Diversity and Inclusion

Effective approaches to teaching and classroom climate are founded on the same principles that drive diversity and inclusion: equal access and opportunity for all students to thrive, honest dialogue about important issues, and protocols for managing difficult, sudden, and emotional moments. Instructors can consider racial and socioeconomic awareness, checking for implicit bias, and developing inclusive classrooms, teaching strategies, and diversity statements.

Awareness of Socioeconomic Diversity

Socioeconomic status (SES) is a medley of social and economic factors that can seriously impact student well-being and academic performance. Unlike race or gender, SES may be difficult to detect, so instructors can provide active and inclusive teaching methods that enable multiple modes of engagement, achievement, and accessibility.

Awareness of Implicit Biases

Implicit bias refers to unconscious attitudes, reactions, stereotypes, and categories that affect behavior and understanding. In higher education, implicit bias often refers to unconscious racial or socioeconomic bias towards students, which can negatively impact their growth. Instructors can consider a variety of strategies and benefits for revealing and addressing implicit bias, both in themselves and their students.

Inclusive Classroom Climate

An inclusive classroom climate refers to an environment where all students feel supported intellectually and academically, and are extended a sense of belonging in the classroom. Inclusive classroom environments are sustained when instructors and students work together for thoughtfulness, respect, and academic excellence.

Inclusive Teaching Strategies

Inclusive teaching strives to serve the needs of all students, regardless of background or identity. It builds upon an instructor’s basic instinct to ensure that all students can participate fully in the learning process, while expanding perspectives through stimulating discussion and new approaches to traditional and contemporary issues.

Racial Awareness

A hallmark of effective teaching is racial awareness, where recognition of diversity in the classroom informs teaching strategies. Instructors can use inclusive teaching strategies, incorporate racial diversity into their courses, and moderate class discussions about race in order to strengthen theirs and their students' knowledge of racial and cultural realities.


Inclusive teaching strategies can be separated into two categories.

  • Incorporating diverse perspectives into course content by expanding reading lists beyond white male authors, offering various ethnic and racial perspectives in case studies, ensuring PowerPoints and lecture examples offer a variety of human examples, and avoiding tokenizing particular individuals, students, or representations.

  • Creating an inclusive classroom climate where all students are encouraged to participate, by learning about students’ backgrounds and tailoring approaches accordingly, establishing ground rules for discussing controversial issues, and developing (and helping students develop) deeper racial and socioeconomic awareness.


  • Provide Support - Instructors can structure their courses to support students in and out of the classroom, through open office hours, additional learning and grading opportunities, formative assessments, and reliable email habits. Such support visibly extends the instructor’s commitment to all their students’ learning.

  • Structure classroom conversations to encourage respectful and equitable participation - Instructors can establish ground rules or specific guidelines for appropriate behavior early in the semester (including confidentiality, respectful disagreement, and civil debate); as a strategy to promote student buy-in, instructors can enlist students to help create and maintain these rules. Alternatively, students might be offered a quiet minute to think of responses to key questions or to write down new questions before responding. Instructors can also establish specific guidelines about how students should signal that they want to speak and contribute to a discussion, and intervene when students violate classroom norms.

  • Consider Teaching and Learning Frameworks - Instructors should consider a variety of approaches to structuring their course content, and choose a design that best serves their student populations (to the best of their foreknowledge). Various designs can support more rigorous learning outcomes, additional review and support, or greater accessibility for diverse students.

  • Examine Implicit Biases - Instructors can consider their own attitudes towards students and strive to minimize negative impacts. This process can involve actively monitoring interactions with different types of students, implementing policies like name-blind grading and inter-rater grading to minimize the impact of bias, and maintaining high expectations for all students.

  • Maintain Awareness of Classroom Diversity - Instructors can develop and maintain their awareness and understanding of various racial and socioeconomic factors in their classes, as a way to test their implicit bias, ensure equal access for all their students, and even enrich classroom discussion.

  • Incorporate Diversity into the Curriculum - Instructors can be sure to represent diverse types of peoples and perspectives through course content and materials, including readings, lecture examples, images in PowerPoint presentations, and case studies. Doing so helps all students to imagine themselves within various learning scenarios.

  • Anticipate sensitive issues and acknowledge racial, class or cultural differences in the classroom when appropriate - When discussing controversial issues, instructors should expect emotional responses or even conflict. Such emotion is not necessarily negative, unless it makes students unduly upset, inhibits class discussion, or causes students to behave rudely. In such cases the instructor may need to intervene and remind students of the rules for classroom discussion. Establishing shared guidelines can help to mitigate disrespect and hostility, or prevent it from arising in the first place.

  • Cultivate an Inclusive Climate - Instructors can create a nurturing classroom where students feel valued because of their differences, and feel comfortable participating in class. Effective syllabus and classroom behavioral policies can promote an inclusive environment, especially when instructors take time to discuss such policies in class with students.

  • Consider Universal Design Principles - UDL provides an intensive framework to enable varied and comprehensive access of course content to all students. UDL helps instructors present information both orally and visually to accommodate student visual or auditory impairments, while recognizing various student learning preferences.

  • Model inclusive language - As an element of developing a respectful, inclusive environment, instructors can be aware of the language practices they model. Common beneficial practices include: avoid using masculine pronouns for both males and females; when using American idioms, explain them for the benefit of non-native English speakers; and avoid using falsely inclusive terms or statements like “women” for European or European American women or “all women/men” for heterosexual individuals. To assist in this strategy, instructors can vary the concrete examples and case studies used to include a variety of social characteristics, such as race or gender. 

  • Provide alternative means for participation - To signal awareness of different emotional and social conditions in the classroom, instructors should allow student participation opportunities via online discussions in addition to the classroom. Instructors can also collect journal entries, reading logs, or other reflection pieces, and should avoid a single homogenous strategy for the entirety of term.

  • Respectfully communicate with students - Instructors should take care to pronounce students’ names correctly and in the proper order: this includes not shortening or simplifying a student’s name without his/her clear approval; being aware that some ethnicities may arrange their given and family names in various orders; asking students for their preferred gender pronouns, and avoiding gender binaries by using plurals instead, such as “they” instead of he or she; and being aware of contemporary terms for cultural identities. If unsure of an appropriate address or cultural form of identity, the instructor can ask in a non-threatening context. In contrast, instructors should not ask any student to be a representative spokesperson for his or her perceived group, or look pointedly at or away from these same students when discussing issues of race, class, gender, etc. Neither should they ask or expect students to be knowledgeable about their ethnic heritage, history, language, or culture unless they volunteer such information.

  • Address offensive, discriminatory, and insensitive comments - As part of an inclusive classroom environment, instructors should respect all students’ honest expressions and thoughts. If a student’s response indicates an emotional investment in the subject, instructors should not let other students dismiss their contribution as “irrational” or “unscholarly” reactions; rather, they can address blatantly offensive and discriminatory comments and hold students accountable for their behavior.

  • Solicit Student Feedback - Instructors can use anonymous online surveys to gather information from students regarding their prior knowledge and/or mastery of course material at the start of the semester, and continue to monitor how students feel about the course content and class climate by the middle of the semester. Midterm student course evaluations or observation protocols can also help instructors comprehend the climate and effectiveness of their classroom, and address inclusivity concerns (among other concerns) in real times.

References and Additional Reading

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M. & Lovett, M.C. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Armstrong, M.A. (2011). Small world: Crafting an inclusive classroom (no matter what you teach). Thought and Action, Fall, 51-61.

Creating Inclusive College Classrooms - UMichigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching

hooks b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge.

Kaplan, M. & Miller, A. T. (Eds.). (2007). Special Issue: Scholarship of multicultural teaching and learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, (111).

Salazar, M., Norton, A., & Tuitt, F. (2009). Weaving promising practices for inclusive excellence into the higher education classroom. In L.B. Nilson and J.E. Miller (Eds.) To improve the academy. (pp. 208-226). Jossey-Bass.

Tanner KD. (2013). Structure Matters: Twenty-One Teaching Strategies to Promote Student  Engagement and Cultivate Classroom Equity. CBE–Life Sciences Education, 12: 322-331.

University of Virginia. Center for Teaching Excellence. Teaching a Diverse Student Body: Practical Strategies for Enhancing our Students’ Learning.

Watson L et al. (2002). How Minority Students Experience College: Implications for Planning and Policy. Stylus.