To ensure the inclusion of all students in a classroom, discussion must be approached in a way that recognizes and values differing perspectives. There are multiple ways to achieve this learning environment; some examples include:
Understanding your own privilege. In its most fundamental terms, privilege refers to the structural or systemic advantages based on factors of identity, level of education, and elevated social capital. It's important to understand that both oppression and privilege are intersectional (McIntosh 1988). In other words, the aspects of identity are not alone in a vacuum but interact with the other aspects to form a full profile. Acknowledging one's privilege can be difficult. However, as the creator of a learning environment, it is essential to see where your own experiences may create gaps that students can slip through. For example, if you are a scholar whose family is also college-educated, it can be easy to skip over details that you assume everyone knows. For a first-generation student in their freshman year, they may not understand how to maneuver the academic landscape as effortlessly as yourself. Acknowledging privileges can help you provide necessary resources to those who need it to ensure they are both equal and included.
Beware of implicit biases. Implicit biases are the term for the way stereotypes influence decision making without our knowledge. Bias can be damaging when facilitating discussion, grading assessments, or interacting with students as it can negatively affect the comfort and success of students (Croft 2012). Since implicit biases are not conscious decisions, they can be challenging to identify, and the best way to address this is to ask yourself why you are conducting yourself the way you are to see if there is any room for implicit biases (Banaji 2013). Consider the University of California, Berkeley's implicit bias video series for more information.
Refer to external services. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a few resources on campus to refer to students (Disability Services, Committee for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns, Counseling and Psychological Services, First Husker Program, and the University Health Center to name a few). However, part of creating an inclusive environment is considering student needs, and it may be necessary to look outside of the university's resources to give the best recommendation of your students. Consider adding some, or all, of these university resources to the end of your syllabus as well to ensure all students know about programs that can help their success.
- Be sensitive. This could include everything from lending a listening ear to asking all of your students their preferred pronouns and names for future identification. Avoid stereotypes in all forms: racial, identity, socioeconomic, etc. (Marx, Stapel, & Muller 2005). This will help ensure the comfort of your students and to make you more accessible. It's also a good idea to include a trigger or content warnings when covering sensitive information in your class and assuring your students before the content is shown that if they elect not to participate in potentially triggering content, they will not be penalized and alternatives will be available.
Be flexible to change. Students are also able to experience unforeseen circumstances that can affect how they interact with your course. If students encounter a snag (for example, limited access to resources, a recent dramatic change in their personal lives, or sudden illness), don't penalize them for things out of their control. Flexibility with deadlines, extended test times, and revised test dates are all ways to remain an advocate for student success.
Be aware. In addition to staying aware of your own performance, implicit biases, and privilege, the best way you can be inclusive is by being aware of your students. Has anyone's performance begun to change suddenly? Which students haven't been logging into Canvas? Does anyone seem uncomfortable frequently or upset? By staying aware of student behaviors, it can help identify when help is needed, even if a student doesn't speak up first.
For a more detailed description of how to teach inclusively with examples, consider Lancaster University's equity toolkit or the University of Michigan's inclusive teaching video series.
Banaji, M.R. and Greenwald, G.G. (2013). "Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People." New York: Bantam
Croft, A. and Schmader, T. (2012). "The Feedback Withholding Bias: Minority students do not receive critical feedback from evaluators concerned about appearing racist". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 1139-1144.
Marx, D.M., Stapel, D.A. and Muller, D. (2005). "We can do it: The interplay of construal orientation and social comparisons under threat." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 432-446.
McIntosh, Peggy. (1988). "White privilege and male privilege: a personal account of coming to see correspondences through work in women's studies." Wellesley College, Center for Research on Women.