Concrete steps toward creating inclusive learning groups
Ten on-the-ground things you can do to help build inclusive peer learning environments:
- Make an effort to get to know everyone in a project group or team (or even a small class), and learn their names. This doesn’t mean you need to be an extravert; a simple hello and a smile makes a difference. Be aware of which people you may unconsciously be giving more attention to.
- Listen openly to everybody’s ideas; stay curious. If an idea at first strikes you as odd or incorrect, remain open to trying to understand it better.
- Use inclusive language, like offering pronouns and using others’ pronouns, or taking care to use non-gendered terms such as “staff the desk” rather than “man the desk.” This is a subtle but powerful way to help everybody feel they belong.
- Look for the strengths others bring. These sometimes lie under the surface, or can take a while to emerge – as with the ability to listen carefully and offer summation, or to bring in alternative perspective.
- Suggest developing group guidelines in a study group or project group, for instance agreeing that everybody gives others a chance to speak, or that there will be multiple ways to contribute (e.g., out loud, via email, etc.).
- In team projects, consider rotating responsibilities, so that one person isn’t always the facilitator and another isn’t always the note-taker, for example.
- Shift away from competition and toward collaboration, for example by sharing your own struggles (to the extent you are comfortable doing so), and offering to support others in achieving their goals (for example, sharing notes or helping a classmate with a point of confusion in the course material).
- Reflect on the implicit biases you hold (we all do). Take an implicit bias test, and reflect on the way biases might show up in your actions – for instance, who are the people you tend to focus on in conversations? Whose ideas do you tend to pay most attention to?
- If you witness somebody being treated in an unwelcoming or biased way, say something to interrupt that action if it seems safe to do so, and/or offer support to the recipient. You may also wish to talk with the instructor and/or teaching assistant about the incident.
- Be accountable for your words and actions. If you inadvertently do or say something that causes hurt or offense, know that it's an opportunity to be human and learn, and acknowledge the impact. Apologizing can feel awkward, but there are ways to do it well.