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Teaching Diversity: Tips for Being Inclusive

Susan L. Josephs, Associate Dean
Fisher College of Business
The Ohio State University
(Reprinted with permission)

Teaching in the diverse classroom in a global economy means more than addressing issues of diversity or multi-culturalism. We must be aware of how we treat our students, of how our students treat us, and of how our students treat each other. These kinds of issues span disciplines and professions. They are important in all classes, whether the format is lecture, discussion or team projects. Each class, regardless of format or discipline, offers the opportunity to increase awareness of diversity and multi-cultural issues. Based on that principle, I collected some different teaching tips. These tips address all types of classes in every discipline. You may find that some are more appropriate to your situation than others, and you may be more confortable using some than others. If you have a tip about teaching that address diversity or multi-cultural issues that you use and would like to share, please forward it to me and I will include it here.

If your class includes group work, even if students choose their own team members, insist that the group composition must be as diverse as possible with regard to gender, race, nationality and major.

Pay attention to how you address different groups of students. Do you refer to international students in the same way (e.g. by first name, last name) as you refer to other students? Do you address men and women differently? Strive for as much consistency as possible in the way you address each person in the class.

Monitor the questions and comments coming from the class to make sure that one group's opinions are not over-represented. If people from some groups (race, gender, nationality, major) are not volunteering information, ask for their opinion.

Use a random system for asking general questions or soliciting class participation so that every student has the same chance of participating.

When students are speaking to each other, monitor the discussion to make sure that students show consideration and respect. Make sure that all groups are able to participate. Intervene if a person or group of people are trying to dominate the discussion.

If a difficult classroom situation arises based on a culticultural or diversity issue (or any difficult, value or judgement-based situation), ask for a time out while everyone writes down his or her thoughts/opinions about the incident. This allows everyone to cool down and allows you to collect your thoughts and plan a response.

Include a statement in your syllabus about the need to encourage and respect diversity. Even including the University's anti-discrimination policy shows that you are aware of it, and provides a basis for discussion or action should a relevant issue arise.

Make sure your syllabus in written in gender neutral or gender inclusive terms.

When you adopt a text book, make sure it is written in gender neutral or gender inclusive terms. If the book includes photographs, make sure people of both genders, and of various races and nationalities are involved.

If you use cases, choose cases which involve diverse populations, female decision makers, or decision makers with Hispanic, Asian etc. surnames. Use cases which are set in other countried, or which involves problems of international business or multi-cultural constituencies.

Do not allow students to sit in the same seat every class meeting. Encourage students to sit next to people they don't know, and allow two or three minutes at the start of class for people to introduce themselves to others. This will encourage students to get to know their colleagues as people.

At various points in the term (perhaps after three and six weeks), allow students to provide anonymous feedback about the course, especially with regard to their level of comfort in asking questions, answering questions, asking for help, etc., both from the instructor and from their colleagues. This may help uncover problems that you would not otherwise recognize.

Where appropriate, use the lecture materials to show how your field has become more diverse in the past few years. Present information about the increases in omen, minorities, international employees in the profession. Discuss how the changing population has affected the field. How is the profession adapting to a global market?

Invite guest speakers to your class who represent diversity in gender, race and ethnicity, even if the topic itself does not deal with multi-cultural or diversity issues.

If you meet with recruiters as part of your student service activities, ask the recruiters for information that you can share with the class on these firms address multi-cultural and diversity issues.

If you use materials which are not written in gender neutral or gender inclusive terms (especially older cases and journal articles), point out that the norm in business has changed since the materials were printed. Use these types of materials as an opportunity to remind students that most businesses use gender inclusive/gender netural language as a matter or course.

If you normally make announcements in class about student organization meetings or department functions, include announcements about multi-cultural events such as Hispanic Awareness Week, Asian Awareness Week, etc.

If you collect index cards from students on the first day, ask them to include a list of the student/community organizations to which they belong. Allow them to make brief announcements about their student organization activities in class. This is especially helpful with diverse student populations. It allows them to inform other students about gender, race or ethnic-based student organizations.

If a student makes a blatantly sexist, racist, or other comment which is likely to be offensive, ask the student if s/he could re-phrase the question/comment to express the idea without offending other members of the class. Use the opportunity to inform the class that those types of statements are inappropriate in professional settings. Stress that while each person has a right to his or her opinion, offensive statements and behaviors are simply inappropriate in the corporate environment and in the classroom environment.

Do not talk over a student's question or comment. Allow a student to completely finish before you respond. Faculty often jump in while women or international students are asking a question to finish the sentence, or answer before the question is complete. In classroom discussion, insist that students also allow each other to complete a statement/question before responding.

If students make group presentations, insist that every member of the team must have a speaking part. Women and international students often are not given speaking parts otherwise.

If groups work on more than one task, use a rotating leader system. Each member of the group must take a leadership role on one task, or on a major part of the task. This assures that all members of the group, regardless or gender, race or ethnicity, have a chance to learn leadership and organizational skills.

If your class is basically a lecture class, or if students are hesitant to ask questions, allow students to write questions at the end of class to turn in, and which can be answered during the next class meeting. Choose questions from men and women, from international students, etc.. Make sure that good and bad questions are distributed equally and fairly among gender, race and ethnic groups. Alternately, assign students to ask questions in advance and rotate through the class roster, so that every student has an equal chance to answer questions.