Prepared by the STP Diversity Committee

The members of the Diversity Committee regularly publish a column, "Diversity Matters" in STP NewsPast columns appear below.  If you have a question related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the teaching of psychology, click here and we might answer it in a future column.

  • 07 May 2020 2:38 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    For this month’s column, the STP Diversity Committee shares our reflections on what the sudden shift to remote teaching and learning means for equity and inclusion in our own teaching and for the professoriate at large.


    Viji: The swift pivot to remote teaching has brought ideas of equity and inclusion to the forefront. As educators, we should ask ourselves which students might suffer disproportionate consequences from any decisions we make. For example, students who live in a different time zone or who have since committed to a job may be left out of strictly synchronous class meetings. Likewise, students who lack a reliable internet connection or a quiet place to study may be disadvantaged by timed tests. I’ve shared some thoughts about this swift move to online teaching and learning in a few places, which you can find compiled here. I hope to continue the discussion with you, so please feel free to stay connected with me via Twitter @vijisathy.


    Jennifer: When transitioning online, I was reminded we are not “working from home” or engaging in “online learning” as much as we are home -- or out of school -- during a global health crisis, trying to work and/or learn. This realization helped me to step back and be more mindful with the process. Here are some specific strategies I have used for equity and inclusion in the classroom:

    • Gathering Student Input: One useful tool for redesigning my courses involved seeking student feedback. I realized that although many students’ living situations made it harder for them to participate in synchronous meetings, there was a subset of students who strongly preferred synchronous class for accountability and connection. I decided to post video lectures in addition to having a one-hour, optional synchronous class each week. Thus, we can connect in real-time, but it is also manageable for me (I have a 9-month-old out of daycare). I have been gathering feedback every few weeks to see how the course can be improved.
    • Increased Communication and Structure: I have increased communication (via email and announcements) and improved the online structure of my courses to help students feel a sense of control and predictability. Juggling everything online has been a challenge for many of my students, and reminders have helped.
    • Integrating Current Events and Topics Relevant to Diverse Identities: I facilitate reflections and discussions around social justice issues and COVID-19 (e.g., xenophobia, racism, access to healthcare, houselessness, etc.). Identifying meaningful readings in addition to applying behavioral science to the current situation keeps students more engaged. It’s already on their mind!
    • Building Resilience: I view this as an opportunity to help students build their resilience. I emphasize topics relevant to self-care, coping, social justice advocacy/activism, solidarity practice, social support/connection, posttraumatic growth, and character strengths. On a broader level, I also think it is important to help students navigate University systems (e.g., grade options) and identify how to use their resources to be successful during this “new normal”.

    Sasha: Many universities serve nontraditional students employed in essential jobs, a particularly vulnerable population during this time. Put yourself in their place, navigating longer work hours, caring for dependents, concerned about bringing COVID-19 home from work, all while trying to complete course requirements.

    Just as we learn to communicate to our students the purpose behind assessments and how they connect to learning objectives, we must communicate to our students the pedagogical choices we make now. For instance, if you are cutting down one of the longer research papers because you understand there are students in your courses who are writing and researching papers on their phones, share this with them. Listen to your students’ concerns and let them know you are listening. Echo what you have learned about their situation and connect it explicitly to actions.

    Continue to check-in on your students’ changing situations. Monitor whether they are logging-in to the course and completing the requirements, email them just to ask how they are doing. Many students struggling with depression will not initiate contact.

    Finally, make notes of all that you are learning about your students, their lives beyond the classroom and their needs. Because many of these needs will continue to exist after the pandemic is over. If you have a faculty institute or development day scheduled for the Fall, I encourage you to suggest this as a topic of discussion. From one another we can learn even more about our students and strategies for inclusion and equity. Turn this tragedy into a learning opportunity to better provide for your students.


    Teceta: The shift to remote learning was incredibly swift, and was unfolding during a global tragedy that was having impacts on our students- and on us as educators- in direct and indirect ways. I found that flexibility, adaptability, and grace were particularly relevant to recognizing the differential impacts of inequity. This unprecedented time is impacting people in different ways- by group identity, as individuals, in different regions of the country and different parts of an area, from one day to the next, and from one hour to the next. Our emotions and thoughts are shifting rapidly, and the consequences of coronavirus and Covid-19 are impacting us in ways that are structurally different and humanly the same. I need to be flexible and adaptable in allowing for the very human responses to the virus on the emotional, psychological, financial, and physical health outcomes of my students. I also need grace- and asked it of my students towards me on the first day of the quarter- in recognizing that we are all doing the best we can under extraordinary and deeply painful times. The final piece- suggested by one of my students- is to check in with them each week, to see how they are doing and to provide a space for coming together in community and fellowship.


    Leslie:Everyone has given such great concrete suggestions for how to inclusively adapt our teaching to our current circumstances. I won’t repeat them, but I will say that one thing I keep thinking about is the hope that faculty can continue to teach with flexibility, compassion, and grace well after this all passes. “Your well-being is more important than my class” has, thankfully, become a common refrain. However, in speaking with a number of my students, very few of their professors have previously conveyed this sentiment in an explicit manner. Our students face a number of individual struggles on a regular basis and, although those struggles might not be as apocalyptically evident to us, that doesn’t make them any less real for our students. Even under better circumstances, we can still personally check in with students who have fallen off the gradebook or design our classes in such a way that acknowledges that, as I like to say, “life happens” and provides students with multiple different options for satisfying course requirements. Looking back on our classes, our students may or may not remember key terms or concepts, but they will certainly remember how they were treated. Academic rigor and basic compassion are not mutually exclusive, and I encourage everyone to reflect on what that balance might look like in your own teaching practice. 
  • 10 Mar 2020 12:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Question: What ways (small and/or large) do you promote belonging in your classroom?

    Leslie Berntsen: I always say that I’m on a mission to make my classes the coziest 200-person lecture my students have ever taken, and this mission starts before the semester officially does. In the welcome email I send out the week before classes start, I ask students to fill out a pre-class survey that lets them share their pronouns, any accessibility needs they might have, how to phonetically pronounce their name, and anything else they’d like me and the TAs to know about them. Once you have all of that information, you’re in a great position to show your students that you care about them as people. For example, one of my students shared that he has social anxiety and feels like he always messes up when speaking to professors. The next class day after reading that, I made sure to look him up in my photo roster and say a quick and very low-key “Just wanted to say hi and let you know you can come talk to me any time you’d like. Glad you’re here.” Soon after, he was speaking up in a 100+ person lecture, so never underestimate just how impactful very small (and very easy) acts of kindness can be.

    More generally, I also have a very specific speech I give on the first day of every class I teach to make sure that all of my students feel like they belong in science, broadly construed. First, I run everyone through a thought exercise modeled after the Draw A Scientist Test and have them reflect on all the scientists they’ve learned about in school and make the connection between our mental image of “a scientist” and our beliefs about who can do science. Then, I tell stories of Black women doctors who have their qualifications questioned by flight crews while attempting to offer medical assistance to fellow passengers in order to illustrate some of the consequences of these kinds of beliefs. Finally, I finish up with the stories of Dr. Kelly Bennion (who completed her Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience while cheering for the New England Patriots) and Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff (who completed his M.D. while playing for the Kansas City Chiefs) in order to ensure that all of my students internalize two key messages: (1) that they can be good at more than one thing at once and (2) that I am here to help them be good at science, no matter what else they might have going on in their lives or what other teachers might have previously told them.

    Ask Leslie about: Teaching social issues, inclusive pedagogy, being a woman of color in the academy, teaching with a disability

    Teceta Tormala: An important piece of creating belonging in the classroom for me begins with my being very intentional around my course design. I work to provide class readings and didactic content that center the lived experience and the psychological processes within underrepresented groups to complement those of overrepresented groups, and I create assignments in which students need to process their sociocultural selves. I want students to be able to see themselves within the classroom; creating a foundation of recognition of the fundamental importance of intersectional identities on our day-to-day lives and our outcomes is an important component of this. I also am a huge fan of discussions during class, and of giving them the space to develop and deepen. Discussions may stem from a prompt I give the class, or from a student comment or question; I have found over the years that having leeway in my plan for any given class period to allow a 2-minute or 5-minute or 15-minute discussion inevitably allows for more voices to be heard and more perspectives to be revealed.

    Ask Teceta about: Sociocultural and sociohistorical influences on the self, teaching and training in the service of the development of cultural humility, structural competency

    Jennifer Lovell: I prioritize my relationship with students and try to create a learning environment in which self-reflection and openness are valued. During our first class, I co-construct rules and expectations with students. I ask students what they expect from one another and me in the classroom, and this leads to a discussion about topics such as appropriate self-disclosure, confidentiality, open mindedness, and respectful disagreement. I type notes while we speak (displayed on the screen), and then I share the final draft electronically for everyone to sign. This process helps to clarify expectations. Students are then able to explore biases and discomfort when discussing mental health within multicultural contexts. I also have students complete a “getting to know you” online survey within the first week of the semester (very much like the one mentioned by Leslie). I ask their preferred name, pronouns, why they are taking the class, concerns about the course, and whether or not they need accommodations. I also ask them open-ended questions such as: “I am most likely to participate in class when…” “It is hard for me to learn when…” and “What is something you have accomplished that makes you feel good.” Learning about student strengths helps me to find ways to support and motivate them. I reach out via email if there is something I read that needs follow up. These are just a few specific strategies at the beginning of the semester, but course content and discussion are also very important for helping people feel represented and validated within the classroom. Classroom discussions among students and group projects allow opportunities for students to get to know one another, and this is also a way I help foster a sense of belonging.

    Ask Jennifer about: Mentoring culturally diverse students in research, teaching critical service learning, being a White anti-racist in the academy.

  • 10 Feb 2020 12:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    For our very first appearance in the STP newsletter, we’re introducing ourselves and our forthcoming advice column. In future issues, we’ll be answering questions related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the teaching of psychology. Whether you’re looking for advice on how to handle a tricky classroom situation, tips for making your departmental culture more inclusive, or any of our other “ask me about” topics, let us know at this link or scan the QR code: bit.ly/askSTPdiversity

    Leslie Berntsen: I earned my Ph.D. in Brain & Cognitive Science at the University of Southern California, where I currently teach introductory, abnormal, and developmental psychology as a teaching-track faculty member. I am passionate about teaching at the intersection of psychological science and social justice and engaging in popular science communication and advocacy outside of the classroom. I’ve been giving social justice-themed symposium presentations at ACT every year since 2016 and I’m thrilled to be able to contribute to STP in a more formalized capacity. (In between editions of our forthcoming advice column, you can find me tweeting about these topics and more under the handle @leslie_bern.)

    Ask me about: Teaching social issues, inclusive pedagogy, being a woman of color in the academy, teaching with a disability

    Sasha Cervantes: I earned my PhD in Cognitive Psychology (minor-specialization in neurobiology) from the University of Chicago. I am an Associate Professor at Governors State University with tenure and serve in many roles aimed to empower my colleagues and students in a diverse academic culture. I primarily teach Cognitive Psychology, Biological Psychology, and our Senior Capstone course, but have enjoyed teaching our Introductory Psychology, Learning, and Research Methods courses as well. Some of the roles I serve are as Faculty Senator, Advisor for our local chapter of the Psi Chi Honor Society, and Chair of the Faculty Professional Development Committee. My goal is to capitalize on the ways these roles intersect to improve visibility and support for the diversity of our field. I engage in multiple lines of research on learning and memory. Current projects include the effects of sensory perception and aging on memory, online pedagogy, and student co-curricular engagement.

    Ask me about: Mentoring first-generation and non-traditional students, contrasting benefits to pedagogical best practices, navigating professional obstacles

    Dina Gohar: I earned my Ph.D. in Clinical and Social Psychology along with a Certificate in College Teaching from Duke University, and my M.A. at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, where I studied how we can optimize the self-processes and behaviors that contribute to human flourishing. I am currently a Lecturer in  the University of Michigan’s Department of Psychology, where I teach undergraduate courses like Research Methods in Social Psychology and the Science of Happiness, and mentor a first-generation first-year student on research examining the impact of a brief (free) growth-mindset intervention. My recent research, scholarship, and service have focused primarily on inclusive teaching practices to improve learning and reduce anxiety in the classroom, and I’m thrilled to help STP promote more inclusivity and diversity sensitivity in the field of psychology as a whole. I also enjoy engaging in social justice advocacy (in and outside of the classroom) and popular science communication, including running a growing wellness-oriented Twitter account (@WellWeds), through which I mostly provide psychoeducation about mental health, wellness, social justice issues.

    Ask me about: Inclusive teaching, addressing anxiety and social psychological phenomena like stereotype threat, implicit bias, and self-presentational concerns in the classroom, being a woman of color in the academy.

    Jennifer Lovell: I earned my PhD in Clinical Child Psychology, and a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies, from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. I am an assistant professor at California State University Monterey Bay, where I primarily teach Clinical Psychology and Psychology in the Community (a critical service learning course) to undergraduates. I am dedicated to integrating multicultural perspectives in my teaching and scholarship, and I co-authored a book with Dr. Joseph White focused on strength-based interventions when working with diverse adolescents (The "Troubled" Adolescent: Challenges and Resilience in Family and Multicultural Contexts).

    Ask me about: Mentoring culturally diverse students in research, teaching critical service learning, being a White anti-racist in the academy.

    Viji Sathy: I am a professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at UNC Chapel Hill, where I teach quantitative and methodology courses such as the introductory statistics course and makerspace courses. I am actively involved in instructional innovation and the development of technological tools to promote student success. I speak and write about inclusive teaching practices in higher education. My research involves evaluating the impact of innovative teaching techniques as well as retention in STEM courses. I am also the Program Evaluator of the Chancellor’s Science Scholars an adaptation of the Meyerhoff Scholarship at the University of Maryland Baltimore County that has successfully increased representation of underrepresented students in STEM PhDs. Prior to my current position at UNC, I worked at the College Board conducting research on the SATs and non-cognitive predictors of college success.

    Ask me about: inclusive teaching, broadening participation in STEM, flipped classrooms, high-structure active learning, teaching a large enrollment course, working with a TA team, undergraduate education, using data for student success, being a woman of color in the academy, non-tenure track positions

    Teceta Tormala: I earned my PhD in Social Psychology from Stanford University. I am an associate professor at Palo Alto University, where I teach Social Psychology and Cultural Differences, primarily at the graduate level, and serve as the Director of Institutional Equity and Inclusion. I have long been interested in the ways in which people negotiate their cultural identities, and the role of multiple, cross-cutting identities on psychological outcomes. My recent scholarship and service has centered around creating an institutional culture around social justice and cultural consciousness.

    Ask me about: Sociocultural and sociohistorical influences on the self, teaching and training in the service of the development of cultural humility, structural competency

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