Creating an Inclusive Classroom Environment – Syllabus Edition

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Federal Art Project, Sponsor. [Books are weapons Read about… “The negro in national defense,” “Africa and the war,” and “Negro history and culture” at the Schomburg Collection of the New York Public Library / / J.P]. [New York: NYC WPA War Services, between 1941 and 1943] Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/98516622/. (Accessed December 27, 2016.)

Over the past few years, I’ve been on Faculty Senate at the University of Denver, and serve on the Student Relations Sub-Committee. One of the project we’ve worked on as a committee is an Inclusive Learning Environments initiative, which aims to create support for teaching faculty who want to create inclusive learning spaces for them and their students.

As an adjunct faculty member in the Library and Information Science program, I’ve thought about how I might include this in my syllabus, both in terms of course readings (working on it), and in terms of the expectations I set for the classroom environment. Here’s the language I’ve chosen to include in my syllabus about the kind of classroom environment I envision and intend to enact. I also included a section encouraging students to inform me of their preferred pronouns so that I can make a note in my records and can address them properly. So – the section about classroom environment – much of the language is from Ch. 8 of The Art of Facilitation.

Classroom Environment

I encourage you to think of this classroom as a “brave space,” where we will:

  • Approach controversy with civility. Different views are to be expected, and should be honored, with a group commitment to understand the sources of disagreement and work cooperatively toward shared understanding. (Astin & Astin, 1996)
  • Own intentions and impact. I expect all students to acknowledge and own that even questions and statements from a place of positive intent may still have negative impact.
  • Challenge by choice. No one is required to participate in every discussion, but I encourage all of us to challenge ourselves to share and question. If you aren’t quite sure how to phrase something, you can preface it with something like “This is a first draft thought.”
  • Respect. I encourage you all to think about what this looks and sounds like to you, and to enact that when interacting with others in the classroom.
  • No attacks. This is closely tied to the above guideline, “respect.” I encourage everyone in the classroom to closely examine and be aware of the difference between a personal attack on an individual or group of people, and a challenge to an individual or group’s beliefs that may evoke a defensive emotional response. In the latter case, self-reflection and examination of the root of that emotional response and discomfort can be both productive and enlightening.

I intend to cover some pretty heavy topics in the ten weeks of this class, so I’m hopeful that setting these ground rules (and maybe some more specifics depending on the particular topic) can provide some useful structure.

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