Making Room at the Table: Creating Inclusive Classrooms
Most of us teaching college today have encountered the drives and initiatives to create inclusive classrooms. The pandemic and debates over social justice have challenged many of us to examine and re-examine how and what we teach. Safety protocols, strong debates over the role of diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education may have left many teachers feeling burned out with adjusting.
With the enormity of changes in education, we sometimes need to take a breath and think about small changes we can make to yield big results for student success. James Lang writes in Small Teaching; we should consider taking “an approach that seeks to spark positive change in higher education through small but powerful modifications to our course design and teaching practices.”
I needed to find descriptions of what an inclusive classroom looks like or explanations of some of the terms used in these initiatives. I discovered this from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Central Florida, “In an inclusive college classroom, the participants work together to create and maintain a climate of openness and respect that encourages individuals to share their perspectives and thought for the purposes of mutual understanding, growth, and development. Inclusive classrooms are welcoming, secure, diverse, and interactive. In an inclusive college classroom, instructors strive to be responsive to students as individuals with many intersectionalities, as well as cognizant of students’ uniqueness and value in relationship to the broader classroom culture.”
Intersectionality is the interconnection of social constructs such as race, class, and gender. And this construct applies to both individuals and groups. Intersectionality creates overlapping and interdependent systems that may foster discrimination and disadvantage, or conversely, may create privilege and entitlement.
How can we help our students develop attitudes that accept our differences and allow each individual room at our tables to be who they are, feeling comfortable, accepted, and welcomed? How do we address the almost infinite differences intersectionality creates with all the diverse opinions, ages, backgrounds, races, religious, sexual identities, gender identities and educational backgrounds, abilities and capabilities?
This just seemed absolutely daunting to me when I considered the vast and varied intersectionality presented in each of my students’ lives. However, after reading Lang’s Small teaching I felt more empowered to make changes in my teaching and course-room designs.