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Diversity & Inclusive Teaching (Archived)

This teaching guide has been retired. Visit our newly revised guides on this topic,
Increasing Inclusivity in the Classroom
Teaching Beyond the Gender Binary in the University Classroom



Both students and faculty at American colleges and universities are becoming increasingly varied in their backgrounds and experiences, reflecting the diversity witnessed in our broader society. The Center for Teaching is committed to supporting diversity at Vanderbilt, particularly as it intersects with the wide range of teaching and learning contexts that occur across the University.

The following tips are taken from Barbara Gross Davis’ chapter entitled “Diversity and Complexity in the Classroom: Considerations of Race, Ethnicity and Gender” in her excellent book, Tools for Teaching. We recommend that you read her full text to learn more about the issues and ideas listed below in this broad overview.

Davis writes: “There are no universal solutions or specific rules for responding to ethnic, gender, and cultural diversity in the classroom…. Perhaps the overriding principle is to be thoughtful and sensitive….” She recommends that you, the teacher:

  • Recognize any biases or stereotypes you may have absorbed.
  • Treat each student as an individual, and respect each student for who he or she is.
  • Rectify any language patterns or case examples that exclude or demean any groups.
  • Do your best to be sensitive to terminology that refers to specific ethnic and cultural groups as it changes.
  • Get a sense of how students feel about the cultural climate in your classroom. Tell them that you want to hear from them if any aspect of the course is making them uncomfortable.
  • Introduce discussions of diversity at department meetings.
  • Become more informed about the history and culture of groups other than your own.
  • Convey the same level of respect and confidence in the abilities of all your students.
  • Don’t try to “protect” any group of students. Don’t refrain from criticizing the performance of individual students in your class on account of their ethnicity or gender. And be evenhanded in how you acknowledge students’ good work.
  • Whenever possible, select texts and readings whose language is gender-neutral and free of stereotypes, or cite the shortcomings of material that does not meet these criteria.
  • Aim for an inclusive curriculum that reflects the perspectives and experiences of a pluralistic society.
  • Do not assume that all students will recognize cultural, literary or historical references familiar to you.
  • Bring in guest lecturers to foster diversity in your class.
  • Give assignments and exams that recognize students’ diverse backgrounds and special interests.

Resources to help you achieve an inclusive classroom that fosters diversity are provided below.

Inclusive Teaching Strategies

When instructors attempt to create safe, inclusive classrooms, they should consider multiple factors, including the syllabus, course content, class preparation, their own classroom behavior, and their knowledge of students’ backgrounds and skills. The resources in this section offer concrete strategies to address these factors and improve the learning climate for all students.

  • Creating Inclusive College Classrooms: An article from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan which addresses five aspects of teaching that influence the inclusivity of a classroom: 1) the course content, 2) the teacher’s assumptions and awareness of multicultural issues in classroom situations, 3) the planning of course sessions, 4) the teacher’s knowledge of students’ backgrounds, and 5) the teacher’s choices, comments and behaviors while teaching.
  • Teaching for Inclusion: Diversity in the College Classroom: Written and designed by the staff of the Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC, Chapel Hill,this book offers a range of strategies, including quotes from students representing a range of minority groups.
  • Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom, from the Derek Bok Center at Harvard University, describes how to turn difficult discussions into learning opportunities.

The Faculty Teaching Excellence Program (FTEP) at the University of Colorado has compiled a series of faculty essays on diversity in On Diversity in Teaching and Learning: A Compendium. This publication is available for download (as a PDF file) from the FTEP website (scroll down towards the bottom of the page for the download links). The essays in this volume include, among others:

  • Fostering Diversity in the Classroom: Teaching by Discussion: Ron Billingsley (English) offers 14 practical suggestions for teaching discussion courses (with 15-20 students) and creating an atmosphere in the classroom that embraces diversity.
  • Fostering Diversity in a Medium-Sized Classroom:
    Brenda Allen (Communications) outlines seven ways to create an interactive environment in larger classes (with 80-100 students) and thus promote diversity in the classroom.
  • Developing and Teaching an Inclusive Curriculum:
    Deborah Flick (Women Studies) uses the scholarship of Peggy McIntosh and Patricia Hill Collins to support a useful syllabus checklist and teaching tips that include techniques to provoke discussion about privilege and stereotypes among students.
  • The Influence of Attitudes, Feelings and Behavior Toward Diversity on Teaching and Learning: Lerita Coleman (Psychology) encourages instructors to examine their own identity development and self-concept to determine how they feel diversity and bias affect their teaching. She also shares 14 specific teaching tips.

Racial, Ethnic and Cultural Diversity

Gender Issues

Sexual Orientation


  • Teaching Students with Disabilities: From a brochure entitled “College Students with Learning Disabilities,” developed by Vanderbilt’s Opportunity Development Center, and from the ODC staff.

Annotated Bibliographies

Both of these bibliographies are hosted by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching , University of Michigan:

  • Promoting Diversity in College Classrooms: Edited by Maurianne Adams (New Directions in Teaching and Learning, 1992, vol. 52), this bibliography lists articles that encourage instructors to become conscious of their own identity development and bias to improve their teacher-student interactions in the classroom. Several lessons learned are shared, as well as curricular solutions.
  • Teaching for Diversity: Edited by Laura Border and Nancy Chism (New Directions in Teaching and Learning, 1992, vol. 49), this bibliography lists articles on topics ranging from the implications of diverse learning styles for instructional design to an ethnographic approach to the feminist classroom.

Related Vanderbilt Programs and Centers

Faculty and TAs exploring issues in diversity in teaching and learning may be interested in the following programs, initiatives and centers at Vanderbilt. They range from service units offering direct assistance to those who are teaching at Vanderbilt, to research and outreach projects that present more indirect links to-but with important implications for–the Vanderbilt classroom.

University Programs and Centers

  • Antoinette Brown Lectures – Vanderbilt University Divinity School
    Established in 1974, this lectureship brings distinguished women theologians and church leaders to the Divinity School to speak on a variety of concerns for women in ministry.
  • Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center
    This center, dedicated in 1984, provides educational and cultural programming on the Black experience for the University and Nashville communities, and serves as a support resource for African-descended students. The center’s programs are open to the Vanderbilt and Nashville communities.
  • Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality
    Established in 1995, this program fosters conversation about religion, gender, and sexuality by providing education and encouraging communication within and across religious affiliations, ideological bases, and cultural contexts. The program facilitates courses of study, workshops, lectures, and provides consultation and information services. Their website includes news items on gender, religion, and sexuality, as well as a list of syllabi, papers and student projects.
  • The Office for Diversity Affairs
    This office administers an active recruitment program that involves visits by students and staff to other campuses; encourages contacts between applicants and matriculating students; and arranges visits to the Vanderbilt campus for newly accepted under- represented minority applicants. This site also links to related programs fostering diversity at the School of Medicine, such as the Vanderbilt Bridges Program and theMeharry – Vanderbilt Alliance .
  • The LGBTQI Resoure Office
    provides information about a variety of organizations that serve the needs of gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and staff.
  • Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center
    Providing activities on women, gender equity, and feminism through lectures, This center sponsors campus workshops and special events. These programs are open to students, faculty and staff, as well as interested members of the local community. The center’s 2000-volume library houses the only collection on campus devoted to gender and feminism, and is available for reference, research and general reading.
  • Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Disability Services Department
    This center, established in 1977, is Vanderbilt University’s equal opportunity, affirmative action, and disability services office. The center’s mission is to take a proactive stance in assisting the University with the interpretation, understanding, and application of federal and state laws and regulations which impose special obligations in the areas of equal opportunity and affirmative action.
  • Project Dialogue
    Project Dialogue is a year-long, University-wide program to involve the entire Vanderbilt community in public debate and discussion, and to connect classroom learning with larger societal issues. Project Dialogue has been run every other year since 1989, each year centering on a particular theme. Recent speakers have included Naomi Wolf, Cornel West, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Oliver Sacks, and Barbara Ehrenreich.
  • Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities
    The Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities promotes interdisciplinary research and study in the humanities and social sciences, and, when appropriate, the natural sciences. The center’s programs are designed to intensify and increase interdisciplinary discussion of academic, social, and cultural issues. Recent and upcoming fellows program themes include: “Memory, Identity, and Political Action,” “Constructions, Deconstructions, and Destructions in Nature,” and “Gender, Sexuality, and Cultural Politics.” Lectures, conferences, and special programs include: Race and Wealth Disparity in 21st Century America, a Gender and Sexuality Lecture Series, Rethinking the Americas: Crossing Borders and Disciplines, Diversity in Learning/ Learning and Diversity, Feminist Dialogues, and the Social Construction of the Body.
  • The Office of the University Chaplain
    This office offers programs to students to help them understand their own faith and the faith of others, clarify their values, and develop a sense of social responsibility. The office also provides leadership for Project Dialogue, as well as the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Series and the Holocaust Lecture Series.

International Services and Programs

  • English Language Center
    This center is a teaching institute offering noncredit English language courses for speakers of other languages. The center provides English instruction to learners at all levels of proficiency to enable them to achieve their academic, professional, and social goals.
  • International Student and Scholar Services
    This office offers programs and services to assist international students and scholars across the university.

Student Offices and Programs

Outreach Programs

  • Girls and Science Camp
    This camp was established at Vanderbilt University in the summer of 1999 in response to the gender differences in science achievement found in high school. Its goals are to engage girls in science activities, to foster confidence in science achievement, and to encourage girls’ enrollment in high school science courses.

Additional Web Resources

  • Diversity Web
    The Association of American Colleges and Universities and the University of Maryland at College Park have designed DiversityWeb to connect, amplify and multiply campus diversity efforts through a central location on the Web. DiversityWeb is part of a larger communications initiative entitled Diversity Works-a family of projects providing resources to colleges and universities to support diversity as a crucial educational priority. Supported by grants from the Ford Foundation, this initiative is designed to create new pathways for diversity collaboration and connection, via the World Wide Web and more traditional forms of print communication.
  • Multicultural Pavilion
    The Multicultural Pavilion strives to provide resources for educators, students, and activists to explore and discuss multicultural education; facilitate opportunities for educators to work toward self-awareness and development; and provide forums for educators to interact and collaborate toward a critical, transformative approach to multicultural education. The Pavilion was created in 1995 at the University of Virginia.
  • Teaching for Diversity and Inclusiveness in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM): Angela Linse, Temple University; Wayne Jacobson, University of Washington; & Lois Reddick, New York University, propose in this essay that STEM instructors use a model adapted from research on problem solving to explore the lack of diversity in the STEM student population. As expert problem solvers, STEM instructors are well-prepared to begin addressing this issue in their own courses and programs.

Articles from CFT Newsletter:

  • Teaching from the Outside In: An article summarizing interviews of Vanderbilt faculty asked to reflect on their experience of teaching from “the outside in.”
  • An International Perspective: An interview of Nikolaos Galatos, a Vanderbilt graduate student from Greece who won last year’s B. F. Bryant Prize for Excellence in Teaching for outstanding teaching by a mathematics graduate student.
  • From the Student’s View: Difference: An article summarizing interviews of several Vanderbilt undergraduate students asked to reflect on their experience as students in a course or two in which the instructor was in some significant way different from most of the students in the class.