I want to create an inclusive chemistry classroom…
Supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the chemistry classroom is important for student success in STEM. Here are some actionable ways that you can help support these efforts. These ideas are consolidated from the documents associated with the University of Iowa Center for Teaching with examples provided for it in a chemistry context. You may also want to read this article1 by Viji Sathy and Kelly A. Hogan because it also provides more details on strategies for inclusion.
Provide a diversity statement in your syllabus. This lets the students know up front that you care about inclusion in the classroom. This is now recommended by CLAS and the suggested language is provided below:
“Respect for Diversity: It is my intent that students from all diverse backgrounds and perspectives be well-served by this course, that students' learning needs be addressed both in and out of class, and that the diversity that students bring to this class be viewed as a resource, strength and benefit. It is my intent to present materials and activities that are respectful of diversity: gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, culture, perspective, and other background characteristics. Your suggestions about how to improve the value of diversity in this course are encouraged and appreciated. Please let me know ways to improve the effectiveness of the course for you personally or for other students or student groups.
In addition, in scheduling exams, I have attempted to avoid conflicts with major religious holidays. If, however, I have inadvertently scheduled an exam or major deadline that creates a conflict with your religious observances, please let me know as soon as possible so that we can make other arrangements.”2
Set clear guidelines in your syllabus and follow them.1,3 When all students clearly know the expectations, learning objectives, and grading rubrics, then it leads to more equity in the classroom. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have flexibility during the semester, just try to communicate it clearly to students when things need to change. For example, provide a clear rubric for students on how their lab reports will be graded or clearly communicate deadlines for homework assignments at the beginning of the semester.
Learn about different cultural styles and then provide variety in your teaching strategies and assignments.3 Students have different cultural styles (e.g. individualistic vs. collective, high vs. low power differential).4 Within the chemistry classroom, you can provide opportunities for students to solve problems or write lab reports in a group or as individuals. Offering more low-stakes quizzes and assignments decreases students’ overall stress level and provides the opportunity for variety in your assessments.1
Provide a variety of exam question types.5 Questions on exams that are comprised of multiple choice, open-ended essays, compare-and-contrast, and practical applications of theoretical principles require students to think in different ways. For large lecture courses, we often rely on multiple choice exams, but think critically about how to ask these questions. Also assess if you are biasing the questions against international students (e.g. using English measurements units instead of Metric units, using unfamiliar words or jargon).
Focus on a growth mindset.6 A growth mindset is the belief that a person's capacity to learn and improve can be meaningfully developed. This is different than a fixed mindset, which focuses on the idea that some people are just not good a chemistry or science and results in biases in the classroom. So when you are teaching, remind students that chemistry is not innate and can be improved with engagement and effort. Also clearly articulate that this course is designed to help you succeed, not weed people out of STEM. Acknowledging times that you also struggled on a topic can serve as an important reinforcement that everybody has struggled at some point in their academic career. This can be particularly important after the first exam in an introductory level chemistry course, where students may not have as much experience with exams at the college level. Make sure students know that they can still succeed in the course and provide resources to help.
Establish a classroom or community norm for the ways in which group members should interact in class. Do you have students who talk over others in their group? Do they discount or shut down ideas from other group members? Make sure that you explicitly discuss expectations for group work. Require students to engage in respectful dialogue and discourse, even if they do not agree. This can be particularly important in first year discussion sections (for Principles of Chemistry I and II) because we can let student know early in their academic career that there are expectations for group work. Page 9 and 10 on the “Creating a Positive Classroom Climate for Diversity” handout7 from UCLA offers great examples of ground rules for discussions and how to respond if a student violates these rules. Create a slide for the first day of class to go over these ground rules. The ELIPSS Project also has rubrics for interpersonal communication and teamwork that can help students (and instructors) assess and reflect on these interactions.8
Teach a diverse set of topics.1,3 One of the great things about teaching chemistry is that we can easily link it to real world applications. However, many times these topics are geared primarily towards mainstream white culture. Explore multi-cultural topics and issues related to social justice (e.g. chemistry of the Flint water crisis and how it specifically impacted Black communities) to demonstrate chemical principles to students from all backgrounds.
Try to get to know the students in your class.1,3 Having a conversation with students in the classroom or trying to get to know them can go a long way towards making them feel welcome in our department. This may be hard to do in the large lecture courses but saying hello or walking around answering questions can make you seem more approachable. Having students develop a small personal connection makes it easier to ask questions in class or stop by to get help during your office hours.
Be reflective in your teaching.3 Ask yourself if you are making assumptions about your students or treating them different in the classroom. Do you have biases that make you think that students of color or those with disabilities will be less prepared than others? Do you question certain students more regarding requests for make-up exams or extensions on assignments? Routinely reflect about your behavior towards students both in and out of the classroom and ask yourself if there are ways that you can improve your interactions with all students in the course. Page 4 of this UI Center for Teaching resource3 offers many reflective questions that you can use to assess your biases.
Education yourself about microaggressions. Microaggressions are the everyday, subtle interactions behaviors that communicate a bias towards a marginalized group.9 These comments may seem small but they impact the person that they are directed at in a big way. Saying something like “You are really good at chemistry for a black girl” may seem like a compliment, but you are putting a qualifier on a student’s performance that is related to race and gender. These small comments build up and erode a person’s confidence and sense of belonging. This video by created by the University of North Texas provides more details on microaggressions students experience throughout their academic careers and ways to respond to it when it occurs in the classroom.
Find resources and professional development opportunities in teaching DEI. Sometimes instructors shy away from what may be perceived as controversial topics because they are worried about offending students or saying things the wrong way. If you fall into this category, there are resources to help. Consider enrolling in the UI BUILD certificate10 or check out the resources and events on the Science Educators for Equity, Diversity, and Social Justice website.11 Both offer opportunities to improve your language and build confidence in DEI issues.