Statement on Inclusive Teaching

In support of inclusive excellence, the Elliott School is committed to supporting our faculty and students in exercising inclusive teaching throughout our curriculum. All faculty members are expected to practice inclusive teaching as outlined in this statement and to include a stated commitment in every syllabus. 

As reflected in the Elliott School’s Diversity Statement

  • We believe [the diversity of American society] enriches the educational experience for students and faculty alike. 
  • We are committed to ensuring that every student, faculty, and staff member has a chance to reach their full professional potential, do great work, and be a fully enfranchised member of the Elliott School community. 
  • We seek not only to reflect American society, but also to serve as a model for proactively engaging with difference, with respect, dignity, openness, and acceptance, recognizing that diversity reflects the society in which we live and can be its greatest strength.
  • We are committed to attracting and supporting students, faculty, and staff from diverse backgrounds and experiences, for example, based on race, gender, socio-economic status, age, sexual orientation and identity, religion, nationality, culture, ideas (including political perspectives), and methods.

We begin with defining key terms as we consider how they might be operationalized at the Elliott School.

  • Diversity is used to describe individual differences (e.g. life experiences, learning and working styles, personality types) and group/social differences (e.g. race, socio-economic status, class, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, ability, intellectual traditions and perspectives, as well as cultural, political, religious, and other affiliations) that can be engaged to achieve excellence in teaching, learning, research, scholarship, and administrative and support services (Association of American College and Universities).
  • Inclusion is used to describe the active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity -- in people, in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum, in the classroom, and in communities (e.g. intellectual, social, cultural, geographic) with which individuals might connect (Association of American College and Universities).
  • Inclusive excellence is a framework designed to help campuses integrate diversity and quality efforts. As a model, inclusive excellence assimilates diversity efforts into the core of institutional functioning to realize the educational benefits of diversity. Applying inclusive excellence concepts leads to infusing diversity into an institution’s recruiting, admissions, and hiring processes; into its curriculum and co-curriculum; and into its administrative structures and practices. (Association of American College and Universities). 
  • Inclusive teaching refers to pedagogy that strives to serve the needs of all students, regardless of background, identity, or ability, supports their engagement with subject material as well as each other, and reflects the full measure of the subject matter, incorporating diverse perspectives and sources of knowledge and experience (Yale University, Center for Teaching and Learning).

Inclusive teaching encompasses four components:

  1. How we teach;
  2. What we teach, in terms of diverse perspectives and intentional inclusion of issues of social equity as they relate to the subject matter;
  3. Where we draw our pedagogical materials; and
  4. How we support constructive and supportive student engagement.

Following is an elaboration of each of these four areas, along with initial resources to support understanding and operationalization of these inclusive teaching components. This statement concludes with suggested language to incorporate into course syllabi.

Additional resources and support are under development to include a faculty workshop this fall. We offer the suggested materials below to support faculty members’ immediate progress towards these shared aims.

How We Teach

Our methods can intentionally support the aims of our diversity statement. We need to strive to teach in ways that actively:

  • Establish and support an inclusive climate;
  • Set explicit expectations that level the playing field for all students, making sure that the criteria by which students will be assessed are understandable and accessible to all students, and reducing opportunities for bias; 
  • Cultivate critical self-reflection; and
  • Ensure that all materials are accessible to all students, whether attending in-person or remotely, and meet American with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines for compliance for students with disabilities.


What We Teach: Course Content That Addresses Issues of Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Equity

Inclusiveness is relevant to every aspect of international affairs and its contributing disciplines. Asking ourselves how issues of diversity, inclusion, and social equity (or justice) relate to/in the topic we are teaching will make us better teachers and allow us to better prepare our students for their careers. Whether in assigned readings or class discussions, we need to provide multiple and diverse examples that engage the full range of our students, their identities and interests. We also need to highlight inequalities that exist in our current disciplinary narratives. And we need to actively work to include content that avoids normalizing inequalities, as well as assumptions that are inherent in the historical narratives of our disciplines. 

The Council on Diversity and Inclusion is working to collect and disseminate resources to support inclusive course content—both in terms of subject matter and sourcing (below). Preliminary resources to get us started are listed below.


Where We Source Our Course Materials

All of our students need to know that the international affairs field has places for people like them, not someday, but now. Presenting authors and examples that are homogenous rather than diverse may not convey an inclusive portrait of all relevant stakeholders. We need to ensure that as many as possible of our diverse student body can see in our syllabi and class materials examples of people like them in both IR research and practice. While this does not mean we should throw out wholesale valuable core readings that are foundational to our disciplines, it does mean we should challenge ourselves to look further and to actively seek out a diverse collection of authors, speakers, and examples. If we fail to do this, we may be implicitly telling many of our students that only an exclusive group makes identifiable contributions to our discipline. This is not true; and it is a failure that we must avoid. As such, consider adding works and subsequent discussions to your syllabus that promote viewing the course topics from alternate, diverse lenses.

The Council on Diversity and Inclusion is working on identifying dominant narratives and perspectives within each discipline and offering additional sources to supplement courses within the Elliott School.  


How We Foster Constructive and Supportive Student Engagement

Fostering constructive and supportive student engagement relies importantly on components of inclusive teaching like course content and materials sourcing.

Inclusive teaching encompasses not just how you, the professor, interact with your students, but also how you create a classroom climate that fosters constructive and supportive engagement among students. For students to engage and to learn, they need to feel respected and supported. This begins with the tone the professor sets, for example, in the course description and syllabus, and in the diversity of course content (e.g., assigned materials and examples used in class).

The Elliott School expects you to include a commitment to inclusive teaching in your course syllabus. An inclusive classroom community requires active commitment by professors and students alike. Inclusive teaching statements should reflect that. Guidance for crafting such a statement, along with examples, are provided below. 

Beyond this initial tone, professors should model respectful and inclusive behavior, and to stop, think, and engage students around harmful exchanges rooted in bias and/or discrimination. Intervening in incidents of bias and microaggressions in the classroom should be considered thoughtfully, keeping in mind the safety and comfort of those on the receiving end.

Instructors have three responsibilities that can be in tension:

  1. To promote respectful free expression, which is necessary to learning;
  2. To allow all students the space to talk about their ideas, opinions, and lived experiences, and be respected and listened to; and
  3. To avoid burdening students from underrepresented groups with the expectation they will “speak for” their group.

Columbia University’s Guide for Inclusive Teaching cautions:

An inclusive class climate cannot guarantee safety—classroom spaces are not power-neutral, colorblind, or devoid of conflict, and an inclusive class climate should not claim to be. Instead, an inclusive class climate is one that recognizes and values the differences between individuals, and attempts to allow everyone equal time and space to express themselves and their experiences (Steele and Cohn-Vargas). By minimizing negative behaviors and promoting positive ones, instructors can work to promote a productive course climate (Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning 2017, page 9).


  • To signal your commitment to inclusive teaching, setting the tone for your course, and helping  students to understand and thus prevent behavior that can cause harm to others and interfere with the learning process, the Elliott School urges you to encourage or require all students to watch Dr. Derald Sue’s Webinar: Microaggressions: Toxic Rain in Educational Institutions.
  • Consider encouraging or requiring your students to participate in Harvard University’s Project Implicit to assess their own biases.

Examples of Syllabus Language

The process of crafting an inclusive teaching statement for your syllabus is as important as the statement itself. The process should reflect the teaching values you internalize and are thus likely to exercise in your classroom, as well as other learning experiences. We offer the resources below to get you started.

For general guidance on constructing inclusive teaching statements for your syllabi, see this resource from Brown University

Following are examples.

Example 1

Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion: Consistent with the Elliott School’s Diversity Statement, this course values the diversity within this classroom. As your instructor, I am committed to fostering an inclusive and intellectual environment. Bias-Related Reporting. At the George Washington University, we believe that diversity and inclusion are crucial to an educational institution's pursuit of excellence in learning, research, and service. Acts of bias, hate, or discrimination are anathema to the university’s commitment to educating citizen leaders equipped to thrive and to serve in our increasingly diverse and global society. We strongly encourage students to report possible bias incidents. For additional information, follow this link:

Example 2

To make the most of this course, we must create together a rigorous and lively forum of ideas that is welcoming to everyone. The opportunity to speak freely and know that you will be heard, even if not agreed with, is crucial. We must be careful to approach our discussions with empathy and mutual respect, irrespective of ideology, political views, or identity. We value civility because it permits intellectual, personal, and professional exploration and growth, and we want to make sure those opportunities for exploration and growth include all members of our community.

Example 3

It is my intent that students from all diverse backgrounds and perspectives be well-served by this course, that students’ learning needs be addressed both in and out of class, and that the diversity that the students bring to this class be viewed as a resource, strength and benefit. It is my intent to present materials and activities that are respectful of diversity: gender identity, sexuality, disability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, nationality, religion, and culture. Your suggestions are encouraged and appreciated. Please let me know ways to improve the effectiveness of the course for you personally, or for other students or student groups.

Important note: Given the sometimes sensitive and challenging nature of the material discussed in class, it is imperative that there be an atmosphere of trust and safety in the classroom. I will attempt to foster an environment in which each class member is able to hear and respect each other. It is critical that each class member show respect for all worldviews expressed in class. Please let me know if something said or done in the classroom, by either myself or other students, is particularly troubling or causes discomfort or offense. If and when this occurs, there are several ways to address the situation:

  1. Discuss the situation privately with me. I am always open to listening to students' experiences, and I want to work with students to find acceptable ways to process and address the issue.
  2. Discuss the situation with the class. Chances are there is at least one other student in the class who had a similar response to the material. Discussion enhances the ability for all class participants to have a fuller understanding of context and impact of course material and class discussions.
  3. Notify me of the issue through another source such as your academic advisor, a trusted faculty member, or a peer. If for any reason you do not feel comfortable discussing the issue directly with me, I encourage you to seek out another, more comfortable avenue to address the issue. For example, you can report bias incidents here:

Example 4: Sample course policies

Classroom Code of Conduct: Higher education works best when it encourages a vigorous exchange of ideas in which all points of view are heard. Free expression in the classroom is an integral part of the process. At the same time, this process is most effective when all approach the enterprise with empathy and respect for others, irrespective of their ideology, views, or identity.

I encourage you to report bias incidents here:

GW’s Statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities includes an emphasis on freedom of expression.

This statement draws from a variety of resources including (but not limited to) the Columbia University Guide to Inclusive Teaching and this Yale source, and Brown University (for the syllabus language).