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Equity in Practice: Addressing the Diverse Needs of Our Students

Diversity in the United States continues to evolve. According to the Census Bureau, by the year 2100, the U.S. minority population will become the majority, with non-Hispanic whites making up about 40% of the U.S. population (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2019). The population of people who are two or more races is projected to be the fastest growing racial or ethnic group over the next several decades, followed by Asians and Hispanics (Armstrong, Medina, & Vespa, 2018).

What this means for instructors is that we will need to continue to provide inclusive and equitable education for a diverse population. Diversity in the classroom should be promoted with equity in the school culture. Today’s educators must be able to recognize how the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and socio-economic status, impact us as individuals (Bennett, 2019)

It is only with that recognition that we can then we can acknowledge our own personal biases and create equitable and inclusive teaching practices that help all students.

Here are a few different profiles of students and ways in which faculty can help support their needs:

First-Generation Students

More so than in years past, we have a growing number of first-generation students entering college. These students frequently lack the support and skills that others have learned from their parents. They often have to rely on themselves and support from the school on how to navigate the college process, how college works, and what college life is all about.

Ways to Help Support Their Needs

  • Incorporate curriculum, such as study skills and analytical skills, into your class.
  • Encourage regular contact with the instructor.
  • Self-regulation skills, such as time management and study skills, empower students and engage them in the process of learning.
  • Let students ask for help and help initiate social connections in the classroom.
  • Explain the hidden curriculum that may not be as obvious to these students.
  • Provide a mentor when possible.
  • Connect students to various departments in the college that may offer assistance on their path to obtaining their degree.

Gender Differences

Increased awareness around the complexities of gender identity and expression has given rise to questions regarding best practices for promoting gender inclusivity on campuses across the country (Harbin, 2015-2016). It is more common today to have gender non-conforming students in your classroom. For these students, there is a fear that comes with attending the first day of class and being misidentified in class. Gender identity and expression are not the same. Gender identity explains how a person labels themselves as male, female, neither, or both. Gender expression is their appearance (clothing), demeanor, etc. 

Ways to Help Support Their Needs

  • Respecting gender identity and expression in the classroom will encourage non-discrimination practices. Build your classroom as a gender inclusive learning environment.
  • Students should be allowed to use whatever pronoun they are comfortable. One practice that has occurred in more classrooms today is for students to share the pronoun they prefer on the first day of class.
  • Including your own preferred pronouns in the syllabus can set the tone of the class and encourage respect for one another.
  • Providing the location of gender-neutral bathrooms in the syllabus can also help individuals not have to ask which will help make them more comfortable.
  • Instead of calling role call the first day, pass out index cards where the students can write down their “roster name”, preferred name, pronouns, major, hobbies, and anything else they feel comfortable sharing. Then you can call role after collecting these using their preferred name and not “calling out” students that may not want to identify in front of the class (Zane, 2016).
  • Inclusive language will help avoid labeling as the two binary genders. Instead of saying using the general term “guys” when addressing the class, try saying “everyone”, “folks”, or “you all” (Zane, 2016).
  • For further information, watch the following video link entitled Transcending Difference: Recognizing and Understanding Gender Diversity in the Classroom.

Older Students & Younger Students

The older student is often seen as a non-traditional student; however, it is becoming more and more common for adults to return to school to complete their education and look for a career change. Younger students, though, are typically fresh out of high school and are still in that “school” mentality. It can usually be easier for them to transition into the typical college classroom and continue their education. There are advantages to both groups being in the classroom and working together:

The older students typically

  • are experienced in life and bring that into the classroom with them.
  • are committed to finishing their education in a timely manner.
  • are usually funding their own degree which adds to their seriousness as a student.
  • have clear and focused goals.
  • are motivated to succeed.
  • can help model these advantages they bring to the classroom to the younger college students. (Charlton, 2019)

The younger students

  • gain the confidence they need as they progress in their education. This will help them in their careers.
  • builds connections when learning to work with different age groups.
  • provide you with inspiring creativity and a fresh perspective.
  • are well-versed in the most recent technology that is embedded in the classroom today.
  • are able to more quickly acclimate to a college environment,  as the momentum for school is still present.

The National Center for Education Statistics confirms that college grads have much better career opportunities in the long run, so completing college sooner is a benefit to their future (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015).

Ways to Help Support Both Groups

  • Treat the relationship between these generations like a mentorship.
  • Young people can often provide you with inspiring creativity and a fresh perspective. Do not overlook their potential due to their age.
  • They often have valuable advice to share with older students that can help them be successful as they return to school.
  • Through the life experience of the older student, they will be able to apply the knowledge based on real-life situations.
  • This can unfold perfectly in group work where each age group can share their strengths to work together for a common goal or learning objective. (Sundquist, 2017)

Students with Disabilities

More and more high school students with disabilities are planning to continue their education in postsecondary schools, including vocational and career schools, two- and four-year colleges, and universities (Office for Civil Rights, 2011). The appropriate academic adjustment must be determined based on your disability and individual needs. Making sure your classroom is inclusive will help maintain confidentiality and avoid disclosures. Using language that prioritizes the student over what the student’s disability is (Picard, 2014-2015).

Ways to Help Support Their Needs

  • Start the conversation in the syllabus so the student is aware of how to ask for help and what to do if accommodations are needed.
  • Provide additional sources of support in the syllabus where students can turn to for help.
  • Invite students to meet with you privately about accommodations needed for their disability.
  • Provide materials to getting the class started before it begins. This may include opening the learning management system early so that students have access to the syllabus which will help them be prepared for the first day of class.
  • Clearly spell out the expectation for your course for the duration of the semester.
  • Provide a “getting to know you” worksheet the first day of class that will allow students to disclose personal information without feeling uncomfortable in front of everyone.
  • When planning in-class activities and group work, be mindful of what students may or may not be able to do in the classroom.
  • Remember to create an effective learning environment for all, but that does not mean to exclude certain students from assignments based on their disability. The expectation is that they are college ready and can perform completed assignments the same as their peers.

In today’s ever-changing culture and political climate, equity and diversity is a topic that continues to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. It is important to embrace equitable and inclusive practices and handle classroom diversity in a mature way that is also socially responsible. Promoting equity and diversity in the classroom helps students to foster a sense of empathy and awareness. It encourages students to be open-minded and endorses understanding and mindfulness of others.


Armstrong, D. M. (2018, March). Demographic Turning Points for the United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060

. Retrieved from U.S. Census Bureau:

Bennett, N. A. (2019). 5 Ways to Promote Equity & Diversity in the Classroom

. Retrieved from Kickboard:

Charlton, D. (2019). Advantages & Disadvantages of Older Adults in College

. Retrieved from Seattle Pi:

Harbin, B. (2015-2016). Teaching Beyond the Gender Binary in the University Classroom

. Retrieved from Vanderbilt University:

National Center for Education Statistics. (2015, May). Forum Guide to College and Career Ready Data

. Retrieved from National Forum on Education Statistics:

Office for Civil Rights. (2011, September). Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education

. Retrieved from U. S. Department of Education:

Picard, D. (2014-2015). Teaching Students with Disabilities

. Retrieved from Vanderbilt Universty:

Sundquist, K. (2017, July 21). The Surprising Benefits of Being Mentored by Both Younger and Older Students

. Retrieved from College Vine:

U.S. Department of Commerce. (2019). Population Estimates. Retrieved from The United States Census Bureau: According to the Census Bureau, by the year 2100, the U.S. minority population will become the majority, with non-Hispanic whites making up about 40% of the U.S. population.

Zane, S. (2016, July 25). Supporting Transgender Students in the Classroom

. Retrieved from Faculty Focus:

About the Author

My name is Catherine Matson and I have been teaching for over a decade in the Behavioral Science Department, Health Services Department, and Human Service Department online and in the classroom. I teach or have taught at a variety of 2-year and 4-year institutions throughout the Chicagoland area. Some of the colleges are: at Triton College, Moraine Valley Community College, College of Lake County, Wilbur Wright College, Harper College, Aurora University, Roosevelt University, Columbia College of Missouri, National Louis University, Purdue University Northwest. McHenry County College, Waubonsee Community College, and Rock Valley College. I hold a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education, Masters degree in Counseling and PhD of Philosophy in General Psychology. In addition, I have 18 credit hours towards a Masters in Higher Education. I worked counseling parents and children of special needs and behavioral problems for a period of time when I was first starting my teaching career. In the field, my current role is crisis intervention. I complete assessments for children and adults that are suicidal, homicidal, struggle with addiction, or having behavior issues.

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