The most direct place that students can feel singled out or excluded is in the classroom. From the very first day of class, there are practices that can immediately set a welcoming, inclusive tone for the rest of the course. Including Lafayette’s Diversity Statement on the syllabus is important, but also discussing it on the first day of class and ensuring that students know it matters is equally valuable. Many students have reported that professors often omit the diversity statement from their syllabi completely, and most report never having heard a professor even mention it. Reading and discussing the diversity statement can immediately establish that exclusive, marginalizing behaviors will not be tolerated in the classroom, making students feel more comfortable and safe. It also adds authenticity to the diversity statement when professors tailor it to their course material, explaining how it will be applied throughout the course as opposed to simply reading off what has already been written. It is also important to revisit the diversity statement throughout the class, and not only mention it the first day and forget about it.
It is also very beneficial for professors to establish themselves as not only professional but caring as well. Making an effort to get to know students individually and learning names are great ways to start, but there is more to it. Michelle Polton-Simon, Lafayette College, Class of 2019, shared: “To me a caring professor looks like somebody that you feel comfortable admitting that you’re a person to. You feel comfortable saying stuff that isn’t directly about class to them. Somebody that if you say to them ‘I’m struggling,’ they won’t judge you: they will try to help you. And that often starts in the classroom, when professors say that they themselves are struggling to balance family/life circumstances.” A professor being vulnerable on the first day of class and in the first few weeks of the semester signals to students that the professor is approachable, compassionate, and understanding. Students feel more comfortable with the professor, and therefore more comfortable in the classroom. Remembering that all students know that the professor is the authority figure is important. Exercising power over students through an authoritarian figure role is often detrimental to the classroom environment.
After the first few days of class, there are practices that can be carried into the remainder of the course going forward. During class discussions, it is essential that professors ensure that the voices of marginalized students are being heard rather than spoken over. Making students feel empowered enough to speak up is another way to promote an inclusive classroom environment. According to Professor Monica Salas Landa, Anthropology & Sociology, empowering students is a great way to make them feel included in the classroom: “I try to communicate to my students that the success of the class depends on them too. I like to create an environment where students feel that their presence is as important as my own presence.”