Guide To Teaching and Learning

Cultural Diversity

“We don’t have students sitting in front of us with the same background or experience, so instruction has to be different. It needs to build on individual and cultural experiences and their prior knowledge. It needs to be justice-oriented and reflect the social context we’re in now. That’s what we mean when we talk about culturally responsive teaching.” – Cherese Childers-McKee, Assistant Teaching Professor, Northeastern University 

Cultural Diversity in the Classroom

A culturally inclusive curriculum is one that reflects the linguistic and cultural diversity of our society. A part of our obligation to support an inclusive, open community includes deliberately fostering environments where all students feel valued, seen and supported in their learning. 

Before class 

Interrogate your syllabus and ask: 

  • Who’s represented? How many of the readings, writers, artists who are represented on your syllabus reflect the standard Western, Eurocentric traditional approaches to your course content?
    • Don’t assume that because your course centers traditionally marginalized content, it is inherently inclusive. 
    • Never believe that your course is exempt, immune from or neutral to issues of inclusivity. No matter what you teach, you can, and must, take an inclusive approach to your course design.
  • Who’s missing? Commit to incorporating content from scholars, artists, authors and others of diverse backgrounds. Choose examples from a broad range of cultural domains relevant to the topic, have students provide examples themselves and share your own experiences. To persist in your course, students need to feel a sense of academic belonging. Seeing themselves reflected in course content can foster this. 
  • Does the syllabus address diversity? Consider adding in a statement on diversity, equity and inclusion. See examples here.  
  • Are the learning goals clear? Is the rationale behind your course design explicit? 
  • How might students with various cultural backgrounds and social identities experience this? Plan your instruction and materials with diversity and inclusion in mind and continuously consider how all students would experience your course. Be explicit in your expectations and try to anticipate where first generation, international, under-represented and non-traditional students could get lost. Take nothing for granted. 

During class

Emphasize the range of identities and backgrounds of experts who have contributed to, or are missing from, your field. If your field lacks diversity, have frank conversations about why this is and what barriers to entry may exist. 

  • Invite diverse perspectives to your class. Bring in critics, speakers and professionals who bring a range of backgrounds, including identities that differ from yours. If teaching asynchronously, consider uploading recordings or writing from guests. 

Acknowledge and uplift the identities your students bring to your classroom:

  • Learn what students want to be called (which may differ from a name on a roster) and pronounce it correctly. Consider asking students to upload short introductions to Canvas, and listen to the recordings as much as necessary. Mispronouncing students’ names can impact how students see themselves and their backgrounds, and even lead to shame or embarrassment, which can decrease engagement and trust. 
  • Get their pronouns right. Enable personal pronouns on Canvas. When using Zoom, you can ask students if they’d like to to add their pronouns to their name display. By doing likewise you signal you respect students’ pronouns and identities.  If you make a mistake, take a moment to apologize and correct yourself. And correct a student if they misgender another.
  • Check your assumptions and biases.
    • Think about student behaviors that annoy or bother you. Are you more likely to be upset when some students do this than when others do?
    • Don’t assume that all students will recognize the cultural references you use. Incorporate subject-relevant materials, humor, and anecdotes that acknowledge the diversity of your students.
  • Express your commitment to inclusion. Make sure students know that their thoughts and experiences are valued in your classroom, and that different perspectives are an integral component of learning and civic engagement. 
  • Practice what you preach. Learn to respond to incivility in the classroom. Intervene when racist, discriminatory, biased or otherwise hurtful behaviors show up on discussion boards or during class meetings.  
    • If you don’t speak up during these sensitive and challenging moments, students may interpret your silence as indifference, or even as an endorsement. 

More on Linguistic Diversity Coming Soon

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