Step 1: Inclusive Practices

Students who feel connected to their fellow students, to their classes, and to their instructors are more likely to be successful and to persist to graduation (Nunn, 2018). By creating an inclusive classroom climate we can nurture these connections and create an environment in which all of our students are more likely to be successful. Among the more common barriers to success are:

  • microaggressions and implicit bias
  • stereotype threat
  • disparate grading policies across disciplines
  • class discussions dominated by a few voices, and
  • wealth and income disparities.
1 Microaggressions and implicit bias
As documented by Banarji and Greenwald (2016), there is substantial evidence of the presence of implicit biases that help shape how we view the world. The existence of these biases can result in difficult discussions in classrooms when, for example, a student from a higher-income household might claim that low-income individuals are poor because they are lazy. Comments such as these, as well as other forms of microaggressions, can create a difficult classroom climate.
To reduce issues associated with microaggressions and implicit bias, the instructor should:
  • create ground rules for discussion that are established by the class as a whole (the instructor may suggest, if the students do not, ground rules such as: address any microaggressions when they occur, keep the discussion focused on the issue and not the person, etc.)
  • address potentially offensive comments if students do not do so.
2 Stereotype threat
An important component of learning is connecting the concepts we learn to our own lives and our lived experiences. Often, the examples discussed in our texts and in our classes do not reflect the diversity of the students in our classes. Students who see themselves and their lives reflected in the examples and in the scholars discussed in class are likely to more easily see themselves as becoming part of the scholarly conversation in that discipline; those who do not are more likely to give up and pursue other alternatives.
Students who feel that they “don’t belong” are likely to experience “stereotype threat” that may interfere with student success. (APA, 2006; Spencer et. al., 1999; Steele, 1997, 1999; Steele and Aronson, 1995). This issue is a barrier to student success in STEM fields and helps to account for the relatively small proportion of female, black, and Hispanic students who continue in STEM majors.
To reduce the impact of stereotype threat:
  • We can expand the use of work by scholars from underrepresented groups and use a variety of examples that are drawn from the full range of lived experiences of our students.
  • Grading differentials across departments could be reduced – an act that would require coordinated action throughout the institutions
3 Disparate grading policies across disciplines

Women and students from minoritized groups are substantially less likely to persist in STEM fields. While stereotype threat is likely to be a factor in this decision, another factor seems to be that the STEM fields provide substantially lower grades than do other disciplines. These differential grading policies across departments seem to be a significant factor in discouraging women from continuing in STEM disciplines, (Ahn et. al, 2019, Dowd, 2000) even when the average grades of women in these fields is higher than the grades received by males (Ahn et. al, 2019).
4 Class discussions dominated by a few voices 
If no moderating practices are applied, it is not uncommon for a few students to dominate synchronous discussions in face-to-face and synchronous remote discussions. Students who are introverted (or are from cultures in which active student participation in class is discouraged) often feel uncomfortable when the instructor calls upon them to participate in these conversations. Student engagement is an important determinant of student learning and success. To provide all students with a voice in the class community, we must apply methods that provide all students with a voice in a manner that they find comfortable.
To allow all students to be part of the class conversation, discussion activities can be implemented that provide all students with equitable and comfortable participation in the class. Such methods include:
  • Using online discussion forums in place of synchronous discussions, providing every student with an equitable platform and a chance to think through responses before sharing them. This is one area in which a shift to remote or online instruction could promote equity and inclusion.
  • Using small group discussions, to give all students more opportunity to engage in discussions.
  • Adopting student blogging and other forms of open pedagogy projects give all students a voice as well as a sense of autonomy (increasing student engagement and motivation).
5 Income and wealth disparities
The effect of income and wealth inequality is partly offset by the infrastructure provided by residential campuses. All students on campus typically have access to reliable high-speed Internet services, campus computer labs, quiet study spaces, and have access to meal plans that reduce food insecurity. During a shift to remote instruction, students from low-income households lose this support structure and face increased challenges in participating fully in their courses. SUNY institutions attempted to remediate this to some extent by providing loaner computers, arranging for wifi hot spots or assisting in connecting with free Internet resources provided by Spectrum to low-income households this past spring, and by allowing some students to stay in campus dormitories.
In designing remote instruction, though, instructors should:
  • be sure that all class activities can be completed on mobile devices and have low bandwidth requirements
  • not require students to open their cameras and microphone during synchronous settings (students may be living in noisy environment or may be embarrassed by their living conditions)
  • provide alternative tasks for students that are living in rural areas without high-speed Internet access.

Ahn, T., Arcidiacono, P., Hopson, A., & Thomas, J. R. (2019). Equilibrium grade inflation with implications for female interest in stem majors (No. w26556). National Bureau of Economic Research.

American Psychological Association (APA). (2006). Stereotype threat widens achievement gap.

Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G. (2016). Blindspot: Hidden biases of good people. Bantam.

Dowd, A. C. (2000). Collegiate grading practices and the gender pay gapEducation Policy Analysis Archives, 8, 10.

Nunn, Lisa. (2018). 3 Simple Strategies for Faculty: A Week-By-Week Resource for Teaching First-Year and First-Generation Students. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4-28.

Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape the intellectual identities and performance of women and African-Americans. American Psychologist, 52, 613-629.

Steele, C. M. (1999, August). Thin ice: “Stereotype threat” and black college students. The Atlantic Monthly, 284(2), 44-47, 50-54.Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African-Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 797-811.

Watch – a Video about Inclusion Considerations for Remote International Students (14 minutes)

Additional Resource:

The University of Kansas created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Course Checklist.

It includes links to other resources, and it has a Creative Commons license so you can remix and reuse it with attribution.

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