231. Include Instructors in Inclusive Instruction

Educational developers often recommend teaching practices that assume instructors are in a position in which they can cede some of their authority to students in order to increase student agency and motivation. Not all instructors, though, are in this privileged position. In this episode, Chavella Pittman and Thomas J. Tobin examine strategies to adopt practices that are inclusive of our colleagues as well as our students.

Chavella is a Professor of Sociology at Dominican University, the founder of Effective and Efficient Faculty, and is the host of the Teaching in Color podcast. She has written extensively about issues of race and gender in higher education in scholarly and general interest publications. Tom is a founding member of the Center for Teaching, Learning, & Mentoring at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the author of Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education and several other works related to teaching and learning.

Show Notes


John: Educational developers often recommend teaching practices that assume instructors are in a position in which they can cede some of their authority to students in order to increase student agency and motivation. Not all instructors, though, are in this privileged position. In this episode, we examine strategies that are inclusive of our colleagues as well as our students.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guests today are Chavella Pittman and Thomas J. Tobin. Chavella is a Professor of Sociology at Dominican University, the founder of Effective and Efficient Faculty, and is a host of the Teaching in Color podcast. She has written extensively about issues of race and gender in higher education in both scholarly and general interest publications. Tom is a founding member of the Center for Teaching and Learning and Mentoring at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the author of Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education, and several other works related to teaching and learning. Welcome back, Chavella and Tom. It’s great to have you back on the podcast again.

Tom: Thank you much, John. Glad to be here.

Chavella: Yeah, thanks so much for having me again.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are… Tom, are you drinking tea?

Tom: I am not a tea person. Although I did just restock my cabinet from black tea to green tea. So, we’ll see how that affects my ability to write and function throughout the day. I’m drinking distilled water today. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: A good choice for the body for sure. How about you Chavella?

Chavella: I am drinking water with electrolytes. I participated in a bottle share this weekend. And because I’ve been running a lot more this winter, I can get a little sensitive to dehydration. So, I’m drinking water with electrolytes. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I think a first on the podcast. [LAUGHTER] John, how about you?

John: I am drinking ginger peach black tea.

Rebecca: And I have Golden Monkey today.

John: Back to an old favorite.

Rebecca: It is, it is. I don’t always have it in stock.

John: Advocates of inclusive teaching often encourage faculty to share their power and authority with the students. But you both wrote a February 7, 2022 article in The Chronicle noting that this does not work as well for all faculty. Could you share this argument with our listeners and tell us a little bit about how this article came about?

Chavella: As many things, it came about as a result of my frustration, if I’m gonna be honest, which I always seem to be. On a fairly regular basis, I see folks putting forth ideas like you should do this, you should use that. But it’s often attached with some elements of, for example, during a pandemic, people saying… If you’re still having deadlines for students, then therefore basically you don’t care for students, or you’re like an evil person. And seeing people make these individual level attributes that ignore the structural context of teaching was getting really frustrating for me. And I was having a conversation about it with some folks and Tom was one of those folks. And I said, “I have to write about this, and who’s interested in writing with me about this?” But the general argument is, absolutely, that a lot of times, people perceive teaching as individual choices, and therefore they’re making individual level attributions, not realizing that these aren’t just individual level choices. What we can and can’t do, how students respond to the various things we do, are very much so in the context of our social statuses and identities.

Tom: Absolutely. And as Chavella has said, I stepped in to work on this with Chavella, because… two different sides of the same coin for me. I have been an advocate for universal design for learning for a very long time, trying to lower barriers for our students. At the same time, I was one of the people Chavella was a little mad at, in that my research was moving in the direction of how does Universal Design for Learning underpin all of our other diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice efforts on our higher education campuses? And I was at the same time also advocating for, “Hey, all instructors, please share your power with your students, please be vulnerable,” all that kind of thing. And I was doing that in a blanket way. So the conversation that we were all having when Chevella said, “You know, not everybody can do that.” That was a moment where I came up short. And I thought, I haven’t even really examined this aspect of inclusive teaching. So it turned out to be a really good platform and conversation. When Chavella and I were first having one-to-one conversations about what do we want to actually say, it struck me …and listeners, you might remember the old Highlights magazine for children. And there was always the Goofus and Gallant segment in that magazine. Goofus was the young man who could never do anything right. And Gallant was the one who always did things perfectly and had perfect manners and it was meant to teach children how to do and be in a socially acceptable way. This is kind of the ninja-level Goofus and Gallant article from me and Chavella. I’m playing the role of Goofus. I am the person over 50, white, cisgender, heterosexual male with gray hair. I tick a bunch of boxes for unexamined privilege. And we wanted to contrast that unthinking and unexamined exercise of privilege with the experiences of women instructors, instructors of color, people who are in other precarious places like part-time instructors, and talk about how what is simple and easy for me becomes dangerous, challenging, or a bridge too far for other instructors.

Chavella: I was gonna say thanks, Tom, for admitting that you were in the group of folks that I was frustrated with. I wasn’t gonna out you, but… [LAUGHTER] It’s that level of reflectivity and that level of honesty and the willingness to look at yourself that I’m super grateful for and that we’re trying to encourage people to do, is to actually pause and ask yourself these sorts of questions.

Rebecca: I think it’s really important that we stop and reflect about these sorts of ideas when we’re really in the business of trying to advocate for students. If we want student success, we need our whole community to be successful and included. One of the topics that you brought up in your article was about flexibility in the classroom, specifically around deadlines. But I was curious about whether or not other conversations around flexibility came up as, Tom and Chavella, as you were talking with each other about this article. A lot of things that we see around inclusive practices include things like giving students agency around the format of their projects, or assignments, and other things like this.

Tom: When we were drafting the article—of course, the article can be only so long for The Chronicle—the very first example that came to my mind was, Rebecca, you’re talking about being flexible with formats and giving people choices about how they show what they know and take in information. That’s Universal Design for Learning. That’s one of my areas of expertise. It was one of the first things that occurred to me. And I thought, “You know, we’re not really this kind of reflective with UDL.” It’s kind of ironic, too, because even teaching approaches that center and address learning variability tend also to frame instructors as a homogeneous bloc, who uniformly have status and power that they’re able to transfer to learners. For example, UDL began as a way for K-12 teachers to lower barriers for students with disabilities. Now, because UDL began in an environment in which adults are teaching children, that power, respect, and status dynamic, they’re simply assumed to be tilted heavily toward the teachers regardless of their other identity characteristics or intersectionality. So when UDL began to be adopted beyond the special education curriculum, and in higher education settings, those assumptions about instructor authority went largely unexamined. And so our colleague, Jay Dolmage, suggests that UDL should encompass both learner and instructor variability. And he calls this the intersectional theory of Universal Design for Learning. And so classroom and teaching authority means that students recognize you, the instructor, as having the right and duty to ask them to participate in learning activities and to manage a classroom that’s conducive for learning. The challenge there is that students can perceive, in higher education, that they have greater power than their instructors because of the instructors’ institutional and structural identities, things like age, race, gender, employment status, ability profile, and you name it. So that give and take, that being reflective about who has the authority and power to share and give up extends to lots of other types of flexibility.

Chavella: You’re right, Rebecca, that is absolutely something that we discussed. And the piece that he shared, we had lots of conversations about that. And even just beyond the statuses, or related to the statuses, even assumptions about what technology faculty have access to. I talk about this all the time, the fact that people assume that because I’m faculty, I have access to all sorts of technology, I have access to all sorts of wireless internet connectivity. But I happen to live in a community of people that look like me, which means that our infrastructure isn’t the same, right? So I’m supposed to be having all this variability for students that I may not even have myself. So lots of assumptions layered into what faculty have, even as it relates to UDL.

Tom: And that’s something that Derrick Bell calls “interest convergence.” We tend, if we’re in a dominant culture group, we tend not to say, “Oh, yeah, we should be concerned about our colleagues who are having a more challenging time of things,” unless and until it affects us, right? This is the, “not in my backyard,” or, “I’ll wait until it affects somebody in my family,” kind of thinking. And that interest convergence can really get in our way, because we just assume, “Oh, if it doesn’t affect me, it must not affect many folks.” When the reality of intersectional thinking is that it affects everybody. And it’s useful, not from just a social justice perspective, to take a step back and think about how all of the instructors at an institution are situated to be able to do the work that we’re asking them to do in a safe and effective way. But it’s also a bottom-line business continuation conversation. This has to do with… Are your instructors going to want to come back and teach another semester if they’re contingent? Are your instructors eyeing the door? as Lee Bessette said in another forum. Are they looking to skip to another institution or find another place that gives them a little bit more psychological safety or a little bit more explicit support. So it’s not just the social justice aspect of things, but it’s also the keeping the lights on and making sure that you have talented people working with your students, consideration here as well.

Chavella: It absolutely is a retention issue. Part of what makes this particular issue frustrating for me is because it’s not like faculty with marginalized statuses haven’t been saying this all along. We’ve been saying that all along, “I can do that thing in terms of ability, but it’s going to have different consequences for me, or it’s going to play out different, or it’s going to take more energy for me, or I’m going to get more pushback from it.” So we’ve been saying that consistently. It’s just that the mainstream communicating about the scholarship of teaching and learning hasn’t been echoing that, hearing that, reflecting that. So it very much so becomes a retention issue when you situate it such that you have to do these things or you’re not a good teacher. And then people are having all the push back and sort of emotional energy. And I got a lot of responses after this piece came out from faculty with diverse and marginalized statuses saying, “Thank you,” like, “Basically, I’ve been yelling into a vacuum about this, and no one has heard me.” So for sure, definitely a retention issue.

Rebecca: I know we often don’t hear about a lot of examples of how marginalized faculty are impacted, in part because they feel like they have to be silent about it because they are unsafe, maybe they won’t get tenure and promotion, maybe they won’t get renewed. Do you have any examples that you collected related to UDL that you might be able to share that weren’t included in the article? Because I know that’s the section that got cut.

Tom: And I’m actually looking at the draft where we have those selections here. And with regard to Universal Design for Learning, the challenge that we found was the classroom dynamic shift, where Universal Design for Learning is asking at its core for the instructor to create various paths for the students to be able to move through the instructional space. That’s not actually all that controversial, and it doesn’t open up a lot of risk for folks with marginalized statuses. Where we get into the challenge is at the more approaching-expert level of universal design for learning. We want to move our students from being expert students, the people who know how to cram and know how to study for a test and can tell me back the things that I told them in the classroom. And the risk becomes we’re trying to create expert learners. We want students who can create new information, encounter new situations and apply what they know, and be open and more vulnerable with us. And that requires that openness and vulnerability from us as instructors as well. Part of the challenge with that is, if there’s not a lot of implicit or unearned respect and trust, then you have to establish what that trust looks like. And for folks who have fewer trust resources to be able to build from, that becomes tricky. So I’d love to pick Chavella’s brain here, too. And we’ve got a couple more examples in the kit as well.

Chavella: Yeah, I was gonna say that that beginner part, I think there are challenges for faculty with marginalized statuses. The idea of sort of opening up different paths, the issue becomes… and again, when you think about the scholarship of teaching and learning in general, you’re going to have moments of like, “Oh, yeah, that makes perfect sense.” We know from the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, that when you do things that are innovative, or non-traditional, that you can get a bit of student resistance. So UDL requires you to do things that are innovative and non-traditional. So even if it’s just how students submit work, whether they’re doing in writing, or whether they’re doing an audio file, or doing some sort of visual presentation, those actually all open up paths to resistance for faculty with marginalized statuses, just by the virtue of the fact that they’re doing something different. Those things get rewarded for faculty that have dominant statuses, they’re seen as experts. Now we’re questioned, our expertise becomes questioned: “Why is she doing it? That’s strange. I don’t understand that. I’m confused by that.” So I would say that all sorts of teaching choices require students to actually view you as an expert. And if you have some statuses that are marginalized in society, those are all things that students will use to decide that you’re not credible. But we know that those are the practices that are supposed to be done. We know those are the ones that are good for learning. It’s just a matter of who’s doing it that makes it a little bit more challenging.

John: What are some ways in which we can make it safer for faculty to experiment with some new techniques? Or what are some ways that faculty who are in a marginalized position can address some of these challenges? Or might, in some cases, it be better to not try and to use teaching techniques that work best for them in their environments?

Chavella: I would say probably a little bit of mix and match. I’m always like, “There’s no silver bullet.” I wish there were. “There’s no magic wand,” I say that all the time. But it’s probably a little bit of mix and match. Like, if you have your energy, you’re trying to get your scholarship together, maybe not doing things you know students are going to resist, it doesn’t mean that traditional practices don’t work, you can do the traditional stuff. But that might not be the right timing for you. But at the end of the day… I was getting ready to say it doesn’t have anything to do with the marginalized faculty. And part of what I mean is, it’s not their responsibility. The institution should be making changes, the institution should have chances where you can try something innovative and your course evaluations don’t matter. The institution should have an understanding of the ways in which bias gets involved in your student rating, so whether it’s because it’s innovative or you have a marginalized status. I think that a lot of the folks that do this work and our own colleagues need to understand that the way you do things might be different from someone else, and then not to shame, or guilt, or assume that the other person’s way of doing it is less valid or less excellent when it comes to teaching. So all of the sort of, like, needing to be done parts are things that need to be done on the part of the powerful and of the institutions. But I absolutely tell diverse faculty to be intentional and be thoughtful about what they’re doing and what the consequences are going to be for them. And just be very aware that they might get a different outcome, and it might require different resources for them.

Tom: And the flip side of that is also true, that there’s a whole bunch of “don’t do” things that seem kind of intuitive to a department chair, or a dean, or a provost. Because when we hear, “Oh, well, we have to make safer spaces for people with intersectional identities, marginalized identities. And we have to empower them from an institutional perspective.” The first reaction from a lot of folks, especially if they are from dominant-culture backgrounds themselves, is to start looking for the people in their institution who fit the definition… “I’m going to go ask my black colleagues how to work with them.” And the chances are that most of your colleagues, your women colleagues, if you’re a man, your black colleagues, if you’re a white person, they don’t know any more than you do how to do this well. One of the things that I really benefited from is Chavella, this is her research area, she is a trained facilitator. Bring in people with expertise to help you and your institution to come up with policy, practice, and models that suit. Too often we just turn to one another and say, “Well, what should we do?” And that sort of uninformed guessing isn’t helpful and can actually perpetuate harmful situations.

Chavella: Absolutely. One of the other things we talked about as having some frustration is people identifying this as a gap. Like Tom said, this is my area of expertise: the intersection of structural oppression and the scholarship of teaching and learning. But some people will see this gap and be like, “Oh, all of a sudden I see my privilege now.” And then they rush to fill the gap. No, no. No, no, no, no, no. You don’t have the expertise for that, you don’t understand that. So the people with the dominant statuses, that rush to suck up all the air in the room because they see the new shiny thing that they want to pursue. First of all, a lot of times they’re sharing misinformation or things that are misguided, that are actually going to be more harmful for the group that they purport to help. But they’re also silencing the people who actually already have this expertise. So there are a lot of faculty developers and folks that do Scholarship of Teaching and Learning who have some expertise, who look like me, who are people of color, LGBTQ folks, but a lot of us are being drowned out. So that definitely falls in the category of “don’t,” which is, don’t center yourself by trying to fill the gap and sucking up all the air in the room. [LAUGHTER] Look around and actually identify who those folks are and work with them.

Tom: Yeah, am I allowed to say that most people doing land acknowledgments now aren’t actually working with their First Nations colleagues to make things better? That’s kind of what we wanted to do in the article, was to not call people out for doing things poorly or not doing things at all. What we wanted to do was to say, “Here are ways to think about and act that move you away from performative work into intentional allyship. What actions are you actually taking, so that you are using the privilege that you’ve got, even if you aren’t from a dominant perspective? What actions are you taking that help your colleagues? What actions are you actually taking?” And in the article we talk about how I started, when I first got my PhD I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m going to be the cool professor, and have my students call me Tom.’ And I didn’t realize at that point that me having them call me by my first name meant that some of my women colleagues who were insisting on being called “Dr. So-and-so,” then that was, “Well, why are you being so formal about it when Dr. Tobin says, ‘Call him Tom’?” And I came to realize pretty quickly that they didn’t have that assumed authority. And so if I said, “Please call me Dr. Tobin,” and we were all Dr. So-and-so in the department, that made for a more level playing field. And it also meant that I was showing respect for my colleagues, even in my own classroom, because I was explaining why I was asking for that formal, “please call me Dr.,” as well.

Chavella: And that’s such a good example. And in the research that I do, where I’m collecting stories and information from faculty with marginalized statuses, that happens to be one of the things that comes up all the time. And I know that people think that the titles are a small thing, but they’re not. And so in the article, one of the things that I’m always, when I’m trying to describe to other people, or make it clear to them that there is an intersection between structural oppression and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, is I’m always talking about this idea of a force field. So all those things make it clear that there is teaching authority, professional authority, that there’s some expertise involved. And a lot of times privileged faculty don’t realize, that force field just automatically exists for them, it doesn’t exist for other folks. So having your title is a marker that sort of provides a force field for faculty with marginalized statuses, so that they can do the work that they need to do. They don’t have to worry about people testing the fence, trying to get over the fence, trying to ignore the fence. So very much so, people think that that’s a small thing to be called by your professional title. But it is a reminder to students, and then they behave accordingly, if they’re referring to you by your title. And again, it just gives you the space to be able to do your work when you’re a faculty member with a marginalized status.

Rebecca: One of the things that has come to mind as we’ve been talking today is how often narratives around almost the same circumstance can be different at various tables. And that one way perhaps, to show some allyship is to make that visible in conversations when it occurs. So if there’s an evaluative conversation, for example, around promotion or tenure, and something comes up about teaching, and it’s maybe a different narrative around some of the same techniques, because maybe the teaching evaluations come back negative because they often do. That conversation is different, we can point out, “Hey, this is actually a good practice. And that the research says that these evaluations are often not accurate.” And to try to point to the fact that these narratives are inconsistent. It happens so often, and we observe this all the time. And often people don’t speak up.

Chavella: No, they don’t at all. [LAUGHTER] There are a couple things going on at once. One is people see teaching as this very private activity. So very few people talk about their teaching in general. And then a lot of the folks that are doing the evaluative pieces don’t really actually know anything about the scholarship of teaching and learning. [LAUGHTER] If we’re being honest. They just know what’s normative. So I work with campuses doing all this stuff. I train people how to do inclusive teaching, and how to do the reflective pieces around identifying your own privilege and making it clear about their teaching choices. But I also work with institutions about how they evaluate, and really making it plain to them, how what they’re doing are the most common practices, and then put them in conversation with the best practices. And those are usually opposite. So a lot of the people that are doing the evaluative pieces, absolutely. They don’t know anything about the scholarship of teaching and learning. So the more of us who know, engage in those conversations and have those narratives, I think it could make a huge difference. Absolutely.

Tom: And back to the idea that the changes we want to see are structural and institutional ones. When Jean Mandernach and Ann Taylor and I were doing the research for our book, Evaluating Online Teaching, from back in 2015, we couldn’t include a lot of the horror stories that we heard about how institutions would often hire adjuncts to come back the next term or move people forward on the promotion and tenure line, based only on student ratings of teaching. And so there was that one signal that, as Chavella has mentioned, we know is imperfect and riddled with student bias. And we also know that student ratings of teaching—you notice I never say evaluations, because our students are not qualified to evaluate us—they can share what their experiences were like. And we have to look at those experiences through the lens of what are the biases that they are expressing through that rating system. So when we have just the one signal that we’re making an employment-based decision on, that’s where that bias really creeps in. The other side of that is also true, that when we’re asking peers, or our department chairs, or our Deans to do observations of our teaching, unless there’s a structure in place that asks for very specific teaching behaviors to be observed and then evaluated, then we’re going to bring our own unexamined and unintentional biases, and some intentional ones too, into that process as well. So in the book on evaluating online teaching, we tried to be very clear that even someone who’s never taught online before, can still give a meaningful and legally defensible assessment of our teaching, so long as they understand what they’re looking for, and what we count as teaching behaviors, versus what’s just bias from the face-to-face classroom. And we talked about things like voice tone, pacing, eye contact, use of humor, all those kinds of things that even in the face-to-face classroom, we might be using as proxies for observable teaching behaviors, because we don’t know what those are, or we haven’t done the research or read the research about Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, like we’re coming back to over and over in this conversation. Move that into the conversation about all of your instructors coming from various types of backgrounds, level of preparation, and level of implicit authority that is granted to them by students, dnd you come up with a very similar argument. The challenge for us as administrators, is to be very clear about what we are assessing and measuring when we think about the assessment of teaching quality,

Chavella: Obviously, I cosign all of that. [LAUGHTER] I cosign all of that. I feel like I’m always sort of on a rooftop yelling all of those things over and over again.

John: One of the things we’ve observed at the teaching center is we have a wide variety of young faculty in many departments who are trying to do new things. But their pushback is coming from other people in the departments. Our administration is, in general, quite good at recognizing some of these challenges, but that doesn’t always translate down to the senior faculty in departments. And I think Rebecca and I, at various times, have both had to urge some caution to faculty in trying to get some support for the things they do and some buy-in. What are some ways we could address that issue at the departmental level?

Tom: One thing that we mentioned in the article, and it’s a shameless theft of mine from a colleague at Westmoreland County Community College in western Pennsylvania. He called it the get-out-of-jail free card after the card in Monopoly that allows you to pass through the game more quickly. What we recognized was that our contingent and adjunct instructors who are just coming back from semester to semester, as well as our people who are on the tenure line but not yet tenured, often felt that they had to be very conservative, not take very many risks. And they wanted to do innovative teaching practices, felt perhaps not comfortable doing them as much, or as soon as they wished to do so. So the get-out-of-jail free card, we call that a provost’s letter. We asked our provost to be willing to write a letter that went into somebody’s promotion and tenure packet, or went into somebody’s employment history packet for the adjunct folks, that allowed people to collect, but not have count, the student ratings, any peer observations, anything that was formatively or summatively evaluative of their teaching, for one particular semester, or one particular class where they wanted to do something experimental or take a risk. That provost’s letter, you could apply to do it once every… in our case it was three years when I was in Chicago. And that provost letter changed the academic tenor of the conversation, because people felt that they could take a risk every now and then. And we started to see more people, not only just the faculty members and instructors who were newer to the field, but also those who had been there for a while. It wasn’t so much a case of, “Oh, these new people that are showing me up or they’re taking risks that I would never take.” We saw some of our more seasoned faculty members start saying, “Oh, well, if they can do that, and it actually lowers barriers, not only for the students, but also for me, then I want in on that as well.” And so that was one concrete thing that we’d encourage your listeners, get with your faculty senate, get with your administration, and see if there are ways that you can provide little islands of safety or security for people to do things that might be risky for them in their current roles or in their current progression.

Chavella: I’m thinking about it because I deal with this all the time… the, “What can you do?” Because as we mentioned earlier, I see this ugly endpoint of this. So I see the faculty with marginalized statuses who are about to not be renewed, because they have taken a chance, regardless of whether or not what they did was effective or not, the colleagues are the ones that are gunning for them. Your teaching content is different than what they want. They take offense to that. You’re not lecturing the way that they might do it, like you’re doing something a little bit more active. So they’re gunning for you. And what I would say departments could do that would link back to what Tom was saying a second ago, is you have to have an ally in your department that’s gonna do what I refer to as these collaborative teaching observations, where the person is observing your effectiveness versus judging whether or not you teach exactly like them or not, because that’s a lot of what the review is. So any shift that you can do in a department to get them to realize the evaluation isn’t a matter of… Am I a clone of you or not? And are you actually achieving the things that you have set out to do? Would be an improvement. And honestly, I’m thinking if you even ask the department to ask that question in their evaluation processes, I feel like that might be the punch in the gut that would make them realize, “O-M-G, all we are doing is reproducing ourselves.” I think it would produce a movement that would benefit everybody, not just faculty of marginalized statuses, but any and everybody who’s trying to do great teaching and do a little innovating here and there.

Tom: And that circles us around to one other practical thing that you can do at the department or institutional level. And that is provide anonymity. Get an external group to your institution, bring in an outside consultant, bring in people from another university, and have them offer everybody at your institution, or everybody in your department, an anonymous way to provide feedback about their feelings of safety and their feelings of power in the classroom. You will get an earful. Especially if there’s no way that that information could possibly pass its way back to the department chair’s ear with a name attached to it, you’ll get a much better sense of the comfort and the privilege that people feel that they’re exercising, and the threats, we heard Chavella talk about the force field that many people experience and how it malfunctions a lot. You’ll get a better sense of what your baseline is. And you can start having open and honest conversations. We started this conversation by saying this is an issue that not a lot of people talk about because either A, they don’t feel like they have the power and standing to do so safely. Or conversely, if you’re from a dominant-culture identity, you don’t want to dive in on a conversation like this because you’re afraid that you’re going to say something wrong, you’re going to offend somebody. Here’s the newsflash: You’re going to get it wrong, you’re going to offend a couple of people. It’s still worth having the conversation. And as long as everybody is practicing from a space of goodwill, having that conversation and seeing it as a necessary step toward better diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice, that’s what we want people to be able to do.

Chavella: And actually, I’ll take what he just said a little bit further, in terms of asking the question of, Is it safe or not? I would say just assume it isn’t. I feel like as academics, we want to do all the climate surveys and the folks that are privileged sort of know in their heart, ‘Oh, nothing bad is going to come out of that.’ Nope, you’re going to find out stuff that you probably aren’t going to want to accept. So in a lot of ways, yes, that’s important to do to get the specific examples from your campus in your department. But in a lot of ways, I say skip that step altogether. Assume that folks do not feel safe. Read the literature, because they’re those of us who write these things. We’re on the margins, right? We’re on the margins in our institutions, we’re on the margins in terms of writing. Read what we’re writing and assume that is going on on your campus and start coming up with solutions for what you see in the literature. So don’t wait until you can identify validated results on whether or not you have that problem or not, just assume that problem is at play and get the solutions going.

Rebecca: Yes, yes, yes. Sign me up. [LAUGHTER]

Chavella: Yes. [LAUGHTER]

John: While I don’t think this would eliminate the problem of bias in student ratings, might it be useful if departments at least reconsidered the questions in their student ratings so that they actually focused on teaching techniques that are demonstrated to be successful? So that at least it would more closely proxy what we’d like. Students may not be able to evaluate how well an instructor is doing something, but perhaps questions such as… Does the instructor provide you with feedback on your work? Are you allowed opportunities for revision? Are you given opportunities to express yourself in multiple ways? To perhaps address some of these issues where we’d like to see faculty moving, and perhaps to overcome some of the resistance. Because if all faculty knew they might be evaluated in sending it relates to effective teaching practices, maybe that could move the needle a little bit.

Chavella: I’m always sort of a one foot in and one foot out on this. I’m like, “Ah, we kind of know they’re broken.” So I’m not sure if that’s really where I want people to expend their energy. I want people to expend their energy fleshing out that image of people’s effective teaching, so it’s not just the student perspective. I don’t know if I would encourage people to do that. And I’m not sure how much you can actually improve the questions. Because even the examples that you just gave, some basic psychology research shows that cross-racial interaction people misattribute. So you’re like, “Oh, did they give opportunities for feedback?” Well, the feedback that students might want from a woman will look very different than the feedback they want from a man. You see what I’m saying? So, like, a male faculty member could give two sentences of feedback. And the students are like, “Great! I got feedback from whoever.” But then when a woman does it, if it’s a woman of color, there’s two sentences, all of a sudden, they expected more so to them that’s not feedback. So even the questions that people come up with to avoid bias at the end of the day, we’re all human, we’re going to see each other through these gender, race, social class lens. So yes, so I agree, I think it should be much more about student learning. But I definitely think that we should expand whose voices are included, in addition to what we’re looking at when it comes to teaching effectiveness.

Tom: Indeed, and don’t even get me started on student ratings. We’ve been yelling at the top of our lungs for the past 42 years, that we know how to do psychometrically valid student writing instruments. And then every college and university says, “Oh, we’re going to do our own.” And so the challenge is we’ve had organizations like the Idea Center that’s now part of a larger corporate entity, they’ve been doing the research on what are questions that students can use for ratings that are as neutral, and single barreled, and psychometrically valid as possible. So I’ll second what Chavella is saying here, and let’s go beyond just the student ratings. We, ideally, would train all of our instructors, to understand psychology, to understand statistics, to understand the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, all those things. But what we hire people for is they’re good chemists, they’re good art historians. So we don’t have enough time, people, money, or effort to be able to bring everybody up to expertise in all of these areas. What I’d much rather see is I’d much rather have three or four big ideas that everybody gets behind, and then they figure out how they’re going to do so in their own circumstances. Rather than trying to make everybody feel like they missed the boat, and they didn’t get training, and therefore, they’re at a beginner level in something. We’ve got experts in our campuses and around us, who can help us with the framing of these kinds of conversations, especially when they’re difficult, perhaps especially because they’re difficult. We should not ourselves need to feel like we need to become miniature overnight experts in how to have conversations about intersectional identity, or race, or gender in the classroom, in order to be able to take some actions that help to support our colleagues, create community, and find good ways to enact policies and practices that enshrine those things in the life of our colleges and universities. Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox now. You get the idea.

John: It’s a good soapbox to be on, though.

Rebecca: I really appreciated thinking about the systemic issues that we need to address and thinking through the institutional and departmental level challenges that we need to get on board with and address. But I don’t want to lose sight of some of the really practical reflection points that were in the article.

Chavella: You know what, though? I was going to say, they’re not disconnected. But I think that people think that because it’s a structural thing, it means we can’t tackle it, it’s going to take like one year of faculty senate meetings and changes the handbook. It doesn’t require that at all. And so I think those structural things are very much still connected to really practical pieces… easy, actionable… you could do it tomorrow, or at least by the end of the week. [LAUGHTER] I know that’s true, because this is what I teach campuses how to do.

Rebecca: That’s a really good point. Chavella, for sure. As I was reading the article, I was reading the student incivility section and just starting to think about the kinds of practices we often recommend around establishing belonging and community and wondering “Hmm, what kind of privilege do I bring to that space?” And so that was a moment of deep self reflection for me that went beyond just the incivility piece, but the sense of belonging that we had been heavily advocating for, especially throughout the pandemic, but obviously before that as well.

Chavella: Honestly, even just hearing you say that means that the article did its work, because that’s the question we want people to ask all the time. I don’t think we want people to ask if or when does my privilege come into play? But assume that it does and figure out: “How does it come into play?” …and then make some adjustments. So what did you come up with? Like I want to know, when you think about the things that you do, like what did you come up with in terms of like how my privilege play into how you do sense of belonging? I don’t mean to put you on the spot, I’m sorry. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Yeah, I’m not sure if I’ve come up with adjustments yet to be honest, I’ve started thinking about the kinds of activities that I do, the ways that I try to include multiple voices, but also the access to the technology I have to be able to do that. The fact that the institution has given me the ability to teach online synchronously during this time, because of my own disability status. I think about how that might change in person, and what kinds of things that I might do differently. And even the kinds of questions that I’m asking, and whether or not other folks would be able to ask the same kinds of questions. I have a lot of technical skill, I teach web design, I have a lot of technical skill. And there’s a lot of privilege just from that position [LAUGHTER] that I bring to my teaching space that many other faculty don’t have. So I’m often very aware that the kinds of things I do are not necessarily things that other people can replicate in other scenarios. They’re really based on the very specific contexts I’m teaching in, my own position in that context and my own expertise in particular areas. But I also know the kinds of things that I shy away from as a female instructor. [LAUGHTER]

Chavella: Right? Exactly. My brain got stuck at what you said at the beginning of it. So even if we think of this as an illustration, just talking about the pandemic, and sense of belonging, a lot of our faculty with marginalized statuses either structurally or institutionally, right, people who are contingent, or folks of color, women, that did not have options about whether or not they could be online or not. And could you imagine being from a community that’s disproportionately affected by the outcomes of COVID-19 in a classroom, with students where you don’t have a lot of power, and then trying to establish a sense of belonging… the actual physical distance that’s required to keep you, your family, and your folks safe. Imagine that being interpreted by students as you having distance, on top of the fact that you’re different from them, they’re already going to perceive distance, regardless of whether that’s there or not. That’s like basic psychology research. So I got stuck there. So I think you’re absolutely right. These are the questions we want people to be asking of themselves, and making adjustments to make sure that not only might your privilege be affecting how you make students belong, but also your colleagues who might be different from you, because then it becomes: “Well, professor so and so does XYZ.” So it’s about being really mindful of what you’re doing, and how that might make your colleagues be perceived as well.

Rebecca: Yeah, definitely. There’s been so many situations where I have definitely acknowledged my privilege. During the pandemic I have stable internet, I have technology, but I’m able to use my camera, I’m not in a situation where it’s unsafe for me to use my camera and my microphone, and all of these sorts of things, and how many other faculty who might be more contingent than myself have had a much more difficult time across many institutions and trying to speak up to get them some of the support that is necessary so that they could function safely. But, also just recognizing that I can’t really imagine what it would be like not to have the privilege that I have. And that’s an important thing to, I think, acknowledge. It’s difficult to imagine that.

Chavella: Yeah, and another thing popped into my mind, this is what popped in my mind immediately before I asked you a question. So sorry about turning it back on you. The idea of a sense of belonging in the classroom, and one of the inclusive teaching practices I teach folks how to do is to have an inclusive teaching statement. But even if people don’t do that, let’s not even talk about that. Let’s just talk about regular scholarship of teaching and learning. And the whole idea that you’re supposed to have guidelines for how you interact in the classroom for the students. Even that… I think that a lot of our faculty with privileged statuses don’t do that, or my version of don’t do that. The way that people do that people say, “Oh, follow the golden rule, or in this classroom, we’re going to treat each other with respect and with civility.” They’re super vague and they’re vacuous. And when you’re a person with a privileged status it means something completely different for you. And when you’re having students who also have privileged statuses, that all means something very different for you. I think, all practices from the rooter to the tooter, essentially, people should be thinking about them in the context of their privileges, but a sense of belonging is absolutely one of them.

Rebecca: We always wrap up by asking, what’s next?

Tom: I’m thinking about what I’d love your listeners to do next… it is first to do a little listening. Find a way to ask your students, ask your colleagues, ask your administration, questions about how people are supported in the teaching that they do. And then a second action that follows along from that is to determine what kind of action you can take in order to either exercise your own privilege in concert with and communication with other folks, or to find allies who can help you to make an argument for making positive change. So those would be the two things I’d love people to take away from our conversation today.

Chavella: And I would cosign that again. [LAUGHTER] But the “listen” piece, in particular, I would say if by the end of the week, you could find an article or two to read, if you could check out a podcast episode or so… like my podcast is simple and easy to hear about some of these issues. But there are people that are writing about these items. Just learning a little bit about these things on your own and figuring out how you can make slight changes to your practices would make a huge difference. And obviously, I have a book that’s going to be coming out that’s all about all of this, sometime in the near future.

Rebecca: Well, we can’t wait to have you back to talk about it.

Chavella: Yes, I’m looking forward to it. Lots of laughing… that is serious topics sometimes, but I do lots of laughing. [LAUGHTER]

John: Well, thank you. It’s great talking to both of you again, and I think this will cause a lot of people to reflect on their practices and think about how they can be a little bit more inclusive of their fellow faculty members.

Tom: I hope so. Thanks for having us on.

Chavella: Yeah. Thank you so much, y’all. Have a good one.

Rebecca: You too. Thank you.


John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

John: Editing assistance provided by Anna Croyle, Annalyn Smith, and Joshua Vega.