Building an Inclusive Classroom

Over the years, our students have become more and more diverse. As we work to incorporate new classroom technologies and strategies for engagement, we need to become mindful of the ways our pedagogical choices lead students to feel included or excluded. In addition, for faculty teaching controversial topics, enhanced diversity in student perspectives is both productive and potentially conflict-producing. Managing conflict successfully becomes vital for ensuring inclusiveness and effective learning. Ultimately, attending to inclusiveness means building practices that benefit all students.

In June 2014, Faculty Development offered a seminar exploring the multiple dimensions of diversity among UST students (e.g., race/ethnicity, international students, GLBTQ students, students with physical or learning disabilities, first generation students) and presented ideas and strategies for re-thinking your courses with inclusion in mind. Seminar topics included material on the principles of Universal Design applied to instruction; effective group and team work strategies; designing writing assignments for diverse classes; building self-awareness of personal values that can help or hinder inclusive teaching; assessing student perceptions of inclusion; and mediating and resolving conflict in the classroom. Seminar materials and supplementary resources from the seminar are included below to help you build inclusiveness into your classroom. 

Faculty resources for building an inclusive classroom

Setting the stage: Ideas for your syllabus and classroom

Include a "commitment to inclusive excellence" statement in your syllabus.

TerriVandercook Dr. Terri Vandercook, Chair of the Department of Special Education and Associate Professor (CELC), developed a commitment to inclusive excellence statement for her syllabus and a Community Expectations Activity for the first day of class. 

"Let’s all work to operate as both teachers and learners in this classroom community.  It is important to recognize that our individual differences can be a source of strength and learning for each of us individually and collectively.  In this class, people of all ethnicities, genders and gender identities, religions, ages, sexual orientations, disabilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, regions, and nationalities are encouraged to share the rich and varied perspectives and experiences that make you who you are today.  We want to create an environment that facilitates a robust exchange of ideas, assisting each of us to learn and grow based upon the content we grapple with together.  We want each person in this classroom community to experience an authentic sense of belonging and feel supported to actively engage in and contribute to both the teaching and learning that occurs."

Examples of inclusive excellence statements:

  • Winona State University: "WSU recognizes that our individual differences can deepen our understanding of one another and the world around us, rather than divide us. In this class, people of all ethnicities, genders and gender identities, religions, ages, sexual orientations, disabilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, regions, and nationalities are strongly encouraged to share their rich array of perspectives and experiences.  If you feel your differences may in some way isolate you from WSU’s community or if you have a need of any specific accommodations, please speak with the instructor early in the semester about your concerns and what we can do together to help you become an active and engaged member of our class and community."
  • "In order to learn, we must be open to the views of people different from ourselves. Each and every voice in the classroom is important and brings with it a wealth of experiences, values and beliefs. In this time we share together over the semester, please honor the uniqueness of your fellow classmates, and appreciate the opportunity we have to learn from each other. Please respect your fellow students' opinions and refrain from personal attacks or demeaning comments of any kind." --sample diversity statement from University of Central Florida.
  • Respect:  Students in this class are encouraged to speak up and participate during class meetings. Because the class will represent a diversity of individual beliefs, backgrounds, and experiences, every member of this class must show respect for every other member of this class. (California State University - Chico)
  • University of Oregon Affirmation of Community Standards

Responsibility for privilege and oppression

We acknowledge that racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and other forms of oppression exist. Any critical examination of oppression requires us to recognize that we have been systematically taught misinformation about our own group as well as about members of other groups. It also means that, if we are a part of a dominant group (e.g. white, male, upper/middle class, able-bodied, and/or heterosexual), we have unearned privilege that carries into the classroom and for which we are responsible. Being responsible means examining our words and actions and considering how we can be allies to others. We cannot be blamed for the misinformation that we have learned and for taking unconscious advantage of our privilege, but we will be held responsible for repeating misinformation or engaging in oppressive behavior once we have learned otherwise.

Diversity - Personal Statement

In recognition of the diversity of the UST campus, please note that I, your professor, am supportive of campus members of all walks of life, including students/faculty/staff of color, women, members of the LGBT community, and all other underrepresented groups on campus.  As an ally please know that my office is an open and welcoming environment for you to discuss any issues that you may confront on campus or in your daily lives related to discrimination in any form.

Connect with students and examine students' perceptions of inclusion/exclusion

StephenBrookfieldThe critical incident questionnaire (C.I.Q.) is a single page form that is handed out to students once a week at the end of the last class you have with them that week.  It comprises five questions, each of which asks students to write down some details about events that happened in the class that week.  Its purpose is not to ask students what they liked or didn't like about the class.  Instead it gets them to focus on specific, concrete happenings. Critical Incidents / Insights Questionnaire from Dr. Stephen Brookfield (CELC). 

  1. At what moment in class today did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
  2. At what moment in class today did you feel most distanced from what was happening?
  3. What action that anyone (teacher or student) took in class today (or comment) did you find most affirming and helpful?
  4. What action that anyone (teacher or student) took in class today (or comment) did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  5. What about this class surprised you the most? (This could be something about your own reactions to what went on, or something that someone did, or anything else that occurs to you.)

Use a pre-survey and assessment strategy to connect with students

AnnJohnsonSome ways to connect with your students and build rapport include a beginning of the semester survey to get to know students. Preview a pre-semester student survey adapted from the Building an Inclusive Classroom seminar to use with students. Download the survey questions (Word format). Email Faculty Development if you'd like a copy of the questions to import into St. Thomas' Qualtrics survey software. 

Take a look at Cornell's Center for Teaching Excellence for techniques to gauge classroom climate as well as inclusive teaching strategies. If you are using team-based learning approaches, here are some tips for ensuring inclusiveness as you form and use teams in class. 

‌ A technique recommended by Dr. Ann Johnson (Faculty Development/CAS) is to use the questions below at the end of a class session to gather anonymous student responses about their perception of inclusion. 

  • There have been moments in class when I feel included (circle one): Agree/Somewhat agree/Somewhat disagree/Disagree
    If you agree, please provide an example or comment:
  • There have been moments in class when I feel excluded circle one: Agree/Somewhat agree/Somewhat disagree/Disagree
    If you agree, please provide an example or comment:

Integrate resources and activities to create inclusive teams and groups and manage conflict

CareyWinkler Ms. Carey Winkler (School of Social Work) developed a Member Roles Inventory Exercise (PDF) which can be used in the way it suggests, as a self-assessment, but can also be used as a way to provide feedback to other group/team/class members. Ms. Carey Winkler writes, "As someone who used to dislike even thinking about conflict and now kind of likes it, I found the book Crucial Conversations really valuable. I also like adding to the conflict language by using terms like crucial or courageous conversations. This approach includes an element of examining/assessing our communication styles under stress – there is even a self-assessment to look at our tendencies and to then consider areas to attend to in the process of communicating under stress." This document summarizes some of the points brought to life in the book: Reframing Conflict as an Opportunity for Crucial & Courageous Conversations . Ms. Winkler also shared her learning space notes (PDF) which were introduced to her by a mentor. The notes "...remain a part of my approach because the word “safe” doesn’t always fit for me."

TerriVandercook Dr. Terri Vandercook developed an activitiy called "Team Behavior and Action Analysis" that faculty can use to help teams to gain effective collaboration skills. Students are asked to rate themselves on team skills in four broad areas (trust building, communication and shared leadership, decision making and problem solving, and conflict management) and then teams are asked to identify skills the team has jointly agreed to improve upon.

Promoting Civility and Discussing Controversial Issues in Class

After a contentious and divisive election, how can we maintain our classrooms as places where the dignity of each student, regardless of political viewpoint, will be respected? How can we model openness and care, critical thinking and compassion?

Faculty Checklist: Steps to Respond to Classroom Incivility

Promoting Civility and Discussing Controversial Issues in Class

Teaching and Advising Undocumented Students

Post-Election: What Educators Can Do To Support Undocumented Students "...provides concrete examples of actions you can take—on an institutional level, alongside students, and as an individual—to protect undocumented students, increase support services, and ensure college access and graduation."

10 Ways to Support Students Facing Immigration Crises

Examining Personal Bias, Stereotype Threat and Cultural Taxation

The Dangers of a Single Story

"Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding."

Stereotype threat: what is it and how to minimize its impact in the classroom

‌So, what can we do in our classrooms and our interpersonal interactions with students to create identity safe environments? Current research provides evidence for the effectiveness of targeted classroom interventions that can be used to change the situational factors that elicit stereotype threat, mitigate the effects of stereotype threat, and teach adaptive methods. 

A June 2016 article from Rice's Center for Teaching Excellence, Addressing a "Threat in the Air": How Stereotypes Affect Our Students and What We Can Do About It, offers "...a look at what the research tells us about how stereotypes affect student learning and performance in our classrooms and the ways in which we can address situational factors and mitigate the negative effect of stereotypes.

Implicit Association Test

The Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT) "...measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you did not know about. For example, you may believe that women and men should be equally associated with science, but your automatic associations could show that you (like many others) associate men with science more than you associate women with science. The IAT measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy)."

Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity

The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity is a university-wide, interdisciplinary research institute of The Ohio State University and " to deepen understanding of the causes of—and solutions to—racial and ethnic disparities worldwide and to bring about a society that is fair and just for all people. Kirwan Institute research is designed to be actively used to solve problems in society. Its research and staff expertise are shared through an extensive network of colleagues and partners—ranging from other researchers, grassroots social justice advocates, policymakers, and community leaders nationally and globally, who can quickly put ideas into action."

Are 'color-blind' millennials ignoring racism?

Can "colorblindness" and racism coexist? It's a question that challenges a common stance among the millennial generation, getting to the heart of arguments over race and class. Audio broadcast and news article from The Daily Circuit on Minnesota Public Radio.

Universal Design for Learning

"Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs." The National Center for Universal Design for Learning has a wealth of resources on UDL including guidelines and examples

Integrated Aligned Course Design Framework

The Center for Teaching and Learning at the U of MN uses the Integrated Aligned Course Design Framework as a way to map the teaching/learning Environment to provide a context for the course you’re developing or re-designing.  The design cycle then moves into development of Student Learning Outcomes to ground the course Curriculum.  From this base, teachers move onto (1) developing SMART assessments (specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, and targeted), and (2) selecing teaching/learning presentaions, classroom aciviies, out-of-Bclass assignments, and supporing resources.

Their online tutorial divides the process of course design into distinct parts; the process is iterative with taking time to analyze the distinct segments heightening overall awareness and reflection in the design process:

  1. Introduction & Noting the Environmental Factors (Environment)
  2. Establishing Student Learning Outcomes (Curriculum)
  3. Assessing Student Learning Outcomes (Assessment)
  4. Class Session Planning for Enhanced Learning and Effective Teaching (Instruction)
  5. Reviewing Your Course Design (a return to Environment with new information)

What is Multicultural Learning?

What is Multicultural Learning is learning that integrates and explores the rich tapestry of perspectives reflected in our diverse world. It occurs when differences among learners are both valued and explored. Multicultural Learning recognizes and reaches across boundaries of ability, age, class, gender, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation and other personal, social and cultural identities so that learners will more thoroughly understand the multifaceted dimensions of knowledge.

On Learning – and Are They Students, or Learners?

Students or Learners.

Socioeconomic Diversity, First Generation and At-Risk Students

Buffy Smith OCPTake time to read these two brief interviews with Dr. Buffy Smith (Associate Dean of the Dougherty Family College). The first interview Dr. Smith highlights a few key points from her book Mentoring At-Risk Students through the Hidden Curriculum of Higher Education including mentoring at-risk students and teaching about controversial topics. In an interview in the Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring Dr. Smith discusses important considerations for developing and sustaining mentoring programs for at-risk college students. 

First Generation Students. Two blog posts by Dr. Tori Svoboda on how educators and administrators can positively impact low-income and first-generation college student experiences and what we can do to improve the experiences of first-generation students.

Faculty Tips for First-Gen Students - Inside Higher Education

Who Gets to Graduate? New York Times article May 15, 2014

Heritage University Institute for Student Identity and Success video series

Teaching Tips on Diversity and Social Justice from Western Washington University

Gender diversity: Creating a classroom atmosphere that supports trans-identified and gender-nonconforming students

As part of our commitment to full inclusion at St. Thomas, we need to become more aware of our own assumptions and habits around defining gender and using gender identity categories. Many of our students identify as gender-variant and use a variety of terms to describe their experience; the video here explains the diversity among these students and provides first-person accounts from students at University of Connecticut. This Faculty Focus article provides an excellent introduction to the topic and several good ideas for making your classroom welcoming.

International Students and English Language Learners

Helping Faculty Teach International Students (available through UST Libraries) includes ten practical tips for faculty. By: Kisch, MarianInternational Educator (1059-4221) , Nov/Dec2014, Vol. 23 Issue 6, p44-47. Includes ten practical tips for faculty. 

Lori Friedman, director of the Office of International Student Services at UST, says: "Many students come from countries where they are taught to spit back what the experts--professors-- tell them. They're not used to paraphrasing to citing their sources when preparing research papers. Many live in a "collectivist" society where not sharing answers is going against the cultural norm. Here we call it cheating; they call it sharing." Lori also shares a CNN article and video which highlights the increasing challenges of large numbers of international students on a campus, specifically Chinese students at the University of Iowa, and how domestic students play an important role in international students' adjustment.  The end of the article includes tips on building connections between American and international students. Watch video. 

For some international students, 'plagiarism' is a foreign word  (article from Minnesota Public Radio, October 8, 2014).

Links to U of MN resources on Responding and Grading (paradigms for effectively and efficiently responding to student writing, as well as multiple approaches to grading and evaluation); responding to non-native speakers of English and quick suggestions for helping non-native writers

Understanding Language Use in the Classroom: A Linguistic Guide for College Educators is available for faculty to check out from the Faculty Development library.

Students with Disabilities

Indifference Toward Disabled Scholars, Especially at Conferences, Troubles a Disabilities Scholar. By the Chronicle of Higher Education. This article highlights the importance of planning enviroments for individuals with disabilities. Are you planning a conference or workshop? Keep in mind that invited faculty or presenters might require accommodations. 

ADHD in the Classroom from Worcester State University.

Guide to teaching chemistry to students with disabilities

Teaching tips from Columbia College based on class-room practices that both faculty and students have reported to be successful.

Autism Society website contains resources related to autism spectrum disorder.

Penn Autism Network at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania hosted two "Autism Goes to College" forums for professionals in higher education and autism advocates.

"A College Education for Individuals with Autism" (a personal experience), written from a parent's point of view.

The Inclusive University: Autism/Asperger's Syndrome resources at Syracuse University.

TED Talk (Youtube video)Autism activist Temple Grandin talks about how her mind works -- sharing her ability to "think in pictures."

Understanding Asperger Syndrome: A Professor's Guide (Youtube video): 3-part video intended for use by college students with Asperger Syndrome to educate their professors and teaching assistants about what it means to be a college student on the autism spectrum and how they can help promote success.

Supporting College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Youtube video)presents strategies and methods that have proved successful in supporting students with ASD, in the OASIS program at Pace University in NYC.

Students with Psychological Disabilities

From the UST Counseling and Psychological Services - Faculty and Staff as Helping Resources Guide

Students with Mental Health Challenges: The number of students facing mental health challenges continues to grow. While some students proactively seek help, many do not and, in fact, may do the opposite: disengage, withdraw, and fail to respond to outreach. This guide offers ways for St. Thomas faculty members to help students.

Are You Being Rigorous or Just Intolerant? How to promote mental health in the college classroom from the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Yale's guide to teaching students with psychlogical disabilities. The guide highlights ways in which instructors can provide necessary supports for their students with psychological diagnoses.

Readings & Resources

Teaching Diversity Online Is Possible. These Professors Tell You How. Talking about racism, privilege, and other sensitive topics can be tough online. Here's how some faculty members make it work.

Teaching To and Through Cultural Diversity
Geneva Gay (2013) Teaching To and Through Cultural Diversity, Curriculum Inquiry, 43:1, 48-70

Weaving Promising Practices for Inclusive Excellence into the Higher Education Classroom
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.

"From Where I Sit" is a powerful video series featuring eight students from California State University who share their experiences in the college classroom. They tell their stories by answering five questions:

  1. What is your disability?
  2. What made you decide to come to college?
  3. What is it like in the classroom?
  4. What do you have to do to keep up with the class?
  5. What suggestions can you offer to faculty that will make their classroom more accessible?

Note to Faculty: The purpose of a disability statement is to help students feel more comfortable in approaching the disability resources office about their disability and to facilitate arranging accommodations in a timely manner. Please add the disability statement below to your syllabus.

Academic accommodations will be provided for qualified students with documented disabilities including but not limited to mental health diagnoses, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder, chronic medical conditions, visual, mobility, and hearing disabilities. Students are invited to contact the Disability Resources office about accommodations early in the semester. Appointments can be made by calling 651-962-6315 or in person in Murray Herrick, room 110. For further information, you can locate the Disability Resources office on the web at

--Current as of 08/22/2016