From the Director: What makes a classroom inclusive?

September 1, 2016 / By: Dr. Ann Johnson, Director of the Center for Faculty Development, Professor of Psychology

Is it a diverse reading list or discussion of controversial topics? In some cases, but it goes deeper than that. Our St. Thomas commitment to diversity includes this phrase: “commitment to diversity means a commitment to the inclusion, welcome, and support of individuals from all groups” – and providing a welcoming climate and support to all requires pedagogical strategies that cut across all disciplines and topics. To be welcoming sounds pretty benign but really requires a radical form of listening to the diversity of the students we teach, challenging the assumption that our students are all coming from the same place. As education writer Sean Michael Morris puts it:

Something pretty horrendous happens when we assume all ears are the same ears. And that all ears are trained to listen in the same way to the person at the podium. When we do that, we’re silencing voices that might speak.

Stretching ourselves as inclusive instructors means re-thinking daily things – our grading schemes or how we take roll or the way we chat with students before and after class. It means recognizing that students come with varying degrees of preparedness; they are not equally adept at deciphering the hidden curriculum of higher education.  Supporting students from all groups (our stated commitment) means integrating strategies that scaffold learning effectively for all -- and not just the well-prepared.

And students come to us with a variety of experiences. It’s becoming common to characterize the contemporary college student as entitled and coddled, but St. Thomas students are diverse in many ways, and many have faced adversity and difficulty. Morris wants us to recognize this when he writes:

Your students have fought, your students have hidden from bullies, your students have been hungry, they have passed for straight, they have held their tongues, and they have been broken.

What should our response be? This year we launch our new year-long Inclusive Classroom Institute. Colleagues from across the university and one outside speaker have collaborated to bring a variety of learning opportunities to faculty and I encourage you to read more about it here. In so many ways, we are stepping up our commitment at St. Thomas to promote inclusion. Join the effort by becoming a part of our Inclusive Classroom Institute.


‌What do we mean by "inclusive classroom"? In an inclusive classroom, the instructor –

  • Works to expand personal awareness of one’s own bias and its impact
  • Fosters critical awareness of multiple perspectives
  • Employs teaching methods that acknowledge the variety of student backgrounds and abilities
  • Nurtures mutual respect and supports empathic awareness of others’ experiences
  • Promotes equitable opportunities for academic success for all students