Classroom Climate for Students and Instructors
The prominence and importance of classrooms within the campus environment cannot be overstated. College classrooms are key sites of course-based human interaction, and intellectual and social engagement. Students, in particular, spend a considerable amount of time each week within classroom environments – some of which are more interactive than others. Ideally, all UMass Amherst undergraduate and graduate students, across social identity aspects, should feel equally welcome, valued and engaged within these communal learning spaces. However, higher education contexts, particularly those of predominately white institutions (PWIs), carry a historical legacy of exclusion and marginalization. In addition, many academic disciplines remain gendered. These circumstances, and others, present challenges for achieving equitable classroom climates for our students.
Existing scholarship has documented ways in which classroom learning environments can be inhospitable, and ultimately unengaging, for students – particularly those whose social identities have been historically marginalized. Because classrooms are such important sites of student engagement with both peers and faculty, students’ experiences in these spaces can be especially impactful, in both positive and negative ways. This research brief focuses on students’ and instructors’ experiences in the classroom. We report on undergraduate and graduate students’ experiences with social identity-based exclusion, dismissal, targeting, and/or stereotyping in the classroom. We also report on both faculty and graduate student instructors’ and teaching assistants’ (TAs) experiences engaging with diversity-related topics and curricula, their perceptions of their students’ enthusiasm for learning about diverse perspectives, and classroom openness to the free expression of ideas. These CCS results provide insight about the extent to which our classroom climates are equitably experienced, and about potential challenges faced by University course instructors and TAs.
Campus Climate Survey Engagement Guide: Classroom Climate
A toolkit series to guide UMass community members in understanding, interpreting, reflecting on, and responding to findings of the 2021 Campus Climate Survey.
The 2021 Campus Climate Survey was conducted and analyzed by the Office of Academic Planning and Assessment (OAPA) and was sponsored by the Office of Equity and Inclusion. This report, UMass Amherst Campus Climate Survey 2021: Classroom Climate was written by OAPA and contains their thematic findings.
Students’ Experiences with Exclusion, Dismissal, Stereotyping, and Targeting in the Classroom
As noted in the Belonging Research Brief, students’ sense of belonging is one of the strongest predictors of one-year retention for UMass Amherst undergraduates. This section illustrates the relationship between undergraduates’ sense of belonging and their classroom experience.
Instructors’ Experiences in the Classroom
Instructors are responsible for helping their students engage in and navigate discussions across difference, an activity that can present a host of challenges, including heated exchanges. Successfully facilitating open discussion, fostering respect for diverse perspectives, and discouraging harmful or hateful speech requires attentive and skillful engagement on the part of both instructors and students. Consequently, classroom conversations sometimes can be fraught, rather than productive.
Why We Conduct This Survey
At UMass Amherst, diversity, equity, and inclusion are central to our mission, our values, and our success. We conduct the Campus Climate Survey every several years to assess whether our values are reflected in the daily experience of students, faculty, staff, and visitors in order to better understand the challenges of creating an environment that is respectful and inclusive for all. The survey data collected will guide our process for diversity strategic planning in specific and tangible ways, including campus policies, priorities, and distribution of resources.
Backgrounds and Methods
In fall 2021, all UMass Amherst students and employees were invited to participate in a Campus Climate Survey to help the university better understand the challenges of creating a respectful and inclusive campus environment. The survey was sponsored by the university’s Office of Equity and Inclusion and conducted by the Office of Academic Planning and Assessment. The survey included a set of core questions about campus climate perceptions and experiences at UMass Amherst, and items about social identity aspects.