Building an Inclusive Classroom

Students work together in class.

Student Diversity Overview

As you walk around Stanford, you will note that one of its many strengths is the diversity of its students. Beyond the external diversity, each Stanford students carry with them a rich and diverse background that shapes their experience inside and outside the classroom. It is impossible to tell when you walk into a classroom what varied backgrounds your students bring to the current learning environment. Therefore, it is important to make assumptions about your students based on superficial characteristics or your ideas about the “typical” Stanford student.

The best way to ensure that all of your students feel comfortable is to explore ways to foster an open, safe environment for all students, while learning more about the varied backgrounds and experiences that your students bring to your classroom. 

Examining Assumptions

We all have generalized notions about Stanford students, including both positive and negative stereotypes. This extends not just to Stanford students as a whole, but also to different populations within the Stanford community. It is important to examine these assumptions: often they are not even based on our own direct experiences with students; they may be shaped by conversations with colleagues, our own college experiences, and general cultural ideas about different groups.

The most helpful attitude you can take toward your students is one of general, undifferentiated positive expectations, paired with a willingness to provide extra help to any student who demonstrates a need and the desire to accept it. In the classroom, you can encourage students to examine their own assumptions, especially if stereotypes or other negative comments come up in class discussion. You can help your students become more informed, more sensitive, and more conscious about ethnic, racial, and gender issues, as well as other issues unique to a college population (for example, attitudes towards student athletes, nontraditional students, and students in different majors).

Dealing with Insensitive Comments

One way to deal with bigoted or insensitive comments made in class is to ask the student to repeat the comment—and to take responsibility for it. You can then ask the student why she or he holds that assumption, what evidence there is for it, and what other factors might be involved. In certain cases, you may want to discuss the issue further with the student outside of class, or invite the other students to think about the issue and email you responses that can be discussed in the next class meeting. Both of these strategies encourage careful reflection, rather than heated defensiveness.

Discuss Your Experience

You can also sharpen students’ awareness of their biases by discussing your own learning experiences. For example, if you have changed your course materials in some way (to be more inclusive or to represent the work of certain communities), you can discuss your reasons for doing so.

See Also:

Diversity and First Gen Office

Belonging Matters: Wise Interventions with Prof. Greg Walton

Creating an Inclusive Classroom