In the fall of 2020, the Office for Inclusion and Diversity debuted a self-paced online course called Anti-Racist Teaching on the university’s Professional Development Network. Its goal: no less than undoing how racism operates in society and on campus.

“To be strategic, diversity education must also be responsive,” said Michele Deramo, associate vice provost of diversity education and engagement. “Acccelerating an end to systemic racism requires new ways of thinking and learning.”

Anti-Racist Teaching has since become the university’s most highly enrolled inclusive pedagogy course. An estimated 215 faculty, instructors, and graduate students across a wide range of fields, from social sciences and humanities to STEM and business, have completed it, learning strategies they can apply no matter what kinds of classes they teach.

“Just because the subject matter is insects or cell biology doesn't mean that your field and the way people perceive it is not influenced or informed by social inequities,” said Deramo. “If you're working to include students who have been historically marginalized, it turns out everyone benefits."

In the course's five micro-learning modules, participants explore the experiences of minoritized students, identify teaching practices that enable or prevent racism, build racial literacy, and learn actionable practices for creating an anti-racist classroom. They're also asked to identify ways to apply what they've learned.

Here are six classroom strategies faculty can adopt from Anti-Racist Teaching.

  1. Acknowledge the pain of minoritized students. The first module of the Anti-Racist Teaching course uses videos, writing, and spoken-word poetry to explore the isolation, fear, pressure, and discrimination Black students experience on predominantly white campuses. Listening to their voices sets the tone for Anti-Racist Teaching by calling on instructors to see Black students’ struggle and resilience.
  2. Make knowledge inclusive. The way instructors teach content can render it more or less accessible. After taking the Anti-Racist Teaching course, Chris Byron, associate professor of large animal surgery and head of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, reconsidered how a student with minimal exposure to the subject might take in what he’s saying. Now, he tries to teach the same information in multiple ways. “To me, it's not just about the content you're delivering — memorizing the Krebs cycle or whatever it might be — but having a safe environment where people feel like they can thrive, so they can go on to graduate and have productive careers,” Byron said.
  3. Examine your syllabus. When possible, class materials and readings should encompass a variety of perspectives, including those of BIPOC, disabled, queer, or female authors or creators. Even subtle changes, such as more diverse images in slide decks or non-white names in multiple-choice tests, can foster a more inclusive classroom environment.  
  4. Spark anti-racist discussion. The Anti-Racist Teaching course encourages instructors not to shy away from discussing issues of race and gender in the classroom — for instance, by acknowledging a disciplinary field’s problematic history with gender and race.
  5. Conduct an implicit bias exercise. In her Ethical Leadership in Corporate Social Responsibility class, Eli Jamison, associate professor of practice in management in the Pamplin College of Business, shares a story, then asks students how they envisioned the characters in terms of gender, race, ability, and so on. It’s an eye-opener that encourages them to recognize  their implicit biases.
  6. Address microaggressions. Byron makes an effort to recognize and address microaggressions, such as singling out students because of their background or using sexist language. “I’m trying to think about how things I say might be interpreted in a negative fashion," he said.

For Jamison, incorporating strategies from the Anti-Racist Teaching course into her classroom is a way to live out Virginia Tech’s Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) motto. “We at Virginia Tech have a lot of faculty who care very deeply about their students. And if you care deeply about your students, this is just part of being good at your job.”

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