Creating Inclusive Classrooms

George Mason University takes pride in the diversity of our university community. We aim to create an environment at Mason, in our classrooms and beyond, that is inclusive, inspirational, and focused on the needs of those we serve. Mason faculty are encouraged to adopt and adapt strategies for pedagogical inclusivity that fit with their courses and discipline.

The strategies described below can support faculty across a range of classrooms and in a wide range of discussions. For resources that may help you in responding specifically to recent events, please see our list at the bottom of the page.

Please view the Mason Diversity Statement for more information.

 

Why engage in inclusive pedagogies?

“Even though some of us might wish to conceptualize our classrooms as culturally neutral or might choose to ignore the cultural dimensions, students cannot check their sociocultural identities at the door, nor can they instantly transcend their current level of development…. Therefore, it is important that the pedagogical strategies we employ in the classroom reflect an understanding of social identity development so that we can anticipate the tensions that might occur in the classroom and be proactive about them” (Ambrose et. al., 2010, p. 169-170).

Attentiveness to social identity development is important on any campus and in any context; however, it is particularly important at Mason for two reasons:

  1. The wide-ranging diversity of our student body (race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, age, ability status, veteran status, first generation, non-native speakers, immigration status, etc.) and
  2. Relative to our student body, the lack of diversity among our instructional faculty.

A large body of research on inclusive teaching suggests that inclusive pedagogies are effective and that learning outcomes for students are improved when all students feel visible, valued, safe, and welcomed in the classroom.

 

How can I demonstrate inclusive values?

  1. Share with your students that you value creating an inclusive learning experience to support their learning. One way to do this is to have a diversity statement on your syllabus that you discuss the first week of class. Examples include the Women and Gender Studies Diversity/Inclusion statement and the School of Integrative Studies Celebrating our Diversity statement.
  2. Make sure that your syllabus is written in non-sexist, gender inclusive terms. For example, use the phrase first year student versus freshman, humankind rather than mankind, etc.
  3. Acknowledge the unseen. Students are diverse in ways that may not be visible (e.g., race, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, disabilities, and more).
  4. Use an interfaith calendar of religious holidays when planning tests, assignments, or project due dates.
  5. Make the effort to ensure that everyone can pronounce each others’ names—faculty and students—correctly. Some faculty find it useful to use notecards or table tents with phonetic spelling. On a globally minded campus, this honors everyone’s cultural identity.
  6. Strive for inclusive language that does not assume Eurocentric name forms. For example, use family name rather than last name or given name versus Christian name.
  7. Ask students to share what name and pronoun is consistent with their gender identity and expression and then honor that information. This gender pronouns guide may be helpful if this is less familiar to you.
  8. Establish rules and guidelines for an inclusive and respectful classroom.

 

How can I embrace inclusion and diversity in course content?

  1. Develop classroom materials that explore multiple perspectives and experiences.
  2. Adopt texts and learning materials (whether books, articles, films, multimedia or digital objects) that are written or created in gender-neutral and stereotype-free terms.
  3. Adopt readings that explore diverse gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and/or political viewpoints, etc.
  4. When writing test and quiz questions and creating or adopting assignments—case studies, word problems, scenarios, etc.—use examples that showcase inclusivity with respect to gender, race, ethnicity, individuals’ names, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, etc.

 

How can I practice inclusive teaching?

  1. When lecturing, avoid exclusionary phrases such as, “Everyone knows…,” “It is easy to imagine…,” or “Certainly the answer is obvious….” These phrases assume a shared cultural context and can function to silence or discourage students from asking questions.
  2. Assume that all students will not recognize cultural, literary, or historical references familiar to you.
  3. Listen for and respond to racist, sexist, homophobic, or insensitive comments. Be aware that faculty set the tone in the classroom and students may assume faculty agree with or do not care about the impact of the problematic comments that are dismissed or ignored.
  4. If a difficult classroom conversation develops based on challenging, sensitive, or uncomfortable topics, pause. Faculty can “hit pause” on the conversation and encourage students to write down their thoughts about the topic. Pausing can allow students and faculty to think, reflect, and consider thoughtful responses.
  5. Be aware of your own identities, experiences, beliefs, and stereotypes and how you “show up” in the classroom.
  6. Assess your conscious and unconscious biases about students based on dress, surname, gender, or race. If you are interested, Harvard University’s Project Implicit has a range of brief tests designed to assess implicit bias for many issues, including race, sexual orientation, weight, religion, disability, skin-tone, and more.
  7. Assume that no student can speak as a representative of their race or culture.

 

Additional Resources

Building Inclusive Classrooms and Inclusive Teaching Strategies, Cornell University, Center for Teaching Excellence

Create an Inclusive Learning Environment, Carnegie Mellon, Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence

Creating Inclusive College Classrooms, University of Michigan, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. Of note, they have also developed an Inclusive Teaching Strategies Checklist for reflecting on your teaching practice.

Diversity and Inclusive Teaching (Archived), Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching

Diversity Essay Series, University of Colorado Boulder, Faculty Teaching Excellence Program

EDIT Media 10 Best Practices, EDIT Media Project (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Teaching Media)

Gender-Inclusive and Non-Sexist Language Guidelines and Resources, University of Pittsburgh, Advice for Classrooms and Other Spaces

Start Talking: A Handbook for Engaging Difficult Dialogues in the Classroom, University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University

Teaching in Racially Diverse College Classrooms, Harvard University, Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning

Teaching for Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, University of Delaware, Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning

Is Diversity Relevant to What I Teach? Diversity Digest Faculty Forum, with comments from faculty in Business, Mathematics, Biology, and Engineering

Small World: Crafting an Inclusive Classroom (No Matter What You Teach), National Educational Association

Diversity Education, Mt. San Antonio College Library

Updated August 2017:
There Is No Apolitical Classroom: Resources for Teaching in These Times.” A list of resource links curated by the Standing Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

JSTOR’s “Charlottesville Syllabus: Readings on the History of Hate in America”