Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Yale Teaching Center

Diversity and Teaching: Promoting an Inclusive Classroom

Promoting diversity is clearly a goal shared by many in American colleges and universities, but actually fulfilling this goal in the classroom is often hard to do on a day-to-day basis. The goal of this module is to highlight a few of the key challenges and concerns in diversity promotion, and how to incorporate an understanding of diversity in the classroom and beyond.

Diversity is a term that can have many different meanings depending on context. This module will not offer a comprehensive definition of the term, instead, this module will highlight two key areas relate to diversity: (1) identifying how diversity impacts the classroom and (2) practical tips for promoting an inclusive classroom.

How Diversity Impacts the Classroom

Much discussion about diversity focuses on standard forms of marginalization: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc, and rightfully so given the importance of these forms of difference — students come into the university classroom from different backgrounds, sets of experiences, cultural contexts and worldviews.

However, diversity is an issue that plays a role in the classroom beyond these categories. For example, much educational and psychological literature demonstrates that students have a diverse set of ways they may learn. Some learn visually through charts, graphs, tables and drawing. Others may learn primarily through aural means (i.e. through listening to lecture), and others may be primarily kinesthetic (i.e. learning by doing, project work, etc.) Attention to learning styles is an important aspect of addressing differences among all students.

Additionally, issues of diversity play a role in how students and teachers view the importance of the classroom and what should happen there. For example, assumptions about what a typical student should know, the resources they have and their prior knowledge are extremely important.

Students may perceive that they do not “belong” in the classroom setting – a feeling which can lead to decreased participation, feelings of inadequacy and other distractions. Teachers may make flawed assumptions of students' capabilities or assume a uniform standard of student performance. Teachers may also themselves feel out of place as well based on their own ascriptive traits (i.e. differences based on class, privilege, etc.)

Identifying and thinking through how notions of difference can affect the classroom can allow both students and teachers see the classroom, and hence can allow everyone to see the classroom as an inclusive place. Please see the handout on difference and its classroom effects for more details.

Practical Tips for Promoting an Inclusive Classroom

While many discussions concerning diversity focus on talking about the importance of diversity and recognizing difference, it is equally important to move to the next step: incorporating specific tips for addressing differences and how they play out.

One way to form strategies for promoting an inclusive classroom is to use self reflection by thinking of potential scenarios in advance and how one would address them. The solutions to such scenarios are ones that each teacher should consider for themselves since there are no immediate right-or-wrong answers.

You may also find these handouts on more specific concerns in the classroom useful:
—  Incorporating the Challenges of Being an International TA
—  Diversity in Student Needs
—  Additional Questions for Self-Reflection
—  Other links