LeaRN Programs
Dept. 3334 | Coe 105
Laramie, WY 82071LeaRN logo

Promoting Diversity in Courses

April Heaney, Director, LeaRN Program (aprilh@uwyo.edu)

Not surprisingly, UW’s students start college with widely varying experiences with diversity before coming to UW. The following ideas can help instructors consider approaches to incorporating diversity & inclusion in your course through these three avenues:

  • Honoring and embracing students’ cultures and identities
  • Representing diverse perspectives
  • Offering guidance for students in understanding/practicing inclusive approaches


Honoring & embracing students’ cultures and identities
One of the most impactful experiences for any student is to encounter an instructor who meaningfully supports their full identity—especially those parts of the student’s family or home culture that may not mesh well with academic culture. These activities can help instructors understand students’ backgrounds and create meaningful opportunities for support or mentorship.

Autobiographical sketch

Assign students a 2 pg. autobiographical writing in their first week of class that includes a description of their 3 most memorable educational experiences (can be positive or negative or both); their core motivations and goals; important mentors or role models in their lives; their greatest interests outside of school; and any other information the students would like to share with the instructor about their experiences and educational needs.

Give students feedback on the autobiographical sketch, and make personal notes about each student to refer to during the semester and before one-on-one conferences. Make note of resources and opportunities you may want to share with each student based on their backgrounds and needs.

In class, ask students to share one or two elements that surprised them or in the autobiographical sketch. Share one or two of your own.

Diversity Statement

Include a diversity statement on your syllabus that highlights your own values and goals for diversity and inclusion in your class (link to examples). Prepare students for class discussion of “hot button” topics by developing collaborative guidelines and values for class discussion in the first two weeks of the semester. Ask students to periodically assess and reflect on class discussion based on these criteria. Follow up with students who participate in class discussions in risky or valuable ways to thank them for their comments and invite them to follow up with you when necessary.

Student conferences

Meet with students individually in the first 3 weeks of the semester, and a couple times during the rest of the semester. Use the conference time to discuss an assignment draft or approach, but also to check in with them about their semester, classes, challenges, possible resources, and opportunities to connect on campus.

 Instructor Readings:

Gleig, A. Resources for Talking about Race, Privilege and Diversity in the Classroom: http://www.fctl.ucf.edu/teachingandlearningresources/DiversityAndInclusion/content/Gleig%20-%20Diversity%20Resource%20List.pdf

McIntosh, P. (2014). Beyond the knapsack. Teaching Tolerance, 46. Retrieved from http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-46-spring-2014/feature/peggy-mcintoshbeyond-knapsack


Representing diverse perspectives
For underrepresented students, encountering texts and mentors that reinforce their own backgrounds and identities can greatly impact their college success and confidence. For all students, multicultural texts and conversations are helpful to cultivating empathy and appreciation for diverse perspectives.

Course texts

Evaluate your course readings, videos, speakers, etc. with a diversity-lens. Explore ways to increase the diversity of your course texts by (1) representing authors from diverse/underrepresented backgrounds, (2) representing important topics and issues to underrepresented students (especially for students in your class), and (3) highlighting important contributions to the course discipline by diverse scholars or professionals.

Framing of the discipline

It can be helpful to discuss any ways that academic fields or disciplines are historically (and currently) shaped by mainstream values and founding figures. Discussing whose voices and perspectives are missing or underrepresented is a key way to grow students’ understanding of disciplines and opportunities to embrace less visible perspectives.

Invited speakers, panels, student guests

When you invite speakers and/or student guests, put great effort into including visitors who share underrepresented students’ home cultures.

Instructor Reading:

Flores-Duenas, L. (2004). Reader response, culturally familiar literature, and reading comprehension. In Boyd, F.B., Brock, C.H., & Rozendal, M.S. Multicutlural and multilingual literacy and language: Contexts and practices.

Offering guidance for students in understanding/practicing inclusive approaches
The following activities can help students grow empathy and appreciation for diversity, inclusion, and effects of various forms of privilege in their lives as college students and citizens. 

I am From Poem & reflection

Early in the Fall semester (even as an ice breaking activity), ask students to complete this template for a poem that illuminates key aspects of their background and home community and culture. Students can share these in small or large group. Finish the activity by asking students to reflect on what they learned about their classmates, and about their student peers at UW more broadly. What surprised them about their own or others’ poems?

The Danger of a Single Story TED Talk

In the first few weeks of the semester, show Adichie’s TED talk (20 min.) in class and ask students to reflect on the “single stories” that have played a role in their own lives and the lives of their close friends and family. Consider ways that the “single story” concept might affect the topic of your FYS and the assignments students are engaging in.

Exercises around intersectionality
Goodman & Jackson (2004). Pedagogical approaches to teaching about racial identity from an intersectional perspective.

Ask students to engage in an activity highlighting the different parts of their identity that may be privileged (or underprivileged) depending on the context they are in.

Exploring White privilege and other forms of privilege
McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Retrieved from https://psychology.umbc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/57/2016/10/White-Privilege_McIntosh-1989.pdf

Read an article focused on privilege, such as McIntosh’s “Invisible Knapsack” essay. Discuss the forms of privilege that are visible and unseen in students’ experiences on campus. Explore ways that students and citizens can advocate for oppressed or underrepresented people in different contexts; address the danger of the “savior-fallacy” in advocacy work of all types.
LeaRN Programs
Dept. 3334 | Coe 105
Laramie, WY 82071LeaRN logo