Recently, a college political group held an "affirmative action bake sale" that varied its prices depending on the gender and race of the buyer. The goal was to protest the school's admissions policy, which according to the group "demeans minorities on our campus by placing labels of race and gender on their accomplishments."
Not surprisingly, more than 100 students held a counter-protest of the bake sale. And the university's vice president for diversity and community engagement referred to the event as "inflammatory and demeaning."
This wasn't the first time that the school's admissions policies had been bathed in controversy, including previous affirmative action bake sales and even a Supreme Court case that was ruled on earlier this year.
No matter if you side with the protesters, counter-protesters, neither, or both -- it is your responsibility to provide an education to all of these students, offering them an opportunity for their voices to be heard and to hear differing opinions.
Of course, this is more easily said than done.
No two students are identical. So to accommodate the diverse opinions, ages, backgrounds, races, religions and sexual identities that may show up in your classroom, you need to create an inclusive learning environment that can meet these educational needs.
Consider these tips to create an inclusive classroom:
According to research conducted by Raymond Wlodkowski and Margery Ginsberg, students from outside of the "majority culture" often do not respond as well to traditional teaching methods and can even be intimidated by "competitive learning environments." Other studies indicate that women and people of color may be more likely to respond to collaborative and "connected" styles of learning that encourage students to work together to produce knowledge.
Supplement more traditional education efforts with alternate strategies tailored to your students' individual needs. If possible, employ structured small-group activities that encourage everyone to participate.
Offer students the ability to interact with information and source materials from a variety of formats, and allow students to showcase their understanding of the material in various ways (e.g., portfolios, presentations, oral exams).
While healthy debate should be encouraged, lay out expectations regarding behavior and civility for group discussions. Outline who can speak and when. Make it clear to all students that the classroom is a safe space to ask questions and make mistakes.
Review the resources that are being used for the class. Do they embody the diverse nature of your campus? Do your examples or illustrations reflect the varying backgrounds of the student body in non-stereotypical ways?
Consider employing universal design for learning (UDL) or similar strategies to improve classroom accessibility. For example, deliver information both orally and visually to not only accommodate those with visual or auditory impairments but to also embrace students with varying learning preferences.
Despite your best efforts, you will still bring your own preconceptions and assumptions into the classroom. Consider employing outside tools and training to help you identify potential blindspots.
For example, avoid using idiomatic expressions that assume cultural knowledge, or when you do, explain their meaning for the benefit of non-native English speakers.
Try to build relationships and form meaningful connections with your students on a personal level. Encourage students to visit you during office hours.
If possible with the class size, take the time to learn and use their names. Offer students the chance to share their unique personal experiences and perspectives with the class. Conversely, avoid asking students to speak on behalf of or represent groups that they may be a member of.
When it comes to creating an inclusive classroom, flexibility is key. No two students are the same, nor will any two classes be the same. By striving to individualize your teaching and accommodating the diversity of your students' experiences, you can help to at least encourage an inclusive learning environment.