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Inclusion, Equity and Access in Online Environments

Dear Colleagues,

Now that the quarter is launched, we at the Office for Diversity & Inclusion are reaching out to extend our deep appreciation for your extensive efforts in moving your courses online to meet the needs of our students.  It is inspiring to learn about the many ways that our community continues to pull together to help each other.

In addition to the great resources that the Faculty Collaborative and Academic Technology have provided in assisting your transition to teaching online, we cordially offer a few suggestions for fostering principles of inclusion, equity and access in the virtual “classroom climate” and in our interactions with our students. 

The pandemic has upended the lives of many in our community, and students will benefit greatly from our empathy, patience, and flexibility.

Be aware of the different levels of access to technology among students

As they “shelter in place,” students will have different levels of access to the technology needed to participate in a course.  Some will not have reliable internet access, hardware or software. We encourage you to reach out to your students and ask them to let you know privately if they need assistance in this regard.  The University has resources available to assist students and the sooner they let us know their needs, the better.

Be sensitive to potential pitfalls in online communication. 

If your course offers students the opportunity to contribute to chat boxes, online forums, discussion boards, or other group communication functions, please stress the importance of communicating carefully and respectfully in these environments.   Misunderstandings, micro-aggressions and macro-aggressions can occur, and these developments can undermine the learning environment for some or even all students. We encourage you to be observant about potential issues of bias and misunderstanding.  Bias incident reporting mechanisms are still available, but ideally we as teachers will facilitate discussion that is robust and respectful.   

In addition, to ensure that your Zoom sessions are not hacked or “Zoombombed,” please follow previously distributed university guidelines (how to avoid Zoombombing). Some Zoombombing has been a vehicle for hate speech. 

Be especially flexible and open.

Each of us has different challenges during this time, often deeply impacted by our newly carved-out living/working situations, as well as concern for our family members and other loved ones.  We encourage you to be flexible and open when it comes to the individual circumstances and needs of students. If something is affecting their learning environment during this time, please give them additional time and attention; you can also refer them to resources on the COVID-19 website, and feel free to send an email to 

Continue to be inclusive in your pedagogy.

As this global public health crisis unfolds, we all have an opportunity to realize not only our shared humanity and vulnerability to illness, but also the disparate impacts of the pandemic on already disadvantaged communities.  We encourage you to continue to consider drawing upon inclusive pedagogical ideas and culturally relevant materials in your teaching. Faculty Development, the Faculty Collaborative, and Academic Technology have already informed the community of the many useful resources they have gathered. In addition, we at the Office for Diversity & Inclusion are available to assist your efforts to ensure that your learning community is inclusive, welcoming and supportive of our students. 

We wish you and your loved ones health and peace of mind.  As always, we are grateful for your generous dedication to our students.