Now more than ever is a time to attend to issues of equity and inclusivity in our classes. The coronavirus pandemic exacerbates already existing inequalities in higher education and all over the world (and inequality worsens its spread). Members of BIPOC communities are disproportionately becoming ill and dying of COVID-19, and the brutal murder of George Floyd – less than 10 miles from Macalester – has many questioning the ways that white supremacy operates in higher ed (which is not a new question, of course). 

We will have to be intentional in our efforts to mitigate the exacerbation of already existing inequities in our Macalester community and in our (remote and in-person) classrooms. If you know of a student who is experiencing financial hardship at this time, please encourage them to apply for assistance through Macalester’s Emergency Aid Program. The staff in the Department of Multicultural Life and many other departments within Student Affairs are available to offer support. As always, please consult Whom to Contact for support for particular student issues or concerns.

In order to be truly inclusive our curricular and pedagogical strategies must be grounded in equity and social justice. In her post on designing inclusive classes, Maha Bali suggests that a critical “first step is to think about our curriculum from a social justice perspective and recognize that we are not neutral. If we do not make intentional efforts to make content and pedagogical choices that promote equity and amplify the cultures of marginalized groups, our courses are likely to NOT be inclusive.”

Kelly A. Hogan and Viji Sathy write extensively about inclusive teaching strategies and suggest that “One way in which you can immediately foster inclusive teaching is to ask, listen, and learn from your own students.” They also offer 8 Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Zoom TeachingCollaborative note taking is another effective inclusive teaching strategy.

Dr. Malinda Smith’s Twitter thread on threats to equity and inclusion during the COVID-19 pandemic offers a number of excellent resources, as does Dr. Tasha Souza’s essay on responding to microaggressions in online learning during a pandemic. This recent piece by Musbah Shaheen in Diverse Issues in Higher Education raises very important considerations for international students.

I recommend the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching if you’re interested in engaging in a reflective process to support inclusive teaching practices.

Key themes in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s collection of essays about how faculty can support students in traumatic times include staying in regular contact with all of your students, and being authentic and compassionate.

The AAC&U’s webinar, Safeguarding Quality, Equity, and Inclusion as Learning Moves Online, offers the following summary recommendations:

  • Communicate often and consistently
  • Be patient and kind – to students and to yourself
  • Use Moodle to clarify expectations and access to resources
  • Check in regularly with offers of support and connection
  • Don’t assume all students have access to technology
  • Provide assurance that you’re there to help students succeed
  • Give grace while maintaining learning goals

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Teaching” newsletter editor Beth McMurtrie asked two experts in online learning for tips on how to keep students who are struggling from falling through the cracks: Melody Buckner, associate vice provost for digital learning initiatives and online education at the University of Arizona; and Alexandra M. Pickett, director of online teaching at Open SUNY. Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Be proactive. Reach out to all of your students early, and often. Circumstances change, so what may seem doable in week one may not be true in week four. “Check in with them and try to understand what they’re grappling with,” says Pickett. Were they able to get home? Are they in an environment that’s conducive to learning? Do they have the necessary gear and internet access? Do they need to work or take care of family members? Do they have access to health care?
  • Be as low-tech as possible. Reach out through your learning-management system or by email to check in with students. Don’t assume people have the ability to hop on a live Zoom call.
  • Be authentic in your interactions. “Faculty presence in an online course is critical,” says Buckner. “When I record my lectures, I’m a one-take wonder. If my dog is barking I say, ‘Hold on, my dog is barking.’ I don’t stop and re-record. That makes me real to students. I’m not just this person who is a content expert. I’m at home doing a lecture with my dog in the background.”
  • Hold office hours. You could post certain times when you’re available online, or ask students to email you with requests to talk (including by phone, if that is best for some students).
  • Offer options. Students now may be in different time zones, have limited data plans and no Wi-Fi, or may not have a quiet space to study. Giving them more than one way to participate in discussions and complete assignments will allow them to figure out what works best for their situation. “Maybe you stream your lecture but then save it,” says Buckner. “Maybe it’s just an audio file, so students can download it later.” And be sure to caption the video to provide access to all students.

Remember “context before content” (Dr. Jamie Washington)