The very acts of teaching and learning are cultural experiences. Classroom behaviors and practices are strongly influenced by an instructor’s own cultural background, and each of us must work hard not to privilege students of one background and disadvantage students whose language, experience, abilities, or learning styles differ from our own.

When a student hails from another country, differences in language, dress, and appearance can be apparent. Like most people around the world, Americans are curious about those who dress and speak differently. First-day introductions might politely bring to light these differences and satisfy curiosity about the variety of places that each student calls home. Underscoring the value of these differences will set a positive tone for future classroom interactions.

Here are a few questions that might help you and your students recognize and value classroom diversity:

  • Am I sensitive to the fact that people from other parts of the country or from other countries may not view education, college, teacher/student relationships, classroom interactions, or course content in the same way I do?

  • Do I try to find out something about why my students are taking this course and what they are curious about?

  • Do I understand that students feel uncomfortable when asked to “speak for” a particular cultural, ethnic, special needs, or religious group of which they are a member?

  • Do I call on people fairly?

  • Do I understand that academic disadvantage cannot be assumed simply because a student is a member of a particular group?

  • Do I try to explain jokes that seem to confuse students from another country?

  • Do I understand that religious faith can condition how students and instructors view intellectual pursuits?

  • Do I include examples from alternative lifestyles in class?

  • Do I try to incorporate research conducted by women?

  • Do I present information and require student responses in a variety of ways such as visually, orally, and kinesthetically?

  • Am I respectful, not condescending, in my communication with all my students, regardless of their age and abilities?

Of course, these questions are not comprehensive; there are many issues to consider when trying to promote an atmosphere that is inclusive, respectful, and cooperative. You not only set the tone by your own behavior but also should let students know you expect them to recognize and value the richness that diversity brings to a classroom.

Of course, diversity among students goes beyond appearance, lifestyle, nationality, age, language, and abilities. Many of your students are interested and committed to an array of co-curricular activities. College years can provide new and exciting opportunities for students to participate in athletics, service clubs, Greek life, and student government. Students who are involved in co-curricular activities often are more organized and motivated to do well in course work. In addition, co-curricular activities offer unique learning experiences that can have a positive and permanent impact on students.

Learning to manage co-curricular activities so they do not interfere with coursework can be an important facet of the college experience. Help your students understand that managing their schedules can mean planning ahead to complete assignments early or otherwise adjusting their work habits to fit the course schedule.

It’s worth noting several points you should know about students in University-sanctioned athletic teams:

  • About 630 students are members of a University of Iowa-sanctioned athletic team.

  • Student athletes must meet eligibility requirements, so the Athletics Department will contact instructors at least twice per semester to determine if students are attending and earning passing grades. Student-athletes will need permission from Student-Athlete Academic Services before making changes to their class schedule such as adding or withdrawing. 

  • Student athletes can request free tutoring from Student-Athlete Academic Services, but may still seek assistance from instructors. Students may receive study table hours for the time they spend with an instructor during office hours or review sessions, and students must present Student Athlete Academic Services with a signed document verifying when and with whom they met. 

  • Instructors also are notified before student athletes will be out-of-town for competitions, and student athletes are required to make arrangements with their instructors prior to travel.

  • In general, student athletes prefer not to be singled out about their athletic accomplishments or team records in class but want to be treated like other students.