity and how you may be perceived
- Readings and films can demonstrate other experiences and promote perspective-taking
- How this works may change from semester to semester depending on the composition of your classroom
Plan for problems before they occur
- Set goals and inform students of those goals (we respond better when we know why we are being asked to do something)
- Set ground rules ahead of time (civility, appropriate evidence)
- Think about when you want to step in and when you want to let a discussion progress
- Draw on resources (faculty, students, web resources) to learn about what issues have come up in the past and how to handle them
Get in touch with struggling students and point them to campus resources when necessary
- Student guides for academic success (studying, time management, test anxiety, etc.)
Sample syllabus statements about diversity, inclusivity, and civility
- The instructor considers this classroom to be a place where you will be treated with respect as a human being – regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, political beliefs, age, or ability. Additionally, diversity of thought is appreciated and encouraged, provided you can agree to disagree. It is the instructor’s expectation that ALL students experience this classroom as a safe environment.
- The University of Kansas supports an inclusive learning environment in which diversity and individual differences are understood, respected, and appreciated. We believe that all students benefit from training and experiences that will help them to learn, lead, and serve in an increasingly diverse society. All members of our campus community must accept the responsibility to demonstrate civility and respect for the dignity of others. Expressions or actions that disparage a person’s or group’s race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, gender, gender identity / expression, religion, sexual orientation, age, veteran status, or disability are contrary to the mission of the University. We expect that KU students, faculty, and staff will promote an atmosphere of respect for all members of our KU community.
- Civility and respect for the opinions of others are very important in an academic environment. It is likely you may not agree with everything that is said or discussed in the classroom. Courteous behavior and responses are expected at all times. When you disagree with someone, be sure that you make a distinction between criticizing an idea and criticizing the person. Expressions or actions that disparage a person’s or race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, gender, gender identity / expression, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, or marital, parental, or veteran status are contrary to the mission of this course and will not be tolerated.
Further Reading and Resources
- Angelo, T. A. (1993, April). A “Teacher’s Dozen”: Fourteen general, research-based principles for improving higher learning in our classrooms (pdf). AAHE Bulletin, 45(8), 3-13.
- Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Burmila, E. M. (2010). Graduate students as independent instructors: Seven things to know about teaching your own course while in graduate school. PS: Political Science & Politics, 44, 557-560.
- Conditionally Accepted. A site devoted to information, personal stories, and resources for those “at the margins of academia.”
- Inclusive Teaching Strategies, from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan.
- Responding to Difficult Moments, from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan.
- Sociological Images. A blog that offers a sociological critique of imagery, events, and discourse of all types.
- Winship, J. An approach for teaching diversity: A dozen suggestions for enhancing student learning.
Instructors can create a positive climate for intellectual discourse about diversity by setting guidelines for class participation that anticipate difficult discussions, and managing contentious interactions when they arise. Here are a few suggestions:
Provide students with a set of ground rules for class participation, or engage your students in designing them with you. Ground rules about civil behavior, acceptable evidence, and appropriate responses to offensive statements can make your expectations for civil, meaningful discourse clear from the start, and facilitate an atmosphere of mutual respect. Encourage all students to participate by assigning roles, or providing multiple avenues for participation (e.g., through writing or discussion).
Manage contentious interactions.
When an offensive remark is made, Lee Warren, of the Derek Bok Center at Harvard University, encourages us "to find the teaching opportunities to help students learn in and from the moment.” Try to collect yourself and set aside your own personal reactions. Do not allow personal attacks or avoid addressing a hot moment altogether. Instead, help students step back and think about the issue productively, such as by making it a topic of general discussion or a writing exercise.
Treat students as individuals
Avoid treating students as representatives of or “experts” for their racial, cultural, or other social identity group. Allow students to draw on their own lives and experiences when appropriate
This page on supporting meaningful conversations provides more guidance for supporting meaningful dialogue about potentially charged topics in both in-person and online contexts.
The instructor considers this classroom to be a place where you will be treated with respect as a human being – regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, political beliefs, age, or ability. Additionally, diversity of thought is appreciated and encouraged, provided you can agree to disagree. It is the instructor’s expectation that ALL students experience this classroom as a safe environment.
The University of Kansas supports an inclusive learning environment in which diversity and individual differences are understood, respected, and appreciated. We believe that all students benefit from training and experiences that will help them to learn, lead, and serve in an increasingly diverse society. All members of our campus community must accept the responsibility to demonstrate civility and respect for the dignity of others. Expressions or actions that disparage a person’s or group’s race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, gender, gender identity / expression, religion, sexual orientation, age, veteran status, or disability are contrary to the mission of the University. We expect that KU students, faculty, and staff will promote an atmosphere of respect for all members of our KU community.
Civility and respect for the opinions of others are very important in an academic environment. It is likely you may not agree with everything that is said or discussed in the classroom. Courteous behavior and responses are expected at all times. When you disagree with someone, be sure that you make a distinction between criticizing an idea and criticizing the person. Expressions or actions that disparage a person’s or race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, gender, gender identity/expression, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, or marital, parental, or veteran status are contrary to the mission of this course and will not be tolerated.
Principles for Constructive Engagement, Adapted from Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, edited by James A. Banks.
You don’t know what you don’t know. Strive for intellectual humility.
Everyone has an opinion. Opinions are not the same as informed knowledge.
Let go of personal anecdotal evidence and look at broader societal patterns.
Notice your own defensive reactions, and attempt to use these reactions as entry points for gaining deeper self-knowledge.
Recognize how your social positionality (such as your own race, class, gender, sexuality, ability status) informs your reactions to class material and to others in the class.
From the University of Michigan Center for Research on Teaching and Learning Website.
- Respect others’ rights to hold opinions and beliefs that differ from your own. Challenge or criticize the idea, not the person.
- Listen carefully to what others are saying even when you disagree with what is being said. Comments that you make (asking for clarification, sharing critiques, expanding on a point, etc.) should reflect that you have paid attention to the speaker’s comments.
- Be courteous. Don’t interrupt or engage in private conversations while others are speaking. Support your statements. Use evidence and provide a rationale for your points.
- Allow everyone a chance to talk. If you have much to say, try to hold back a bit; if you are hesitant to speak, look for opportunities to contribute to the discussion.
- If you are offended by something or think someone else might be, speak up and don't leave it for someone else to have to respond to it.
Resources for Instructors of Color Working at Predominately White Institutions
This list of resources is intended to be a set of academic research evidence, anecdotal reflections, and recommendations for GTAs, lecturers, and faculty teaching and working at colleges and universities that have majority white populations among faculty and students. This list is not comprehensive and reflects a variety of experiences. The list started in 2020 with the idea that more resources can be added.
Curated by Kim Warren, CTE Fellow
Kim Warren is an Associate Professor of History and Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the School of Social Welfare
Excerpt from article:
“According to Cathy A. Trower, a research associate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, faculty of color:
experience overt and/or covert racism including being stereotyped and pigeon-holed;
are marginalized and find that their research is discredited, especially if it concerns minority issues;
bear a tremendous burden of tokenism, including feeling that they must be exemplars of their entire race and work twice as hard to get half as far;
feel obligated to represent one’s race or ethnicity on multiple committees that help the institution, but not necessarily the individual, and to mentor and advise many same-race students — a huge hidden workload that goes unrewarded in the promotion and tenure system; and suffer from negative, unintended consequences of being perceived as an affirmative action or target-of-opportunity hire.”
Recommendations from article:
“To begin, higher education leaders need to enhance their understanding of the range of classroom experiences faculty of color encounter in PWIs and consider developing programs that address the various challenges faculty of color face. Correspondingly, because research suggests that race matters in terms of how faculty members experience the classroom environment, faculty of color need to familiarize themselves with the range of best practices related to creating inclusive learning environments and seek out resources that enhance their overall effectiveness in the classroom. Additionally, because many — but not all — faculty of color teach courses that address diversity-related content, they will need to prepare themselves for addressing acts of intolerance and resistance in the classroom. Finally, it is imperative that educators concerned with ensuring the success of faculty of color who teach in PWIs create inclusive work environments. This will require that the academy identify new models for creating institutional change; pay attention to the climate and conditions under which faculty of color teach; and signal to faculty of color that PWIs are invested in their growth, development, and success by doing everything possible to ensure that support and resources are available.”
Kristen J. Mills, “‘It’s Systemic’: Environmental Racial Microaggressions Experienced by Black Undergraduates at a Predominantly White Institution,” Journal of Diversity in Higher Education 13:1 (March 2020): 44-55. DOI:10.1037/dhe0000121
Excerpt from article:
Findings indicated that students experienced six types of environmental racial microaggressions in various contexts at the university: (a) segregation, (b) lack of representation, (c) campus response to criminality, (d) cultural bias in courses, (e) tokenism, and (f) pressure to conform.
Recommendations from article:
“... to address the theme cultural bias in courses, the university can encourage instructors to create courses and integrate material about African and African American studies and other minoritized races, ethnicities, and cultures. Concurrently, the university could make advising offices aware of these courses and their availability in order to inform and promote them to all students. In addition, instructors and university staff at large can be offered workshops and written materials on topics such as creating an effective learning climate, classroom management, inclusive teaching methods, and teaching for diverse populations. To address the final themes, tokenism and pressure to conform, and to more generally improve campus racial climate, university diversity course requirements may be altered to include more intentional interpersonal interactions (e.g., intercultural dialogues) between persons of differing backgrounds such as roundtable discussions, lectures, and university events emphasizing cultural diversity. The findings can also be used inform future social action research. For example, future social action research could inquire about the campus locations or events wherein environmental racial microaggressions are most frequently communicated and develop campus initiatives or campaigns to raise awareness of and reduce environmental racial microaggressions.”
Karen Kelsky, “How to Support Students of Color,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 31, 2017
Excerpt from article:
“I want to be clear that I am a white person addressing this column to other white people who are teaching. I do not mean to exclude anyone, or to claim authority about the experiences or needs of people of color. It is my firm conviction that the time has come for white people to speak up about racism, and to educate one another about anti-racist activism, and not leave the burden of this work on the shoulders of people of color. I am drawing inspiration here from a group I am involved with, Showing Up for Racial Justice, a national organization dedicated to mobilizing white people in anti-racism work. You can probably find a local chapter in your town, and I urge you to do so, as SURJ is not only a resource for training and information but also a location to connect with like-minded people, which is essential at a time when faculty are increasingly called upon to protect vulnerable students.”
Recommendations from article:
- Don’t tell students of color not to worry.
- Be visible in your support of students of color.
- Encourage a mix of views.
- Make your syllabus inclusive.
- Support students of color in classroom discussion.
- Don't be defensive.
Excerpt from the article:
“Loyola University Maryland, Jason Parcover, director of the counseling center: ‘Investing in anti-racism efforts includes really acknowledging and understanding deeply that we are all in this together, and that our health in all forms, including our mental health, is connected to how other members of our community are faring,’ Parcover said. ‘By definition, anti-racism work is mental-health and wellness work.’”
Recommendations from the article:
- Culturally competent counseling
- No more two-week waits
- Anti-racism as wellness
- An ounce of prevention
Anyone with a ku.edu email account can access the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity website.
Sign up for emails from NCFDD.
Excerpt from website:
“Resources for Graduate Students: You’re in a critically important stage of your academic career where you’re learning how to become an excellent teacher and rigorous researcher in your discipline. You’re primarily concerned with completing your dissertation, finding a postdoc or fellowship, and/or the nuts and bolts of finding a tenure-track job.”
Bedelia Richards, PhD, facilitator: How to Challenge Race and Gender Bias in Student Evaluations (1 hour, 17 minutes)
Resources from website:
- Core Curriculum Webinars. The NCFDD's Core Curriculum is designed to teach you the 10 key skills necessary to thrive in the Academy. We define "thriving" as having extraordinary writing and research productivity AND having a full and healthy life off campus.
- Guest Expert Webinars & Multi-Week Courses. We offer a variety of Guest Expert Webinars designed to meet the needs of faculty members, postdocs, and graduate students. Our Multi-Week Courses are intensive series offered by expert facilitators to tackle the Academy's most pressing challenges.
- Dissertation Success Resources. The Dissertation Success Program is designed for doctoral candidates who are focused on finishing their dissertation. The program is built on the assumption that there is only one way to complete a dissertation: WRITE IT! The program teaches students how to navigate around three common obstacles to finishing in the context of a supportive community.
- How to Navigate the Academic Job Market. In this 3-week course, Karen Kelsky, PhD, walks participants through the big-picture conditions of the U.S. tenure track job market, how to think like a search committee, how to write the cover letter and CV, major types of questions to can expect in an academic interview, how to prepare answers, how to overcome the most common pitfalls, and much more.
- 14-Day Writing ChallengeThe 14-Day Writing Challenge is an opportunity for you to experiment with daily writing in a supportive community, with a little daily dose of electronic love.
- The Monday MotivatorThe Monday Motivator is a weekly email that provides positive energy, good vibes, and a weekly productivity tip. Each Monday Motivator reinforces the ideas presented in our Core Curriculum webinars.
Aisha S. Ahmad, “A Survival Guide for Black, Indigenous, and Other Women of Color in Academe: How to Protect Your Bright Mind from the Drain of Everyday Racism You May Encounter in Academic Life,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 6, 2020
Excerpt from the article:
“This week, I was awarded tenure at my university. Brown. Muslim. Woman. Tenured. As I enter this new stage of my career, I can think only of you: the BIPOC woman starting her journey in higher education. The next generation.”
Recommendations from the article:
“The truth is, we are not as free as you will be. The world you are creating will be more equitable than the one we created for you. You—the next generation—must scale the walls of justice that we could not surmount. You must surpass us. One day, you will help other surpass you.”
Excerpt from the article:
“Whether colleges end up operating in person, online, or in a hybrid format this fall, they will have to confront structural racism head-on.”
Recommendations from the article:
- Require implicit-bias training for anyone involved in admissions.
- Guarantee financial aid beyond the first year.
- Require de-escalation training for public safety officers.
- Adopt a transparent student-protest policy.
- Conduct a campus-wide review of building and school names.
- Punish racial profiling on campus
- Create a strategic plan to hire diverse faculty and staff.
- Diversify health and wellness personnel.
- Expand the scope of your chief diversity officer.
- Engage in proactive dialogue.