The make-up of higher education classrooms is changing as college becomes more accessible to broader populations, leading to an increase in campus diversity.  As instructors, we need to be able to teach and impact students from a variety of social and cultural backgrounds.

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Valuing Diversity in the Classroom

(Based on Plank & Rohdieck, 2007)

Why is it important to value diversity?  How do I know if my classroom is diverse?  These are important questions that are not easily answered.  However, we can start by considering the kinds of diversity that we as instructors bring to the classroom – our gender, race, social class background, religion, sexuality, etc.  Once we acknowledge ourselves as diverse, it becomes easier to acknowledge that our students, too, are bringing these diverse characteristics into the classroom – regardless of the subject matter being taught.

  • Recognizing student diversity helps instructors tailor content and teaching methods in order to maximize student learning.
  • Recognizing diversity also allows for the instructor to communicate to students his or her awareness of and appreciation for their uniqueness as individuals.
  • There is no such thing as a “neutral” classroom.
  • As instructors, our own diverse identities impact the language we use, the particular topics or points we emphasize in class, the ideas we value, and our interactions with our students.

Assumptions We Make About Diversity

Sometimes our assumptions about diversity can get in the way of building inclusive learning environments and meeting students’ learning needs.  Here are three possible assumptions about diversity, with responses:

  1. Students are not diverse.  Just because your students look similar, doesn’t mean they are similar.  Many factors contribute to a diverse identity.  These characteristics influence how one behaves in a classroom and how one interacts with the learning material.
  2. Diversity doesn’t matter because everyone is diverse.  This assumption typically emerges when diversity discussions stop at the idea that everyone is different.  Yet we live in a society influenced by power dynamics, which can also play out in our classrooms.  For example, we may inadvertently reinforce inequity outside the classroom by the wording of our assignments or the types of tasks we assign.
  3. Diversity does not have anything to do with learning.  The reality is that diversity has everything to do with learning, from the content we choose and the examples we give, to the way we interact with our students.  By helping students understand and evaluate multiple diverse perspectives, we are teaching them critical thinking and problem solving skills.

In conclusion, diversity is not just a “hot topic” or “current trend.”  It truly impacts how we as instructors interact with our students, engage with course content, and understand student learning.  Although talking about diversity can at times be challenging, it is far too important of a topic to ignore.

Resource: Plank, K. M., & Rohdieck, S. V. (2007, June). The value of diversity. NEA Higher Education ADVOCATE, 24(6), 5-8.


Campus Resources


Teaching Diversity book cover

Teaching Diversity: Challenges and Complexities, Identities and Integrity.
By W. M. Timpson, S. S. Canetto, E. Borrayo, & R. Yang.
Available from OSU Libraries: LC 1099.3 .T4215 2003

Teaching About Culture book cover

Teaching About Culture, Ethnicity, & Diversity: Exercises and Planned Activities.
By T. M. Singelis.
Available from OSU Libraries: HM 101 .T38 1998

Teaching From a Multicultural Perspective book cover

Teaching from a Multicultural Perspective.
Roberts, H., et al.
Available from OSU Libraries: LC 1099.3 .T435 1994

Enacting Diverse Environments book cover

Enacting Diverse Learning Environments: Improving the Climate for Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Higher Education.
By S. Hurtado, J. Milem, A. Clayton-Pedersen, & W. Allen.
Available from OSU Libraries: LC 3727 .E522 1999


Diversity at Ohio State

The Ohio State University is one of the nation’s largest public universities.  With over 64,000 students, the campus is home to a wide variety of diverse populations, including diversity of nationality, ethnicity, social class background, religious preference, gender, sexuality, and even age.  The following graphs illustrate some of the statistics on diversity at OSU.  These data were collected during the 2011-2012 academic year.

Gender Diversity

Ohio Natives vs. Non-Ohio Natives

International vs. Domestic Students

Ethnic Diversity

Working with International Students

(Based on the UCAT Handbook on Teaching.  For more detailed information, see page 18 of the handbook.)

International students represent a significant portion of the student population at Ohio State. They come from over 120 different countries. International students face the challenge of learning to live in a new culture, often while using a non-native language. Because most of their education took place in another culture, international students may have different approaches to learning and different expectations of the instructor or the classroom. The international student population is also diverse. Students vary in their time spent in the US, their native language, and their level of English proficiency.

Cultural Adjustment

For international students who are new to the US, cultural adjustment will always take place on some level.  Cultural adjustment tends to take place in phases, often cyclically:

  • Honeymoon stage: Feelings of excitement, anticipation; wanting to please instructors and peers.
  • Frustration stage:  Feelings of frustration, anxiety, anger, and homesickness; fatigued from constantly using a second language.
  • Integration/Acceptance stage: Feelings of confidence, ability to get needed information.  The students may perform better in the classroom because of language acquisition and understanding of academic expectations.
  • Home stage:  Comfort with US culture while simultaneous allegiance to home culture.

Academic Issues

In addition to the cultural adjustment issues Ohio State’s international students might face, there are academic issues that could affect their classroom performance.  Some of the problematic areas are:

  • Listening comprehension and note-taking difficulties
  • Lack of confidence in speaking English publicly
  • Interpretation of course rules and expectations
This video from Lone Star College outlines some of the strategies faculty should consider when working with international students.  Although the narrator specifically mentions online teaching, these strategies can also be applied to traditional classrooms.



Strategies for Teaching Assistant book cover

Strategies for Teaching Assistant and International Teaching Assistant Development: Beyond Micro Teaching
By C. Ross & J. Dunphy
Available from OSU Libraries: LB2335.4 .R67 2007

Teaching International Students book cover

Teaching International Students: Improving Learning for All
By J. Carroll, & J. Ryan
Available through OhioLink: LB2375 .T43 2005