Inclusivity in Practice

During our lunch and learn discussion, “Building a Inclusive Classroom,” faculty members provided their best practices for building inclusive learning spaces.  In the spirit of inclusivity, they have offered to share them with us and the college community.

Many of the faculty focused on the way they set an inclusive tone during their first day and first weeks, including sharing the responsibilities of syllabus creation, policies, and schedule.  Some of the faculty also talked about how to maintain this spirit of collaboration throughout the course by “checking in” with students and providing methods of on-going discussion and conversation.

Building the Environment for Learning

  • Establishing shared responsibilities and classroom rights on the first day
  • Collaborating on due dates and the course schedule
  • Co-creating student-paced class/unit “guides” that serve as checklists and enable students to envision learning outcomes for the week
  • Doing a “check-in” at the beginning of class: where are they with the material? what are the “ah-ha!” moments? the muddiest moments?
  • Asking students to choose the discussion topic and/or choosing “discussion leaders”
  • Helping students to develop their own classroom policies, i.e., late work, attendance, rubric and assignments
  • Using discussion boards for ongoing course discussion

In addition the classroom environment, faculty members provided their best practices for creating inclusive assessments of student learning.  As one faculty member noted, “it’s important that assignment provide students with an opportunity to ‘show off’ what they know.”

Building the Tools for Assessment

  • Giving students the opportunity to propose an alternate assignment or project if they feel it will benefit them
  • Having students complete a “group test” where they provide evidence and justifications for their answers
  • Encouraging and facilitating peer review sessions for final papers
  • Voting on the structure of projects and the types of exams

Look for more about inclusivity in the classroom in our upcoming professional development and our continuing blog series on the topic.  Thank you to all the faculty who provided these best practices.

Building an Inclusive Classroom: Reflecting on Privileges

By Dr. Melissa Wehler, Dean of Humanities and Sciences

This is the second installment of the six-part series on inclusivity in the classroom.  The first installment, Building an Inclusive Classroom: A Starting Place, provides an introduction to the topics covered in the series.

Building an inclusive classroom begins well before the first student registers for the class or a textbook is selected for the reading list.  In the classroom, a faculty’s identity—privileges and disadvantages—is represented in explicit and implicit ways.  Explicitly, our identities are represented by our bodies, our language, and our appearance (yes, even if we teach online).  For instance, whether or not I choose to confront my gender or race in the classroom, my body still signifies them.  Implicitly, the knowledge, belief, values, and skills that inform our actions, behaviors, and attitudes have come from our lived experiences.  The course materials I select, test questions I write, and syllabus policies I create are the culmination of my experience—positive and negative.

To create an inclusive classroom, therefore, we should recognize and acknowledge our socially conferred privileges (and disadvantages) and how they influence our pedagogy. When we talk about socially conferred privilege, we are referring to the social systems that provide certain persons or groups special advantages or rights on the basis of an unearned status.  Commonly, we talk about privilege through the lens of race, gender, ability, religion, age, and class, though it’s important to recognize that these are far from the only privileges that faculty confront personally and pedagogically.

In the classroom, inclusivity begins with the faculty member who establishes the basic parameters of the class, which are based on their own unique circumstances: their training, experiences, and philosophies.  Because courses begin in the personal, we must acknowledge our own socially conferred privileges as part of our pedagogy.

By no means an exhaustive list, here are some ways to help start this process:

Take a personal inventory.  A personal inventory will help you recognize (perhaps for the first time) your socially conferred privileges. A personal inventory can focus around a specific set of privileges such as race, gender, or ability or it can be a mixture of different types of privilege.  You can use a pre-created inventory (such as this one from Routledge or the lists provided by Barnett).  You can also generate a personal inventory by listing out privileges you experienced in the span of a week or a month.

Seek out resources.  Start locally.  Campus resources such as the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Diversity Office provide training and materials specific to your campus life and culture.  Then, think globally.  Professional organizations, such as the American Association of University Professors, also have resources for faculty about diversity, inclusion, and privilege.

Invite conversations.  Conversations about privilege are happening informally on college campuses all of the time, but faculty can also find ways to ‘invite’ these conversations: create a brown bag series, invite guest speakers, or organize a book reading.  Faculty might also organize a viewing of a documentary or webinar followed by a moderated discussion. Remember, if you invite conversation, it’s important you listen to learn and not listen to respond.

Acknowledging and understanding more about our personal privileges helps us to recognize where these privileges manifest in our pedagogy.  Once we are able to see ourselves more clearly, we are also able to see where our personal privileges have created gaps in our teaching approach.

Here are just a few areas to consider:

Challenge privilege.  For instance, avoid normalizing certain behaviors in the classroom that privilege one student or student group over another, especially with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ labels.  For more, see Goodman’s lists about ways to challenge privilege identity in the classroom.

Representation matters.  Course materials should be representative not only of the subject being taught but of the subjects being taught.  Course materials (textbooks, articles, studies, tests, examples) should incorporate a range of experiences and identities that reflect the students in the class.

Vary approaches.  Part of ‘unpacking the invisible knapsack’ means that just because it worked for you as a student or that it worked/works for some students, doesn’t mean that it worked/works for others.  By varying your approach to teaching (lecture, small group, discussion, flipped), you build opportunities for different students and different strengths.

Appeal to the experts. When a difficult situation, conversation, or topic comes up in class, give the students the scholarship and allow them to do the deep digging.  Not only is it a great exercise in critical thinking and problem-solving, but it demonstrates that this conversation is historical, robust, and on-going.

Listen actively.  Listening doesn’t just refer to answering questions or responding to a point during discussion.  It includes reading body language, word choice, and tone.  It can also mean ‘listening’ to the silences: the emails not returned or the questions left blank.  Responding to these moments validate students’ experiences whether through positive feedback or an acknowledgment of their concerns.

Conversations about privilege inside and outside of the classroom can be cloaked in feelings of shame, guilt, and blame; however, personal discomfort with confronting privilege is no excuse to shy away from the topic—just as students, peers, and even ourselves cannot ‘opt-out’ of systems of privilege.  Instead, by recognizing, understanding, and challenging privilege personally and pedagogically, we, as educators, make the first concrete step in creating an inclusive classroom.

References

Adams, M., L. A. Bell, and P. Griffin, eds. (2007).Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

Barnett, P. E. (2013). Unpacking teachers’ invisible knapsacks: Social identity and privilege in higher education. Liberal Education. vol. 99, no. 3. https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/unpacking-teachers-invisible-knapsacks-social-identity-and

Goodman, D. J. (2010). Helping Students Explore Their Privileged Identities. Diversity and Democracy.  American Association of Colleges and Universities. Spring 2010. vol. 13. no. 2. https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/helping-students-explore-their-privileged-identities

Flaherty, C. (2016). Racial literacy as a professor’s responsibility. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/06/20/aaup-sessions-center-professors-role-and-responsibilities-regarding-classroom

Maher, F. A. & M. K. Tetreault. Diversity and privilege: We need to understand how privilege works before we can make diversity work. Academe. AAUP. January-February 2009. https://www.aaup.org/article/diversity-and-privilege#.WLcMB2_yuUk

McIntosh, P. (1989) White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. The National SEED Project. https://nationalseedproject.org/white-privilege-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack

 

Melissa Wehler, Ph.D. serves as the Dean of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of English at Central Penn College.  Her academic writing has been published in several essay collections including Demons of the Body and Mind,  Transnational Gothic,  and A Quest of Her Own: Essays on the Female Hero in Modern Fantasy where she discusses topics including the gothic, feminism, performance, and culture.  She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.

 

 

Building an Inclusive Classroom: A Starting Place

By Dr. Melissa Wehler, Dean of Humanities and Sciences

In recent years, conversations about diversity in the college classroom have necessarily focused on the inclusive learning space.  For many in higher education, inclusivity is the natural progression for colleges who are working towards practical applications of diversity initiatives, some of which have come under criticism for being well-intentioned but not concrete.  The rise of campus ‘safe spaces’—itself not without critique— has extended into the classroom, prompting further discussions about the definition, role, and best practices of inclusivity in higher education.

Inclusivity, in its academic methodology, means building a classroom (and campus) environment wherein faculty members and students share in the creation of a learning space in a way that respects all of the constituents, their lived experiences, and learning needs.  The constituents of the classroom (and again, we can extend to this to the campus) are encouraged to engage in constructive, challenging dialogue and to support others who are sharing their lived experiences.

The role of the faculty in an inclusive classroom is to act as a model for the types of behavior, engagement, and collaboration required of the space.  Faculty members should be transparent about their processes and policies and establish guidelines for engagement.  The course content, moreover, should reflect a variety of experiences and perspectives and mirror those of the students in the course.  The challenge for the faculty member is not to shy away from academic rigor in such environments, but rather to communicate the parameters of that rigor.

Throughout this series, when talking about inclusivity in the classroom, I will use the word ‘build’ rather than ‘create.’ Inclusivity is a creative process, certainly, but to use the word ‘create’ elides the work—by students, faculty members, and the even the institution—it takes to establish an inclusive learning space.  It also suggests that such learning spaces are mysteriously self-generating and that some students, faculty, courses ‘have it’ and that others ‘don’t.’ The idea of ‘creating,’ moreover, implies that students and faculty members are somehow inherently inclusive, which ignores the realities of different lived experiences.

‘Building,’ on the other hand, accounts for the time and effort of students and faculty, connotes the necessary collaborative efforts, and forefronts the conversation of inclusivity as one that requires deep engagement.  Students and faculty members must confront privileges and assumptions, they must learn (but not co-opt) the lived experiences of others, and they must work collaboratively towards a shared, mutual goal.

Throughout this series, we will be working on ‘building’ a definition of the inclusive classroom, its elements, and its practices.  The other parts of the series will cover the following:

  • Reflecting on privileges.
  • Questioning your assumptions.
  • Knowing your students.
  • Challenging the status quo.
  • Collaborating in the classroom.

As we continue with this series, we hope that you will ‘build’ along with us in the comments.  Please share your thoughts, fears, and hopes about inclusivity in the classroom as well as your own experiences and best practices.

References

Bart, M. (2012). Strategies for creating a more inclusive classroom. Faculty focus. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/strategies-for-creating-a-more-inclusive-classroom/ Retrieved: 2/10/17

Busteed, B. (2016). Inclusivity means opinions count. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/12/06/colleges-must-move-simply-asking-peoples-opinions-making-them-count-essay Retrieved: 2/10/17

Hammond, R. (2016). Setting the Tone for Inclusion on Campus Joanne Berger-Sweeney, president, Trinity College. The chronicle of higher education. http://www.chronicle.com/article/Video-Setting-the-Tone-for/238304 Retrieved: 2/1/17

Turner, S. (2016). Dear higher education – This is why your diversity initiatives are failing. Advancing diversity. http://www.advancingdiversity.com/dear-higher-education-this-is-why-your-diversity-initiatives-are-failing/ Retrieved: 2/10/17

Zhang, Y. and K. Mansouri. (2016). Point/Counterpoint: Do safe spaces belong on college campuses? USA Today College. http://college.usatoday.com/2016/11/22/viewpoint-point-counterpoint-do-safe-spaces-belong-on-college-campuses/ Retrieved: 2/1/17

Melissa Wehler, Ph.D. serves as the Dean of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of English at Central Penn College.  Her academic writing has been published in several essay collections including Demons of the Body and Mind,  Transnational Gothic,  and A Quest of Her Own: Essays on the Female Hero in Modern Fantasy where she discusses topics including the gothic, feminism, performance, and culture.  She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.