Creating Inclusive Spaces

We’ve compiled some short distributables about improving classroom climate.

General departmental guidelines [pdf]

By Mohamed Noor


  • Given the broader diversity in the graduate student population than in the faculty population, the seminar committee is asked to invite graduate student nominations for the departmental seminar series both directly when solicitations go out and through the topical series that occasionally have speakers in the regular department series slot.
  • The subgroups and seminar committee are asked to assess the pool of invitees for gender diversity.
  • One or more speakers should be selected per year that serve as role models for BioGrads, in a manner identified by the current pool of BioGrads.
  • Reserve one slot for a paired science/ diversity (perhaps WiS, perhaps other dimensions of diversity) talk/ panel. BioGrads and BMU (with BioGrads taking the lead role) will manage the invitation process in consultation with the chair. Efforts should be made to advertise events to undergrads through biomajors listservs and related courses.



  • Encourage broader engagement of all faculty and students with WiSE and other groups devoted to diversity in science.
  • Encourage faculty and graduate TAs to participate in training related to implicit bias in the classroom, for example the Teaching for Equity Fellows Program ( Include implicit bias training as part of routine TA training.
  • Encourage faculty and TAs to adopt classroom practices that mitigate implicit bias, including anonymized grading, modeling in course materials (eg, diverse examples and exemplars in lectures) and management of classroom dynamics (eg, who is called on, who speaks, how instructor responds).
  • At least once every two years, have full faculty meeting event related to biases or related topics, with guest speaker/ presenter if appropriate
  • Encourage faculty and TAs to take implicit bias online tests, such as



  • Discuss importance of diversity in hiring in faculty meeting and BioGrads meeting and discuss studies showing implicit biases in standard approaches
  • Hiring committee training/ composition
    • Search committee get advice from Office of Institutional Equity/ Ben Reese
    • Possibly also have student representative (perhaps not seeing letters)
  • Consider minimizing bias in the selection process by conducting first round of search without names. Solicit redacted CVs and anonymize associated teaching & research statements. Keep names and contact information confidential until after search committee makes first round of selection, before solicitation of letters.
  • If short-list for faculty candidates exhibits noticeable underrepresentation of women/ minorities, justification required
      • Develop formula for short-list selection and compare gender/ racial distribution of formulaic short-list to actual committee short-list. Committee also revisits high-ranking individuals from traditionally underrepresented groups to check if missed strong candidates.



  • Sponsor regular feedback events (eg, ‘Donuts for Diversity’) for undergraduates. Coordinate events with departmental seminars/workshops, e.g., have special session for undergraduates with invited speakers, schedule feedback sessions to follow departmental events.


Guidelines and Tips for the Classroom [pdf]

By Karla Sosa, Mohamed Noor, Julia Notar and Ariana N. Eily

Many of our faculty and TAs in Duke Biology have expressed an interest in inclusivity, so here are a few very easy steps to foster an inclusive classroom environment. None of these are enforced by the department or administration, but they are things to consider.

1) Introduce yourself to the class via e-mail before the first lecture, and ask for input on learning. Give an example of how your background affects your teaching or learning style (especially any challenges), and explicitly invite students to let you know if there are any circumstances shaping their learning experience of which you need to be aware. This is preferable to waiting for them to give you their SDAO disability forms. You can even invite students to let you know about their learning styles.

2) Select a diversity of names and photos to use in your fictional examples. If every hypothetical example or quiz question refers to names like Biff and Muffy, and there are never examples using Juan, María, Malquon, Lakeisha, Quan, or Chenqi, then it’s easy to see why some students may feel like they don’t quite belong. Photos/drawings of people should also represent diversity and avoid stereotypes (e.g. examples of poor/sick consistently being from traditionally underrepresented races). 

3) Communicate clearly about gender pronouns. In cases where someone’s gender is not specified (e.g. a class example) use the third person singular-pronoun “they”. Sharing your pronouns at the start of the class or in the syllabus is one way to open this dialogue with your students, and you can even explicitly invite them to share their pronouns with you. If they choose to do so, use their pronouns.

4) Identify at least a few examples over the semester of outstanding scientists who are not white, cis-gendered heterosexual men. One can, for example, highlight contributions from and struggles faced by Rosalind Franklin, or mention that Doug Futuyma dedicated an older version of his Evolution textbook to his partner Bruce, or assign students to watch Scott Edwards’ YouTube video on gene trees. Also address the biases that certain scientists exhibited, like how R.A. Fisher was a renowned eugenicist.  

5) Reach out to students, expressing a positive stance on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and repeat after any hate-related incidents on campus or nationally. Place a statement on diversity in the materials you distribute at the beginning of class (e.g. in the syllabus), and refer back to it if any incidents occur both in class and via e-mail, also offering to chat.

6) Remember that some of your students may not lean liberal. Avoid stereotyping conservatives as intolerant or uneducated, and remember some conservative- (as well as liberal-) leaning students may have had challenging backgrounds.

7) Listen more carefully, respond more carefully, and engage more with students. Your experience may not be the same as some of your students. Recognize that your view of the world is not the only view of the world, and only by listening can you gain an understanding of their perspective.


In addition, below are some resources from a variety of unique perspectives designed to make classrooms more inclusive. These tips are applicable across levels of teaching and relevant to instructional practices beyond the Duke Biology Department.

Kimberly D. Tanner in CBE — Life Sciences Education: “Structure Matters: Twenty-One Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Engagement and Cultivate Classroom Equity

University of Michigan: “Creating Inclusive College Classrooms

Project Biodiversify

Dr. Bryan Dewsbury: “The Whole Classroom” (video)

Have a recommendation for another awesome resource for fostering inclusivity in the department or classroom? Let us know!