A diversity statement is a paragraph or section in institutional, department, or course language that welcomes the range of human representations including race, class, gender, religion, accessibility, and socioeconomic status. Instructors can use the diversity statement to set expectations for civil discourse, encouragement for varying opinions, and standards of behavior both within a course or discipline and during controversial campus events. At root, the diversity statement signals belief that all students have value and bring unique perspectives worthy of consideration.
Research into the impact of syllabus diversity statements on classroom behavior remains slim, but the practice is widely accepted and deemed advantageous. Diverse student populations have been shown to connect course material to daily life in different ways (Packard, 2013), a factor that instructors might recognize when crafting statements. By demonstrating respect for differences in intellectual exchange, diversity statements can show support towards different student practices and students feeling marginalized. These statements signal instructor awareness of potentially volatile campus conversations, and encourage free exchange of earnest dialogue across a range of issues.
Diversity statements based on those used in actual syllabi:
- “Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Student Accessibility Services, please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course. If you have not yet established services through SAS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but are not limited to: mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact SAS at 203-432-2324 to make an appointment. General information for students can be found on the Student Information page of the Student Accessibility Services’ website. SAS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s), and SAS. It is important to Yale University to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law” (Yale CTL and SAS)
- “Commitment to an inclusive learning environment: Yale University adheres to the philosophy that all community members should enjoy an environment free of any form of harassment, sexual misconduct, discrimination, or intimate partner violence. If you have been the victim of sexual misconduct, we encourage you to report this. If you report this to a faculty/staff member, they must notify our college’s Title IX coordinator about the basic facts of the incident (you may choose to request confidentiality from the University). If you encounter sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, sexual assault, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, age, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability please contact the Title IX Coordinator, Stephanie Spangler, at firstname.lastname@example.org (203.432.4446) or any of the University Title IX Coordinators, who can be found at: http://provost.yale.edu/title-ix/coordinators”
- Source: Nancy Niemi, Yale Center for Teaching and Learning
- “The Department of Sociology embraces a notion of intellectual community enriched and enhanced by diversity along a number of dimensions, including race, ethnicity and national origins, gender and gender identity, sexuality, class and religion. We are especially committed to increasing the representation of those populations that have been historically excluded from participation in U.S. higher education.”
- Source: Brown University, Department of Sociology
- “Respect for Diversity: It is my intent that students from all diverse backgrounds and perspectives be well served by this course, that students’ learning needs be addressed both in and out of class, and that the diversity that students bring to this class be viewed as a resource, strength and benefit. It is my intent to present materials and activities that are respectful of diversity: gender, sexuality, disability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, and culture. Your suggestions are encouraged and appreciated. Please let me know ways to improve the effectiveness of the course for you personally or for other students or student groups. In addition, if any of our class meetings conflict with your religious events, please let me know so that we can make arrangements for you.”
- Source: University of Iowa College of Education
- “The Sheridan Center supports an inclusive learning environment where diverse perspectives are recognized, respected, and seen as a source of strength. Certificate II seeks to present a variety of diverse perspectives within the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) and through our seminar discussions. The seminar will address diversity considerations for course design and student engagement along a number of dimensions, including race, ethnicity and national origins, gender and gender identity, sexuality, socio-economic class, age, religion, and disability. Seminar participants who have a disability or other condition necessitating accommodation are encouraged to discuss their needs with the instructor.”
- Source: Brown University Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning
In addition, the diversity statement can provide a precedent for diversity practices throughout term:
- Giving explanations of why certain authors from marginalized backgrounds or identities are present or lacking on the syllabus reading list.
- Providing personal stories of how the instructor has been affected by the lack of diversity in their field.
- Giving examples of how the instructor struggled with the course material as a student because of challenges tied to background or identity.
- Acknowledging the history of exclusion of people with diverse identities, backgrounds, or ideologies from the field.
- Providing ground rules for discussing hot topics, such as national politics or campus controversies.
- Explaining how teaching practices are meant to address the learning needs of diverse students.
- Practice Introspection - Writing a diversity statement is like writing a teaching philosophy statement in that it requires a self-reflective process. Instructors might consider their own background and perspectives on diverse populations when crafting statements that will represent their philosophical and ethical viewpoints for class.
- Consider Models - In addition to the examples above, instructors can consider the larger structure and tone of the syllabus to imagine how a diversity statement may be positioned for a syllabus’ tone and impact.
- Consider Disciplinary Context - Every discipline has developed conventions and assumptions over decades and centuries of practice. These conventions and assumptions often lead to jargon and shared vocabularies that can be initially opaque for students. Instructors might consider how students with varying backgrounds could respond.
- Integrate Teaching Philosophy - Engaging with diversity in the classroom can often be an extension of the instructor’s own teaching philosophy. Research indicates that students often respond positively to transparent indications of teaching strategy and philosophy (Ambrose, et. al, 2010), so instructors can consider sharing the reasons behind their classroom policies.
- Modeling Respect - Research suggests that the design and tone of the syllabus can positively impact student engagement with and perception of the instructor (Ludy, et. al, 2016). The diversity statement helps set an initial impression, which instructors should continue to uphold throughout term through personal treatment of students, facilitation of dialogue, and consistency in policies for grading, attendance, participation, and excuse.
- Establish Expectations - Because the classroom is a living, networked organism, no one individual can maintain the organism’s standards. Instructors can use the diversity statement to lay out expectations for student behavior, and invite students to become active agents in establishing and maintaining classroom tone.
- Campus Resources - Instructors can use the diversity statement as an opportunity to direct students toward campus resources that facilitate and support diversity initiatives. Yale’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, More Inclusive Yale Initiative, Affinity Groups, and Cultural Centers provide resources, events, and support for the range of faculty, student, and staff representations.
References and Sites Consulted:
Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., Lovett, M., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M (2010). How Learning Works: 7 Research – Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Bart, M. (2012). Strategies for Creating a More Inclusive Classroom. Faculty Focus.
Brown University. (2011). Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. Diversity Statements.
Harnish RJ et al. (2011). Creating the Foundation for a Warm Classroom Climate: Best Practices in Syllabus Tone. Association for Psychological Science.
Ludy, M., Brackenbury, T., Folkins, J., Peet, S., & Langendorfer, S. (2016). “Student Impressions of Syllabus Design: Engaging Versus Contractual Syllabus.” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 10.2 (1-23).
Packard, J. (2013). The Impact of Racial Diversity in the Classroom: Activating the Sociological Imagination. Teaching Sociology 41.2: 144-158.