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Creating an Inclusive Classroom and Laboratory Environment

Jorgensen Lab Group 2012 In a study published in 2009, researchers asked whether the physical environment can influence women’s interest in computer science. The researchers surveyed new college students in a classroom environment that contained materials that were highly stereotypical of computer science majors (video games, comics, junk food, and Star Trek posters) or contained neutral materials (nature posters, bottled water, healthy snacks, and general interest books and magazines). Their results showed that women surveyed in the non-stereotypical environment were as likely to be interested in computer science as their male peers; in the stereotypical environment, the women were significantly less likely to indicate an interest. The researchers conclude, “We examined the role that stereotypical computer science environments play in communicating stereotypes and a sense of ambient belonging to potential majors. Our studies demonstrated that these environments broadcast a masculinity that made women feel like they do not belong in the field.”

Beyond a welcoming physical space, what else can be group leaders (faculty, instructors, teaching assistants, and laboratory directors) do to create science and engineering environments in which individuals feel that they belong? Consider some of the following suggestions.

  • Be a positive role model. Be aware of your action, recognize your own biases, and consider how your leadership affects group members.
  • Ensure that everyone who wants to contribute to a discussion is able to do so. Do not let the loudest voice control the room.
  • Create and share clear criteria for success and transparency and apply these criteria consistently across group members.
  • Acknowledge the contributions of others and give credit to those who deserve it.
  • When participating in social events, recognize that your role as a group leader extends outside the laboratory or classroom.
  • Set clear expectations for what is and is not acceptable. Group leaders have the responsibility to communicate their expectations about interactions between group members.
  • Take the time to address and sort through issues between group members.
  • Foster community by welcoming inquiry, open communication, and allowing group members to raise issues with which you might disagree.
  • When giving feedback, be specific and focus on actions or behaviors that can be improved. As you do so, consider the impact that your comments and feedback will have on the other individual.
  • Be a good listener and recognize that a group member may be trying to give you important information about challenges that they are confronting.
  • Remember that you can consult with campus resources if you need suggestions or advice.