Including a diversity statement on your syllabus can set the tone for your classroom environment. It shows students that you value and respect difference in intellectual exchange, and are aware of current campus conversations surrounding diversity (UX Collective).
In addition, it is important for professors to set a tone of respect and positive regard at the beginning of the semester. One way to do this is to include a statement in your syllabus regarding your beliefs about learning in a diverse classroom. It can also be helpful to include communication guidelines and have a discussion during the first week of class about your expectations. Giving students an opportunity to add to the guidelines can help them take ownership and personal responsibility for how they communicate with each other (Texas A&M).
When creating your inclusion and accessibility statement, try placing yourself in the shoes of a student whose learning is affected by some condition — visible or invisible, physical or psychological, rare or common. Would this statement make you feel academically at home? From this example, there are three respects we should focus on: language, tone and scope (Möbus, 2020).
We want our students to feel comfortable reaching out to us and accessing the services provided by their institution. (They’re paying for it, after all.) A great way to make someone feel uncomfortable and less likely to reach out is by making them feel ignorant. Try avoiding overly legal, inaccessible language. We want to break down barriers, not build more (Möbus, 2020).
When developing your statement, make sure that the tone does not suggests that our students should prepare themselves for some scrutiny or appear accusatory. Always assume that our students want to do well in our class and that they have some idea of how they learn best. (Möbus, 2020).
Ensure that your statement does not imply that unless our students’ learning preferences are tied to a “documented learning difficulty” or “disability,” they don’t warrant accommodation. This excludes all those students who would benefit from an altered learning environment but who do not have a disability that gives them a (legal) basis to ask for it (Möbus, 2020).
Whether or not any of these examples are likely to apply to our individual students is relatively unimportant. The crucial point is to make students feel like they are not alone. Instead of planting the idea that certain personal circumstances and ways of learning are somehow abnormal, we should normalize that we all face different obstacles in the classroom. The point is also to foster empathy: “Look to your left; look to your right. You don’t know what’s going on in this person’s life. Try to be understanding.” (Möbus, 2020)
Below is an example of an accessible and inclusive course statement. If you have any questions, or would like to share what you have done to foster and inclusive course environment, please reach out to the IDAT team. We’d love to highlight the hard work you have given to the Meredith Community!
“This course is intended for all students, including those with mental or physical disabilities, illness, injuries, impairments, or any other condition that tends to negatively affect one’s equal access to education. If, at any point in the term, you find yourself not able to fully access the space, content, and experience of this course, you are welcome (but not required) to contact me. It is never too late to request accommodations -- our bodies and circumstances are continuously changing. I also encourage you to contact Disability Services. By making a plan through DS, you can ensure accommodation without disclosing your condition to course instructors.” - (Möbus, 2020).
Design with inclusion? Does that even make any sense? by Peace Ojemeh (Perrie) (2018) UX Collective
Inclusion Statements for Syllabus Center for Teaching Excellence, Texas A&M University
The Irony of Inclusion and Accessibility Statements by Freya Möbus (2020) Inside Higher Ed
A Taxonomy of Inclusive Design: On Disclosure, Accessibility, and Inclusion by Lorna Gonzalez and Kristi O’Neil-Gonzalez (2019) Educause
Curriculum Transformation and Disability: Implementing Universal Design in Higher Education (2003) Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy, General College