Diversity, equity, and inclusion statement

Here is an option I never selected while filling course evaluation forms: “My instructor actively includes everyone in the classroom.” The most positive option I ever selected was the “passively inclusive” option, which sounds like the instructor did not actively exclude anyone and probably repeated a few times during the semester, “Come on, everyone, I always see the same two hands raised.” Honestly, I had not even realized the extent of my privilege until I saw that question for the first time in my first year of graduate school. I had not realized because I was always one of two people who raised their hands—because I could learn from traditional instruction (or so I thought back then). I was an only child in a middle-class household; my mom had an M.D. and a Ph.D., my dad had a B.Sc. (and half an M.Sc.), and my parents could afford to raise a child who loved studying just as much as them. I am a person with several underrepresented identities (non-binary, Middle Eastern) who certainly passes as a white woman (represented more in engineering but still underrepresented). However, I was a privileged student because no one told me I could not do something. As a result, I always felt like I could do anything, including raising my hand in the classroom, even if my answer turned out to be wrong. Moreover, I actively believed that everyone felt that way and mainly preferred not to participate in the class until I had to answer that one question of the course evaluation form.

That being said, the problem is more than just a few students dominating classroom discussions. Students learn the most when they build upon each other’s understanding because then they can learn more than what the instructor provides [1]. Thus, if we want students to learn effectively, we need enough students in the classroom who represent their own values and ideas and whose values and ideas span a comprehensive range (diversity). Moreover, we need them to benefit from resources and opportunities as much as they need to be successful (equity). Finally, we need them to feel that they belong in the learning community around them (inclusion). Only when we have diversity, equity, and inclusion, do we create the most effective learning environment for all students. The following paragraphs describe my actions and action plans to intentionally create a learning environment that achieves and communicates diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

I design an accessible, affordable, and inclusive course to attract and retain a diverse audience. I publish a warm-toned syllabus [2] to publicize the course before the start of the semester, which includes my statements about accessibility, affordability, inclusivity, and seeking help. In addition, by including an anonymous feedback form in the course, I provide a low-stakes opportunity for students to express their discomfort because of something a classmate or I said or did. These actions boost students’ enrollment and improve their persistence in staying enrolled and participating in learning. Looking ahead, I plan to improve the diversity in my courses by allowing students to choose how to demonstrate their learning (such as oral presentation, project, or report), and connecting them to the diverse learning community outside the classroom.

I get to know my students and ask for their feedback often to equate the learning environment. A “getting to know you” survey early in the semester invites students to share pronunciation, preferred pronouns, and any accessibility or support requests they have. It also asks about students’ background knowledge and their comfort with it (ranging from “I never heard this” to “I know it so well I can help my peers”). Moreover, every few weeks, I ask students to answer some reflection questions about their learning and classroom experience. These mechanisms help students receive the support they need from me. In the future, I want to incorporate a self-evaluation rubric that asks students to identify the areas or skills for which they need support.

I invite students to get to know, support, and learn from each other as a learning community.     I use evidence-based structures to encourage students to work with each other productively [3], [4]. For example, I often use icebreakers as the first part of the activities to boost team building. I also assign random but semi-permanent (constant for a few weeks) student groups to help students get comfortable with each other and get to know everyone in the classroom. I plan to improve my courses’ inclusivity in the future by incorporating group assignments (homework and exams) and peer feedback (with no grade attached) into the course structure. In addition, I want to use the information I obtain from the “getting to know you” survey to voluntarily assign (and reward) several “background topic experts” who can answer their peers’ questions.

In addition to the actions above, I have several ideas to welcome and maintain diversity, advance equity, and promote inclusion within the department and the institution. For example, I want to help improve evaluation rubrics (used for admitting, hiring, or promoting individuals) to reduce implicit bias and invite and retain a more balanced community. In addition, I want to work with experienced TAs to take on more roles in course development, such as designing interactive learning activities to support the lectures. Finally, I want to implement several interventions in introductory courses to improve students’ sense of belonging, and help them develop a growth mindset, affirm their personal values, and benefit constructively from critical feedback [5].

In summary, sharing our ideas with other people who have different identities, values, or ideals enables us to see happenings in these interactions from multiple dimensions and come to a more well-balanced conclusion that is freer of assumptions regarding others’ feelings and opinions. I am aware that I am a single person with unique identities, values, and ideals, so I take time to invite a more diverse group of learners to STEM, being a more equitable human and teacher, and intentionally including all parts of my community.

List of References

[1]      M. Menekse, G. S. Stump, S. Krause, and M. T. H. Chi, “Differentiated Overt Learning Activities for Effective Instruction in Engineering Classrooms,” J. Eng. Educ., vol. 102, no. 3, pp. 346–374, 2013, doi: 10.1002/jee.20021.

[2]      R. A. R. Gurung and N. R. Galardi, “Syllabus Tone, More Than Mental Health Statements, Influence Intentions to Seek Help,” Teach. Psychol., p. 0098628321994632, Feb. 2021, doi: 10.1177/0098628321994632.

[3]      C. J. Brame and R. Biel, “Group work: Using cooperative learning groups effectively,” Center for Teaching | Vanderbilt University, 2015. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/setting-up-and-facilitating-group-work-using-cooperative-learning-groups-effectively/ (accessed Nov. 01, 2021).

[4]      Y. Chang and P. Brickman, “When Group Work Doesn’t Work: Insights from Students,” CBE Life Sci. Educ., vol. 17, no. 3, p. ar52, 2018, doi: 10.1187/cbe.17-09-0199.

[5]      L. Aguilar and C. Wieman, “Psychological insights for improved physics teaching: Physics Today: Vol 67, No 5,” Phys. Today, vol. 67, no. 5, p. 43, Jan. 2014, doi: 10.1063/PT.3.2383.