Diversity and Inclusion Web Resource

Supporting Diverse Learners through Inclusive Teaching

The Suffolk student body is exceptionally diverse, and as an instructor, you have the opportunity to create a positive, productive learning environment that leverages your students’ differences. This page aims to provide you with tips, strategies, terms, and resources related to teaching inclusively to diverse learners. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please contact us at ctse@suffolk.edu – we will be happy to help support you.

Description:  The Suffolk University student body is exceptionally diverse,  and instructors have the opportunity to create a positive, productive learning environment that leverages students’ differences.  This resource aims to provide you with tips, strategies, terms, and resources related to teaching inclusively to diverse learners.  If you cannot find what you are looking for, please contact the ctse@suffolk.edu – we will be happy to support you.

 Student-centered teaching strategies:

 Integrate diversity into course content. By emphasizing the importance of diverse approaches, students will gain a richer learning experience when they are asked to consider viewpoints and interpretations of material that differ from their own. You can also integrate culturally diverse and relevant examples into course content by including material created by people of different backgrounds. By connecting diverse examples to the material at hand, instructors create an inclusive environment. For more ideas on incorporating diversity into course content, click here.

  1. Convey high standards and express confidence in students’ ability to meet standards. Critical feedback can be used to reflect the instructor’s high expectations of students while communicating confidence that students can achieve those expectations. Research has shown that when students are assured that they have the capacity to achieve high standards, they tend to be more motivated and identify more highly with academics (Cohen, Steele, & Ross, 1999).
  2. Treat each student as an individual. Group labels and assumptions can be inaccurate and damaging for students. Even though certain questions, such as “Where are you from?” and “What do ‘your’ people think?” may be well-intended, these microaggressions run the risk of making students feel categorized, marginalized, and like they are outsiders (Sue et al., 2007). By treating each student as an individual, instructors foster a safe and respectful learning environment. For more on this topic, click here.
  3. Establish a classroom community and expectations at the beginning. By clarifying expectations early about student discussion, collaboration, respect, and support, instructors can foster a safe, positive learning environment. If students are involved in the process of setting these expectations, students tend to engage in fewer negative behaviors, as this will give students ownership over their classroom experience (DiClementi & Handelsman, 2005). Even when expectations are established, challenging moments can arise. Click here for tips on handling difficult discussions and challenging moments in class.
  4. Encourage a growth mindset. When talking with students about their performance in class or on exams or assignments, avoid describing such performance as a sign of “natural ability” (or lack of ability). Speak with them about the extent to which experiences of academic faltering can provide opportunities to grow and improve. Create an environment in the classroom in which it is okay to make mistakes and where faltering can lead to deeper learning. A growth mindset has been shown to improve academic achievement (Yeager & Dweck, 2012) and help students overcome stereotype threat (Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002).

 Relationship to strategic plan/mission/initiative:

 Inclusive teaching is directly related to Suffolk University’s Strategic Plan Imperative 5: Building a cohesive community committed to diversity, sustainability, and impact on the region. Classrooms can serve as communities of learning in which diversity is leveraged, encouraged, and showcased. Student learning will be most productive in an environment in which students feel respected and in which different perspectives are represented.


Relationship to how learning works:

 Our students are different from one another along many dimensions, and these differences can impact their learning experience in a number of ways. Here are a few:

 Students’ cultural, academic, and socio-economic backgrounds can impact their preparedness to navigate a college classroom, including their effectiveness at studying, their inclination to reach out for help, their comfort with speaking up during a class discussion, and their familiarity with pre-requisite content.

  1. Students may experience stereotype threat, which occurs when one feels at risk of confirming a negative stereotype threat associated with their group. For example, women experience negative stereotypes regarding mathematic ability, and the anxiety associated with fulfilling the stereotype can result in lowered student performance (Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999).
  2. When the course climate (i.e., learning environment) feels marginalizing – for example, when students feel their perspectives are discouraged, when a range of perspectives is absent from course content, or when students experience microaggressions – student learning is negatively impacted (Ambrose et al., 2010). Not only do their attitudes towards academics suffer, but their cognitive development does as well (Pascarella et al., 1997, Whitt et al., 1999).


Faculty Spotlight:

In her Seminar for Freshmen, Assistant Professor of English Hannah Hudson incorporates conversations about setting expectations, not only for her course, but for college in general. Because her students comprise a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and academic experiences, she uses these conversations to build a foundation for a shared understanding of norms, expectations, and resources.

 For the first couple months of the semester, at the beginning of each class session, Dr. Hudson poses a specific question related to navigating her course or college. For example, students are prompted to think about appropriate ways to address their professors, techniques for handling stressful academic scenarios, effective notetaking methods, and strategies for active reading. Students jot down their answers, discuss their thoughts in pairs or small groups, then debrief as a class. Though some questions might seem obvious or elementary, they often elicit a surprising array of responses, revealing students’ uncertainty about academic expectations as well as the diversity of their approaches to college. Moreover, the format of this exercise allows students to contribute their different viewpoints and opinions to the conversation, as they share their experiences and successful strategies with their peers. Dr. Hudson notices that, as the semester progresses, students’ behaviors and reflective responses indicate that these conversations had an impact on their metacognitive skills. For example, students have recognized weaknesses in their learning strategies and identified what they might do differently to improve their performance next time.


Additional resources:

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010) How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass.

Aronson, J., Fried, C.B., & Good, C. (2002). Reducing the effects of stereotype threat on African American college students by shaping theories of intelligence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 113-125.

 Cohen, G. L., Steele, C. M., and Ross, L. D. (1999). The mentor’s dilemma: providing critical feedback across the racial divide. Personal and Social Psychology Bulletin 25(10), 1302-1318.

 DiClimenti, J. D. & Handelsman, M. M. (2005). Empowering students: class-generated course rules. Teaching of Psychology 32(1), 18-21.

 Miyake, A., et al. (2010). Reducing the gender achievement gap in college science: A classroom study of values affirmation. Science 330, 1234-1237.

Pascarella, E., Whitt, E., Edison, M., & Nora, A. (1997). Women’s perceptions of a “chilly climate” and their cognitive outcomes during the first year of college. Journal of College Student Development, 38(2), 109-124.

Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. (1999). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 35, 4-28.

Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62(4), 271-286.

Whitt, E., Nora, A., Edison, M., Terenzini, P., & Pascarella, E. (1999). Women’s perceptions of a “chilly climate” and cognitive outcomes in college: Additional evidence. Journal of College Student Development, 40(2), 163-177.

Yeager, D.S. & Dweck, C.S. (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: when students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. Educational Psychologist, 47, 302-314.



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