One of the guiding principles of The UC Berkeley Strategic Plan for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity is a focus on implementing policies, practices, and programs that foster an engaged and healthy campus climate. You play a critical role in this as a faculty member. In particular, you decide what climate you would like your classroom to have, and you set the tone. One of the five Cornerstone Programs of the Haas Initiative, the Multicultural Education Program, provides a rich and informative web site that contains resources, research and guides on teaching diverse students and managing classroom climate. We urge you to take a look to see if it has something useful for you.
Over the past few years students have reported incidents in classes where they felt unwelcome, disrespected and unsafe.1 Preliminary data analyses from the 2010 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey2 and the UCOP Accountability Report3 document incivility between students during classroom discussions across the range of disciplines. They also document students who experience faculty or course instructors expressing negative stereotypes about a variety of social identities. While we have guides4, suggestions, and policy that emphasize free speech in academic settings and structure faculty/student relations, we do not always have clear guidance on how to work with dynamics that may occur between students and faculty or among students in the classroom.
A professor, lecturer, or GSI should encourage the free pursuit of learning. A leader in the classroom or discussion section has a responsibility to balance the free exchange of ideas with maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for all students regardless of their background. Should discriminatory statements or incidents occur in your classroom or discussion section, it is your responsibility to respond to them with the students in a timely fashion and not just let them pass.
There are a number of campus resources available to you should you encounter student-to-student conflicts, or should you have an interaction with students you find problematic. These offices include the Center for Student Conduct, the Ombuds Office for Students & Postdoctoral Appointees and the Tang Center.
I would appreciate you sharing this information with your colleagues, lecturers, staff and GSIs. As we strive to create welcoming and inclusive classrooms, the relationship between faculty and students is critically important. The Division supports the value of academic freedom in advancing the mission of Cal to provide excellent instruction and to prepare our students for leadership in a diverse democracy. It also supports the creation of environments most conducive to this mission. We will be making stronger efforts to gather data on classroom climate so that future efforts are more data-driven.
The Multicultural Education Program has designed a workshop to assist faculty with why and how they should respond to incidents of incivility, particularly those that border on hatred and bias. The goals of the 90-minute workshop are to:
- Reveal climate issues
- Examine the costs and benefits of responding to classroom incidents
- Share strategies for intervening
- Identify teaching resources
This workshop can be customized to fit the needs of your department or audience. For example, the workshop could be a part of a departmental meeting or retreat. This workshop could also be used as a unit of GSI pre-service training or a GSI professional development workshop. I encourage you to invite the MEP team to your departmental meetings, retreats or other professional development events. For more information about the Creating Inclusive Classrooms workshop and faculty resources, go to the MEP workshop page.
Dr. Gibor Basri
Former Vice Chancellor of Equity & Inclusion