It is easy to assume that the environments we create for our students are inclusive simply because we are well-meaning and intend them to be so. Similarly, when we see compositional diversity, we often assume there is inclusion. But fostering an inclusive environment requires cultivating an awareness of the spoken and unspoken customs that shape those environments and creating a learning space where voices from multiple perspectives are valued. No matter how well-intentioned we are, we can inadvertently perpetuate behaviors that exclude—rather than include—our students if we don’t take the time to reflect on our practices, educate ourselves, and be open to change.
Ask your students if there is anything you can do to create a more inclusive environment whether that is in the classroom, the lab, the studio, or the department overall. Don't assume that silence means everyone feels included. Listen to understand and learn. Pay attention to what you hear without judging.
Talk about and include in your syllabus the importance of creating an inclusive environment. Speak of students’ diverse perspectives and lived experiences as an asset. Ask yourself what you can do to foster an environment that has engagement, authenticity, and respect even if it requires stepping outside of your comfort zone or trying new approaches.
Treat creating an inclusive environment as a competency. Seek out ways to educate yourself. Learn best practices and how to be effective in creating an inclusive environment for learning. Take advantage of campus ally training, speaker series, and discussions on diversity and inclusion.
In his diversity celebration remarks, Chancellor Jones urged us to "commit even more resolutely to see that the University of Illinois is an institution where we don’t measure diversity, inclusion and excellence by numbers or quotas or by what color your skin may be. We measure it by the transformative experiences our students have when they choose to join this family. We are preparing them to be leaders who will be more thoughtful and who will champion the value of diversity to our society."
As mentors, we are uniquely positioned to enhance learning spaces however those are defined. Creating inclusion is an active process that benefits all of us and prepares our students to be our future leaders.