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Inclusive Classrooms:
Making good intentions explicit

Faculty can tell students they are committed to fairness and inclusion on the first day of class and make that clear with their course materials and in their syllabi. They can structure assignments and give feedback in ways that have been shown to increase student learning. In addition to setting up a classroom environment that invites participation by all students, faculty can also explicitly reinforce their commitment to inclusiveness on a day-to-day basis by using respectful and inclusive language.

Faculty can be aware of what language might offend people (such as “colored” or “Oriental”). It is clear that the way one uses a term that refers to a group of people matters; for example, using "gay," "retarded," or "lame" as an insult is quite different from using them as factual descriptors.

Faculty can be careful to avoid language that suggests they are making assumptions (such as implying that nurses are female, engineers are male, mothers don't work, everyone celebrates Christmas). They can avoid referring to a person's race, ethnicity, or sex, etc. when it is irrelevant to the matter at hand.

They can also be more proactive by:

  • including as many people as possible with gender non-specific language ("chair" or "chairperson" instead of "chairman").
  • using the terminology that ethnic or racial groups prefer (e.g. learning why some people like "Latino" more than "Hispanic" or the reasons for the debate between using "African American" vs. "Black").
  • using “People First" language for those with disabilities ("person with epilepsy" instead of "epileptic").
  • acknowledging that not all people are heterosexual by saying "spouses and partners" or more generally just "partners."

Knowing what language is respectful demonstrates that you’ve cared enough to find out. The Honolulu County Committee on the Status of Women created one resource with "Dos and Don'ts of Inclusive Language."

One scholar suggests that LGBTQ students encounter classrooms on a continuum ranging from explicit marginalization and implicit marginalization to implicit centralization and explicit centralization.1 This concept of a continuum can be extended to student experiences related to other types of historic or cultural marginalization (due to race, ethnicity, religion, etc.).

At the most inclusive end of the continuum, termed "explicit centralization," the classroom environment sends an unequivocal message that LGBT students and their perspectives are valued and that homophobic behaviors are not accepted. This happens in a systematic way through explicit discussion of ground rules for participation, statement in a syllabus, choice of topics or perspectives represented, inclusive language, etc.

1Michele DiPietro, “Inclusive Teaching for Our Queer Students: A Workshop,” in Mathew L. Ouellett, ed., Teaching Inclusively (New Forums Press, 2005), 636.