In the shadow of the protests last semester regarding campus climate issues, I've been thinking about ways that I could deepen my practice around inclusivity in my classrooms. For a number of years I've included an "Open Door Policy" statement on my syllabi, encouraging students to speak to me if issues come up in the classroom, particularly if those issues are the result of something that I've said or done.
Given all the media coverage of student demands coupled with stories I've heard of student experiences in classrooms, I expanded the statement this semester and re-titled it "Open Door Policy & Shared Responsibility." The additions I've made ask students to engage in conversations with each other if something occurs that upsets them, and I continue to encourage students to speak to me if something happens that has upset them. I'm also explaining in my first class meetings that I believe that there's a difference between an unsafe and an uncomfortable classroom environment. I often feel uncomfortable when I'm in a learning situation because I'm being challenged to consider new ideas, new perspectives, new ways of doing things. In my mind uncomfortable does not equal unsafe. It could be argued that this distinction is based on a person's perspective, and I certainly agree with that. However, if a person doesn't communicate their perspective, we have no way of knowing that there's an issue. By including this statement, I'm trying to create space where students feel comfortable sharing their perspectives.
The revised statement also acknowledges that mistakes, misunderstandings, and miscommunications occur, which gets at something a colleague of mine brought up when I asked him to review this statement: the difference between intention and impact. My intention might not have been to offend anyone with my comment, but the impact of my comment may be entirely different from my intent. Again, partially related to the idea that a classroom contains a spectrum of experiences that I don't always have knowledge of as a teacher. I try to stay open and aware to as much as possible, but I'm not infallible. I have to take responsibility for that, but I also hope that students and colleagues can accept that infallibility with some sense of critical generosity.
Below is the statement that appears in my syllabi this semester. If you have thoughts about ways to improve it or have questions about it, please reach out to me. I'm open to continued dialogue about how to strengthen the statement in subsequent semesters. Also, if it resonates for you, please feel free to adopt it or adapt it to fit your needs.
Open Door Policy & Shared Responsibility
As the instructor for this course, it is my intention through my words and actions to create an inclusive learning community for everyone in the class. I encourage all students in the course to work for inclusivity as well, with the understanding that none of us are perfect and sometimes mistakes, misunderstandings, and/or miscommunications can occur. If at any time you have questions or concerns about the classroom environment, please feel free to address these issues with me. I would suggest setting up a time to speak with me during my office hours, and if my available times conflict with your other obligations, please email me with other possible times that might work for you. In the spirit of shared responsibility for our learning environment, I would also encourage you to help each other toward being more inclusive by remaining open to sharing and receiving feedback with peers in this area.