Guidelines for teaching in a diverse classroom

Zhiwen Xu
Diversity Intern

“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

We live in a diverse world. The University of Pittsburgh reflects our whole society on a micro level with students, faculty, staff and visitors from different races, nationalities, religions, cultural backgrounds, ideas, perspectives, and knowledge levels working together, generating sparks through the empowerment of different thoughts and values. The 2016-17 academic year has been designated as the University’s Year of Diversity, with the goal of fostering mutual understanding and appreciation of the differences among us. These differences can strengthen our school community and unite us to advance knowledge and academic development. Thus, faculty should help students to accept differences by engaging in classroom activities.

As an international student at Pitt, I appreciate the diverse learning environment. In this blog post, I share some thoughts from a student perspective that may help Pitt instructors promote an inclusive classroom setting.

  1. Recognize any biases or stereotypes toward minority students. Avoid making assumptions based on students’ races, religions, and/or nationalities. People tend to make assumptions about different ethnic groups according to their current knowledge about the culture(s), which hinders relationships between students and teachers. Avoiding assumptions is a challenging task because most of us are not aware of our hidden biases. To avoid offending minority students or taking the chance they will misinterpret your message, strive to understand the different cultures and customs among students in your classes. Demonstrate behaviors of mutual respect, providing interaction guidelines from the beginning of the semester. Avoid using discriminatory language and discussing sensitive topics such as the government from the international students’ country. There are many resources to test yourself for hidden biases; one of the most popular tests is called “Project Implicit”. Moreover, there are tests that focus on gender and racial biases, such as the Gender Test of the Implicit Association and the Race Test of the Implicit Association. Completing these tests can reveal your unconscious biases and increase your awareness of diversity.
  1. Improve classroom discussion and interaction by offering equal opportunities to participate for students from different genders, races, nationalities and majors, and welcome all students to participate in the discussion. Convey a message of equity in front of your students. When you are asking questions, let minority students share their perspectives, including some examples from their own culture. This sharing of perspectives can improve classroom interaction among all students and benefit the majority of students by exposing them to global perspectives. When designing classroom learning experiences, include student-centered activities (e.g., small group discussions, debates, presentations) and form groups that include people with different cultural backgrounds. This allows students to experience a broad range of perspectives by collaborating with people unlike themselves. When I was at a recent event called “Dialogue with the Dean” held by the Office of Cross-Culture and Leadership Development, most of the students mentioned that one of the issues that hinders classroom engagement is the large gap between the participation rates of highly active students and less involved students.
  1. Include reading materials such as textbooks and journal articles written by both genders and various races and nationalities. Incorporate images from different cultures and choose examples and cases which represent diverse populations and countries. In addition, use gender-neutral language in course materials, invite guest speakers from different cultural backgrounds and ethnicities, and design assignments that allow students to discover the diversity of different ethnicities.

In the Dialogue with the Dean event mentioned above, Dean Kenyon Bonner rhetorically asked, “Why are you here? You are here because you care about Pitt.” This is true. We all care about Pitt, and I know you do too, no matter if you are a faculty member, a domestic student or an international student, like me. Let’s make our campus a diverse and inclusive community by combining our efforts and show the world that Pitt is truly a welcoming and caring community.

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