Inclusive communication

Promote inclusive communication.

Inclusive communication refers to the practice of engaging students without preferentially encouraging specific students or groups of students. When classroom communication is not inclusive, underrepresented students are less likely to participate and to learn. One example of non-inclusive communication can be found in introductory economics textbooks, where men account for 90% of the mentioned business leaders, policy makers, or economists. For women and gender non-conforming students, this lack of representation within their introductory economics material might signal that the field is not made for them. It is imperative that instructors proactively employ inclusive communication practices to counter existing barriers and to offer a welcoming class environment to all students. 

  • Work to pronounce each student’s name correctly. Have students introduce themselves to the class, and ask for help or use online recordings outside of class. Read more.
  • Use correct pronouns for each student and other gender affirming practices. Share your pronouns on the first day. Default to “they/them” pronouns unless a student has clarified what pronouns they prefer. If you make a mistake, simply apologize and correct yourself.
  • Avoid using gendered titles of address (such as Mr. and Ms.) and gendered occupational titles (such as chairman or freshmen). Use “they/them” pronouns when speaking or writing about fictionalized economic actors.
  • Make a deliberate effort to engage students equally. Do not call on the first hand that goes up. When you ask a question, add wait time and make eye contact with quieter students. Ask the same kinds of questions (critical thinking vs. factual) to different kinds of students. Construct alternatives to hearing from volunteers or to cold calling.
  • Listen attentively to all students when they speak, even if their answer is wrong, they speak slowly or hesitantly, or speak English as a second language. Do not assume that an assured style of speech equals knowledge or that a hesitant style equals ignorance.
  • Use praise as a deliberate strategy, noticing a correct or productive element of the response, coupled with suggestions for improvement. Ask constructive followup questions (“How would the answer be different if we took into account?”).
  • Note patterns of interruption to determine if some students are interrupted more than others, either by other students or by you. If so, follow up with a plan to run more inclusive discussions.
  • Never allow stories, jokes and comments that characterize or group students by gender, sexuality, race or ethnicity. Respond to such behavior immediately and clearly.
  • Unlearn the harmful ableist language you unknowingly use.
  • Enforce these same standards of respect and equitable treatment among students.

[As an alternative discussion format] instructors can walk around during group work and gather ideas from students and then share those ideas out with the entire class. This allows instructors to transform students’ ideas into complete, accurate thoughts before reporting them out, which can reduce anxiety for the student who would have shared and can also lead to less confusion for other students in the class who may not have understood the response shared out by the student. Furthermore, if instructors are thoughtful about sharing out ideas from students whose identities are underrepresented in science, this practice may even be a way to promote equity in the classroom. 

Cooper, K.M., Downing, V.R. & Brownell, S.E. The influence of active learning practices on student anxiety in large-enrollment college science classrooms. IJ STEM Ed 5, 23 (2018).

NB: This section does not aim to present a comprehensive review of the relevant literature.

In a foundational study, Roberta Hall and Bernice Sandler (1982) document how the classroom climate can be a chilly one for women and especially for women in male-dominated fields, women minority students, and older women students. They identify myriad small or subtle behaviors marginalizing women in the classroom, including inequitable terminology, interruptions, eye contact, coaching (“Tell me more about that”) advantaging men over women. Many other studies of classrooms inequities followed.

In large introductory classes for majors in biology, “although women on average represent 60% of the students in these courses, their voices make up less than 40% of those heard responding to instructor-posed questions to the class, one of the most common ways of engaging students in large lectures” (Eddy, Brownell, and Wenderoth 2014).

In research seminars in economics, “women presenters are treated differently than their male counterparts. Women are asked more questions during a seminar and the questions asked of women presenters are more likely to be patronizing or hostile. These effects are not due to women presenting in different fields, different seminar series, or different topics, as our analysis controls for the institution, seminar series, and JEL codes associated with each presentation” (Dupas, Modestino, Niederle, and Wolfers 2021).

Cited works

Dupas, P., Modestino, A. S., Niederle, M., & Wolfers, J. (2021). Gender and the dynamics of economics seminars (No. w28494). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Eddy, S. L., Brownell, S. E., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Gender gaps in achievement and participation in multiple introductory biology classrooms. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 13(3), 478-492.

Hall, R. M., & Sandler, B. R. (1982). The Classroom Climate: A Chilly One for Women?.