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Supporting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging 

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Creating an inclusive teaching environment takes effort and dedication. Truly inclusive instructors do more than incorporate a friendly tone; they take responsibility for creating a welcoming environment, develop courses that are inclusive, and “change their teaching based on evidence about practices that support and challenge all students to thrive” (Addy, et al., 2021). More than a decade ago, Thomas Laird (2011) identified nine elements that come together to define a complete picture of “diversity inclusivity,” but starting with just a few simple practices is a good way to begin. The examples presented here are easily implemented and offer a place to start, as does the resource 15 Ways to Get Started with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (Dutton Institute, 2022), which includes a course reflection worksheet. It’s crucial to remember that beginning, and not perfection, is what’s important.

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Credit: Wildflowers from Pixabay is licensed under CC0

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See it in Practice

name, pronouns, name rhymes with.., name means....
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Credit: © Penn State is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 

Communicate respect for your students by learning the correct pronunciations and preferred versions of their names and by allowing space for pronoun sharing. Avoid mispronouncing student names in class, which usually results in discomfort for everyone involved. This is especially important because research has shown that students who are uncomfortable are less likely to perform well.

As you work with names and pronouns, be aware of unconscious biases and our susceptibility to them. Widely available trainings for addressing unconscious biases, readily available on the internet, explain why it’s dangerous and potentially harmful to make assumptions about people based on their names and pronouns.

Give these ideas a try:

  • Hand out index cards and phonetic charts so that students can produce pronunciation guides like the one pictured above. You might use name tents in the same way, and then bring them with you to each class meeting. Keep these pronunciation guides in your office and practice before meeting with individual students.
  • For the first class meeting, have students check off their names on the course roster instead of calling roll orally.
  • Record students saying their own names – A media tool in Canvas’ discussion forums can help with this, as can the tools Voice Thread and Flip. And Zoom and Kaltura are good options, too, to record student voices.
  • Once you’ve got a handle on correct pronunciations, use students’ names in class.
  • Assign quick group assignments that give students the chance to do two things at once: solve a problem and share their names and the significance of their names with one another.
  • Allow for students to self-identify their pronouns but don’t suggest that they must. If students want to share, allow this to happen on paper instead of requiring that students speak out in class.


Sample form with personal questions
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Credit: Addy, T., et al. (2021). What Inclusive Instructors Do. Stylus Publishing.

A great way to begin with an inclusive tone and show your commitment to helping students succeed is to gather anonymous information from your students so that you have a good idea of who is in your classroom. This sort of voluntary activity can help students disclose their equity challenges, perspectives, and other factors they’ll bring to class, like emotions and mindsets. Keeping it anonymous promotes safety, and the shared information can help you to foster an environment of belonging for everyone involved.

Review the form results early in your course and work with the Dutton Institute to formulate an action plan for adjusting instruction to make sure that it’s equitable and inclusive.

A “Who’s in Class Form” or “First Day Information Sheet” can take many forms, but the one developed by the Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship at Lafayette College and available for public use is excellent and can be found via a Google search.

For more information about use of this form and making changes based on information you gather, see Chapter 6, “Using a Tool to Support Inclusive Teaching,” in What Inclusive Instructors Do, by Tracie M. Addy, et al. and available as an e-book via the Penn State Libraries at this link:

*Note: this sort of activity is best undertaken by instructors and learning designers who have participated in professional development training to address unconscious biases.



  • Addy, T., Dube, D., Mitchell, K., & SoRelle, M. (2021). What inclusive instructors do: Principles and practices for excellence in college teaching. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
  • Dutton Institute for Teaching and Learning Excellence (2022). 15 Ways to Get Started with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. 
  • Laird, T. (2011). "Measuring the Diversity Inclusivity of College Courses." Research in Higher Education 52(6). 572-88.