Diversity & Pedagogy

Student populations across the country and around the world are increasingly diverse. Academics should consider how varying backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge may reshape classroom expectations, behaviors, and activities.

Institutions must ensure that all students have access to the tools and resources needed to thrive in rigorous environments. As a result, many universities, including the University of Chicago, are addressing their climates and practices. Read on to gain more insight into our diverse student population and learn how you can help students thrive.

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Race and Ethnicity

When choosing course content, you can unconsciously send a message about who creates knowledge, whose perspectives count, and who is considered an expert.

According to a Fall 2018 University census, the racial and ethnic breakdown of the UChicago undergraduate student population was as follows:

  • White: 39.3%
  • Asian: 19.2%
  • International: 14%
  • Latinx: 13.7%
  • Multiracial: 6.5%
  • Black: 5.2%
  • Not specified: 2.1%
  • American Indian: 0.1%
  • Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 0.01%

Be proactive: Consider including course materials written or created by people of different backgrounds and/or perspectives.


Consider increasing the accessibility of your course content by using Universal Design for Learning, an educational framework designed to create flexible learning environments to accommodate individual learning differences.

More than 600 students registered with Student Disability Services during the 2017–2018 academic year. Not all disabilities are visible or disclosed. Types of diagnoses and conditions that can be considered disabilities include but are not limited to:

  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
  • Blindness (i.e., visually impairments)
  • Deafness (i.e, hearing impairments)
  • Learning disabilities (LD) 
  • Mood disorders (i.e., anxiety, depression)
  • Medical disabilities
  • Physical disabilities
  • Psychological disabilities
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Temporary disabilities

Be proactive: Consider increasing accessibility by including ISBN numbers on your syllabi. This addition can help students find versions of required texts that are adaptable for screen readers or have audible versions. Also, think about including a statement on your syllabus that provides support for students with disabilities.


I recognize that students in this class may have a range of visible and invisible disabilities—cognitive, learning, emotional, psychological, and physical. I welcome all students of various backgrounds and abilities in this class. If any circumstances make our learning environment or activities difficult, please contact Student Disability Services at 773.702.6000 or disabilities@uchicago.edu.


Learn to recognize a range of religious and nonreligious practices.

Students at the University of Chicago identify with various faith practices or do not actively identify with any faith practices at all. In a 2016 campus survey, students identified 19 different spiritual and nonreligious practices. Be mindful of course content that may privilege certain religious perspectives.

Be aware: The University’s Policy on Religious Accommodation for Missed Classes, Assignments, and Exams states:

Students who miss class, assignments, or exams to observe a religious holiday must be accommodated as follows: (i) absences may not be counted as a missed class in any course in which attendance is a measure of academic performance; (ii) reasonable extensions of time must be given, without academic penalty, for missed assignments; and (iii) exams must be reasonably rescheduled without academic penalty.


National and global political events can affect students differently and may have implications for students.

According to the Spring 2018 enrollment report, 23.5% of all University of Chicago students were classified as international students. Almost 14% of the undergraduate population were international students, with larger portions of international graduate students in almost all divisions. 

Students who were not born in the U.S. may hold a variety of immigration statuses. Some may have student visas; other students’ immigration statuses may be through their parents. Students may be undocumented, or they may have a different type of status. 

Be proactive: Consider planning class discussions about migration and politics to include a full range of student experiences.

First-Generation Students

You can help all students access essential resources by clearly stating expectations and offering a range of activities and texts.

In 2018, the University of Chicago made the submission of SAT and ACT scores optional for College applicants. This announcement followed many years of efforts to remove barriers shown to decrease numbers of applications from low-income, first-generation, and minority students. This change created more paths to diversify our undergraduate student body.

To date, approximately 10% of UChicago undergraduates have no parent that has earned a bachelor’s degree. This statistic means that many students do not have a parent to help them navigate the campus environment or advocate for research opportunities.

Students also arrive with varying financial resources. Some may or may not be able to engage in unpaid internships, afford to travel, or buy expensive texts.

Be proactive: Consider using active learning strategies, which have been empirically shown to decrease the achievement gap for underrepresented minorities and first-generation college students, particularly in STEM fields. Additionally, teach transparently. For example, clearly state assignment expectations, connect assignments to learning outcomes, and share grading rubrics with students.

In your courses, try providing information and access to free activities related to your content. Also, consider including ISBN numbers on your syllabi. This action can help students find more affordable versions of required texts.

Educational Background

University of Chicago undergraduate students rank in the very top percentage of graduates from their secondary schools. However accomplished, they hail from many different kinds of schools. Some students attended large urban high schools, and others attended small, suburban, or private schools, or were home-schooled. Graduate students may also have received different levels of preparation in their undergraduate programs, and may have varying levels of understanding of foundational concepts in your discipline.

Be proactive: Students enter your course with different classroom experiences and expectations. They also have different levels of writing, communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. If you teach first-year students, talk to them about how high school and college are different. Perhaps create a diagnostic quiz to help gauge what undergraduate and graduate students know about your content, providing resources for students who may want extra practice or refreshers on particular concepts or skills, and recognizing the strengths that your students have.

Increased access to higher education has resulted in multiple dimensions of diversity in our classrooms. Inclusive pedagogy embraces this diversity and aims to engage students in learning that is meaningful, relevant, and accessible. 

Students are more likely to persist and thrive in university settings where:

  • Their capacity to succeed is built, reinforced, and maintained throughout their time at the institution.[1]
  • There is high-quality and frequent student-faculty interaction.[2]
  • They can make meaningful connections with the content.[3]
  • Interactions within the classroom convey a positive learning climate.[4]

These are all elements of inclusive pedagogy.

The 2016 University of Chicago Campus Climate Survey showed that across all subgroups (e.g., race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability status, and gender identification), members of our campus community have a significantly more positive perception of their proximal climate than the overall institutional climate. Research shows the consequences of negative climates range from students leaving an institution to students struggling to learn while trying to fit into an institution's culture.[5] Creating an inclusive environment through one’s teaching can begin addressing this situation.

Engaging Diversity

Diversity is key to learning. The different ways students grew up may affect how they interact with educators and peers. These experiences can also affect students' attitudes toward various disciplines, the books they read, the papers they write, the way they study, and how they participate in class.

Inclusive pedagogy considers these differences and uses them to positively impact student learning. It provides an avenue for confronting negative aspects of the classroom environment that influence undergraduate and graduate student experiences and builds upon positive classroom aspects to help students thrive.

An Inclusive Climate

An inclusive climate is an environment in which all students have access to the tools and resources they need to participate fully in learning and feel a sense of belonging in the classroom. It embraces student diversity and creates a productive atmosphere that can result in improved academic outcomes.

An inclusive climate can improve students' sense of belonging and their motivation to be fully engaged in learning.[6] Many students feel like they "fit" in their chosen university environments, while some historically underrepresented students report feeling less of a sense of belonging in the absence of students and educators who share an identity that is salient to them.[7] For example, a female student in a chemistry class may feel a greater sense of belonging observing other women in the classroom than if she is in a classroom predominantly composed of men.

Although instructors cannot change the numerical diversity in any given class, they can make efforts within their curricula to highlight diversity. For example, you can display posters featuring people from demographics underrepresented in your field as one way to welcome underrepresented students.[8]

  1. Inclusive: All students are invited to fully participate and co-create the learning experience
  2. Mostly Inclusive: Instructor welcomes students’ unique perspectives on course material
  3. Somewhat Inclusive: Student participation in discussions is encouraged but limited
  4. Neutral: Underrepresented perspectives are limited or stereotypically presented
  5. Somewhat Exclusive: Indirect and direct slights communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages 
  6. Mostly Exclusive: Students' opinions are not respected or listened to
  7. Exclusive: Abusive, threatening, or disrespectful language or behavior is tolerated

Inclusive Climates

An inclusive course climate welcomes and engages students from all backgrounds and encourages everyone to share their different perspectives. It allows students to fully participate in the classroom experience and assures that the course content itself attends to issues of student diversity. Examples of factors that contribute to inclusive classroom climates include:

  • Avoiding scheduling exams or project presentations on any religious or cultural holiday.
  • Encouraging regular participation from all students.
  • Sharing resources that may be useful for students with different levels of accessibility or who have different financial resources, and integrating various levels of course assessment to account for different learning styles.
  • Adding a statement to your syllabi.
  • Incorporating a variety of different course content into your syllabi.

Exclusive Climates

An exclusive course climate is usually created by factors that inadvertently exclude or by making generalizations about certain groups of students, thereby elevating the voices of others. Examples of factors that contribute to exclusive classroom climates include:

  • Scheduling exams or project presentations on religious or cultural holidays.
  • Calling on, engaging, and validating specific genders, classes, or races of students while ignoring other students during class.
  • Using incorrect terms to reference groups of people.
  • Assigning projects that ignore learning and socioeconomic differences.
  • Asking people with invisible disabilities to identify themselves in class.
  • Not considering opportunities to incorporate course materials featuring people from diverse backgrounds into your syllabi.
  1. Ginsberg & Wlodkowski (2009)
  2. Trolian et al. (2016)
  3. Ginsberg & Wlodkowski (2009)
  4. Tinto (2017)
  5. Hausmann et al. (2007)
  6. Ginsberg & Wlodkowski (2009)
  7. Walton & Cohen (2007)
  8. Cheryan (2014)