Promising practices promoting inclusion and belonging

Fall 2020

COURSE DESIGN

Review your curricular materials for representation of diverse and underrepresented perspectives, inclusive of difference in racial, ethnic, gender, sexuality, ability, class, cultural, and faith identities as applicable.

Be mindful of when and how you introduce underrepresented voices in your course. Are underrepresented perspectives integrated throughout your course or reserved for a specific day? Are underrepresented people presented as whole, multi-dimensional people or are they reduced to one experience or stereotype?

When underrepresented scholars, authors, artists, researchers are included as knowledge creators in your course on a given day, highlight their inclusion so that students are aware of these contributions. Consider showing images of the scholars to help diminish stereotypes of what chemists, dancers, writers, and anthropologists look like, for example.

Acknowledge a lack of divers representation when it occurs. If course content is no representative of diverse perspectives because it cannot be for whatever reason, consider raising this with students in class, acknowledging the issue and discussing the limitations (e.g. What are the factors that contribute to this lack of representation in our field? What is missing in our discussion, in our understanding as a result?)

Update your teaching and learning goals to reflect the importance of inclusive and anti-racist practices. This helps us to be accountable to these goals and raises students’ awareness of their importance.

Choose accessible course materials; caption videos and provide transcripts for online content.

COURSE POLICIES

Review course policies and practices to insure that they will not reproduce or perpetuate existing inequalities (e.g. participation grading policies that only recognize verbal engagement in real-time discussion).

If you regularly make exceptions to certain policies or practices for students who make those requests (e.g. deadline extensions), consider updating your policy to include mention that these exceptions are available. When their availability is not explicit, resources available only by request are less likely to be utilized by underrepresented and first-generation students.

Include an explicit statement of inclusion in your syllabus. This can describe your teaching philosophy, your goals for your teaching, or a statement on the value of engaging with perspectives that differ from our own.

Clarify how racial and ethnic slurs and other biased, offensive language will be handled if relevant to your course materials. For example, the Black faculty anti-racist action plan advanced the recommendation to refrain from repeating the n-word and other slurs out lout in class as these produce significant harm to our students and other members of our community.

Promote the use of campus resources that meet a diversity of student needs including, though not limited to, Disability Services, Academic Resources, Writing Center, bias reporting mechanism, and financial support for basic needs. Normalize the act of help-seeking as something that characterizes the most successful student (avoiding stereotypes that link help-seeking with weakness, lack of preparedness or belonging).

SYLLABUS TONE & LANGUAGE

Set a tone in the syllabus that encourages students to approach you and decreases potential sources of intimidation. Utilize this document to help create a welcoming and inclusive climate.

Review your syllabus for jargon–relevant to higher education and/or your field–that students may not understand. Example: change ‘office hours’ to ‘student hours’.

Review your syllabus with an empathetic eye. Look for opportunities to frame information in ways that can reduce students’ anxiety about the course and promotes a growth mindset, conveying your belief in their ability to learn and succeed.

Help students get to know you by including some personal information about yourself.

Practice small acts of inclusion. For example, sharing your pronouns can act as a signal of visibility, valuing, and inclusion for students who identify outside of the gender binary.

CLASS CLIMATE & PRACTICES

Consider surveying students on their needs at the start of the semester. What do they need to access your course and succeed (technology, space requirements, time)? Check to see if they have it and if they do not, put them in touch with the Dean of Academic Life of the Dean of Students office.

Get in the routine of doing check-ins with students at the start of class. These can be a word about how they’re feeling, an image of where they would like to travel if they could, a skill or hobby they would like to learn. All provide opportunities to get to know your students and for your students’ individuality to be visible.

Encourage students to edit their name plate on Zoom (the one that appears with their tile) to reflect their preferred name (what they want to be called), pronouns if they desire or even a pronunciation guide if their name is frequently mispronounced.

Encourage students to be present and on camera when meeting synchronously, while acknowledging the desire of some to keep their home environments private. Make sure they know how to set a virtual background so they may be more comfortable on camera. Be clear about the types of backgrounds that are inappropriate or harmful.

Inclusive and accessible learning environments require clarity and structure. Let students know how you will be using the various tools on Zoom to facilitate their participation. How will class begin and end during synchronous class meetings?

Take time at the start of the term to develop shared community agreements that describe how everyone in the learning environment agrees to engage with one another. Examples: listen for understanding, disagree with respect, take space and make space.

Brooke Vick
Associate Provost for Faculty and Diversity Initiatives, Muhlenberg College

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