From Conversations to Practice

How can we, as a university, move from having conversations about inclusion and equity in our classrooms to putting these ideas into practice?  What can we do to ensure that Northwestern’s learning environments are welcoming and supportive for all students?

These questions were at the heart of the inaugural Inclusive Teaching Forum, a half-day event hosted by the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching on May 25, 2017 at Norris.

Over 90 faculty, staff, and students attended the event, which was designed to help participants explore how the Northwestern community can collectively advance equitable and inclusive learning and teaching environments across its campuses.

A student panel, comprised of two graduate students and two undergraduates, set the tone for the day.

“It’s important to remember that faculty members have a different perspective from students,” explained panelist Wendy Roldan, an undergraduate majoring in Mechanical Engineering. “And just because something worked for you, doesn’t mean it will work for your students,” added panelist Lawrence Crosby, a doctoral student in Materials Science and Engineering. 

Student panelist Jeromy Gotschall, an undergraduate majoring in Neuroscience, also reminded faculty that students in their classes come from a wide variety of backgrounds. “Due to discrepancies in academic backgrounds, familial support and financial resources,” Gotschall explained, “some students may need more support and mentoring [from their instructors and from the university].”

*Student Voices around Inclusive Teaching: [from left to right] Steven Banks, Master’s Student, Saxophone; Lawrence Crosby, Doctoral Student, Material Science and Engineering; Jeromy Gotschall, Undergraduate Student, Neuroscience; Wendy Roldan, Undergraduate Student, Mechanical Engineering

The student panelists urged faculty to scrutinize their course materials, and to question whether the content is inclusive. For panelist Steven Banks, a Master’s student studying saxophone in the Bienen School of Music, the absence of female and minority composers in the curriculum was striking. After he learned about such figures as Joseph Boulogne, an 18th-century Black musician and composer who’d effectively been written out of history, he started a petition to diversify Bienen’s core music theory curriculum.

Building on the student remarks, faculty on a second panel offered strategies for and insights into creating inclusive learning environments.  All agreed that faculty must begin by checking their egos at the door.  “There is strength in vulnerability,” advised panelist Adam Goodman, Director of Northwestern's Center for Leadership and Clinical Professor in McCormick.

“Let students engage with one another and construct meaning together,” suggested panelist Fadia Antabli, Assistant Professor of Instruction in Middle East and North African Studies in Weinberg.  Similarly, for panelist Gina Logan, Research Assistant Professor, School of Education and Social Policy, the key was to allow students to learn together. “Don’t dominate the room,” she said.

“Allow conflict to happen,” said panelist Destiny Peery, Assistant Professor of Law, Pritzker School of Law.  “Create an environment where dissonance can occur.”

After the panels, the forum participants were encouraged to reflect on other principles of inclusive pedagogy, and to think about what it would mean for Northwestern students if instructors worked harder to:  facilitate purposeful interactions among faculty, students, and content; value experiences, perspectives, and ways of thinking and knowing that students bring into the classroom; balance support and dissonance; disrupt social relations in the classroom; challenge self-grouping habits; and seek to suspend judgment.

In the upcoming academic year, the Searle Center will continue to host events to bring a broad community Northwestern students, faculty, and administrators together in meaningful discussions around social equity and inclusion in high education and learning and teaching.


**Hero Image -- Faculty Voices around Inclusive Teaching: Fadia Antabli, Assistant Professor of Instruction, MENA (Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences); Adam Goodman, Clinical Associate Professor of Undergraduate Engineering (McCormick School of Engineering); Director, Center for Leadership;  Destiny Peery, Assistant Professor of Law (Pritzker School of Law); Regina Logan, Research Assistant Professor (School of Education and Social Policy)

***Image credit: Lauren Woods, Postdoctoral Fellows, Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching.