Diversity and Inclusion in Education: Q&A with Edgar Meyer, I&D Advocate

Edgar Meyer, an advocate for I&D, was our guest as we discussed the importance of creating an environment that encourages diversity and inclusion in education. Find out more in our Q&A.
What are your favourite ways to promote inclusive and diverse learning environments?
There are many ways I love to promote inclusion in the classroom. Before a class can be started, it is important to establish ground rules that all members of the class can agree upon. It is important to establish a mutual respect expectation between class members, regardless of their backgrounds or differences. This respect also includes an agreement by all class members to remain engaged during class time, especially if other students or instructors share information. This means that you will not be able to use your electronic devices during the sharing experience. Students should also be committed to punctuality. Lateness can cause students to miss important information, particularly those shared by peers during group sharing.
A covenant of confidentiality is another important rule. Sometimes, when we have built trust with our peers or colleagues in small-group settings we feel comfortable sharing information that is very meaningful and emotional for ourselves. It is important to not allow students to share information that their peers don’t want to share outside of their small groups. However, students can always take any valuable insights or ideas from discussions with them. My colleague called this the “Vegas twist.” Although we all know the expression “What happens in Vegas stays Vegas,” small-group sharing means that what happens within small groups cannot be shared outside of the group without the permission of the members. What is learned is used to improve the future interactions of students with their peers. Instructors should be notified if students share sensitive information, such as suicidal, harmful or destructive thoughts. Professional help can be sought. Instructors must be aware of the rising rates of suicide ideation among students.
It is important that students are allowed to share their ideas about rules and other aspects of the class in order to promote inclusion. These thoughts can be shared orally in large-group discussions, but also anonymously via a survey, especially for larger classes. It is important to ensure that students are involved in their learning experience. These ground rules, which are accepted and developed by the entire class, provide a foundation for authentic conversations and discussions.
Small-group discussions and activities can be incorporated into courses to increase diversity and encourage inclusion. Research has shown that students will form small groups when they self-organize and are more likely to find people who are similar to themselves. This is a natural human tendency. However, instructors can deliberately diversify small groups by varying learning levels and demographic characteristics. Instructors can increase diversity in small groups to allow students to have richer discussions that include a variety of ideas.
Instructors can alternate reporting roles between students in small groups if larger group formats are used. This is possible within the same class session or every subsequent class session. This allows everyone in the small group to have a speaking opportunity. Instructors can let students ask for help to speak in order to be inclusive and accommodating of students who don’t wish to speak. Students who are members of the Deaf community and might not be understood by everyone in class, would benefit from the presence of a translator who can speak American Sign Language (or the equivalent in their country) to translate for them.
Incorporating cultural connections into courses can be another way to respect the inclusion of all students. These connections could be applied to the profiles and contributions of female or underrepresented minority (URM), scientists or clinicians, or to female or URM scholars or professionals working in any field relevant to the courses instructors teach. These connections could also be applicable to entire cultures contributing to a discipline. These connections could also be applicable to topics that affect marginalized groups like members of the LGBTQIA+ Community, URM’s veterans, the elderly, people with disabilities, and any other underrepresented group whose voices are heard.