Be Identity-Conscious

Be Identity-Conscious

Table of Contents

A critical feature of inclusive and equity-minded teaching is the acknowledgment that our students are NOT all the same. They come to us with sometimes vastly different experiences often tied to their social identities (i.e., race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, first-gen status, etc.). In the virtual environment, there are several ways that you can incorporate that acknowledgment into your course in meaningful ways.  

Integrate culturally-relevant materials

This action is a fundamental inclusive teaching practice: ensuring students ‘see themselves’ in course materials, including readings, class examples, assessments, etc. Now is not the time to worry about changing your reading list or textbook. Still, if you are creating new materials (such as re-writing assignments or creating new quiz and exam questions), it is an excellent time to ask whether your examples and content reflect the diversity of our students. 

  • These do not have to be extensive changes. Try using a variety of names and socio-cultural contexts in test questions, assignments or case studies. Additionally, review your examples to ensure they are relevant and relatable to students from a range of backgrounds and cultures. Remember to review images (since you may need to add alt-tags to make them accessible) to ensure they reflect the diversity of our students in ways that do not promote stereotypes
  • You may also have opportunities to re-design assignments that allow students to share their own identities and interests. For example, if you plan to replace a final exam with a paper, consider how you can let students choose aspects of their topic, or focus on something related to their own experience (see discussion under Be Flexible).
  • Ensure that your discussion prompts encourage multiple perspectives (with appropriate supporting evidence and argument) rather than consensus.
  • Reach out to your ISU Librarian for assistance in the research.

For additional resources, see the Creating an Inclusive Classroom page.

Address microaggressions in your course

Microaggressions are almost inevitable but often go unnoticed by untrained educators who are not members of targeted groups. As educators, we face an inherent challenge in naming and responding to microaggressions without shaming and scapegoating the individuals who committed them. Instead, the focus should be on guiding classrooms to take collective responsibility for all members of the group’s well-being.

A discussion about a microaggression in the classroom is an opportunity to model responsible and accountable community engagement, especially if it is uncomfortable. The discussion often deepens class engagement and content learning rather than losing time or diverting from the class’s stated focus. It may also help students in targeted groups to feel more comfortable being authentic in these spaces.

McInroy et al. (2019) developed the NAME Steps to provide flexible guidance. These steps do not need to be rigidly followed, and it may be necessary to adapt the measures with your students to suit the needs of your particular classroom or another learning context. Instructors may choose to proactively introduce the problem of microaggressions and the NAME Steps at the start of the semester, or you may want to hold it in mind for yourself as general guidance to stay oriented in a challenging moment.

Recognize a microaggression that occurred in the learning environment. As soon as you can, take the opportunity to name what you noticed during class. Whether in the moment or later.

"I want to pause here because something is coming up in the class discussion that I think is very important for us to think about carefully together. Differing attitudes about people <<social identity>> are something we should take up.”

Acknowledge [your] responsibility to help the group name and address microaggressions when they come up, regardless of who commits them.

"What was just shared is one example of how <<social identity>> experience significant barriers in society. It is my job as the educator to notice when these kinds of examples come up and process them with the class. I think that it’s important for us to take a few minutes to talk about your thoughts... Ideas like this are common, and when they come up it can be an opportunity for the group to learn in a deeper way. Let’s think about how such a belief might impact this person’s ability to, for example, access <<services and resources>>."

Provide students an opportunity to reflect on their feelings about what happened, and attempt to understand it. Your role during the discussion, and throughout the steps, is not to change any student’s views or make them all agree. Rather, your task is to name, take responsibility, and hold students accountable for the microaggression. The goal is to promote reflection about an expression of bias in your classroom.

Engage the class in a discussion/reflection about moving forward as a group.

You could plan for a follow-up discussion during the next class session, or you might make a change in subsequent course content (e.g., an additional reading and/or guest lecture from someone with expertise about the barriers).

Remember, the response should be relevant to your school and class, and deepen the group’s learning in response to the microaggression.

Extend your learning

Affirm the emotions that students may be experiencing

In the face of a significant event occurred in Ames or the wider world, students are generally very grateful when instructors say (or do) something to acknowledge the event. Doing so recognizes the emotions students may be experiencing at Iowa State.

Simply recognizing what has happened is valuable. You do not need to say a lot if you are not comfortable doing so. Instructors need not to act as therapists or counselors. Each instructor is different and the way you comment should be individual to yourself and your class. For ideas, consider phrases such as:

  • “I was so sorry to hear about . . .”
  • “I know many people have been affected by . . .”
  • “Recently the entire campus has been saddened by . . . “
  • “It is important for all of us to support one another at these difficult times.”
  • Some instructors also consider holding a moment of silence for reflection.

For additional resources and effective practices, visit our Helping Students Manage Traumatic Events page.

Share well-being resources

Embed your course with the Student Support resources Student Support Resources page to connect students with local services to support their success.

Also, explore what services are available to students on the Campus Resources to Support Students page. For example, Student Wellness offers resources on overall wellness, Green Dot bystander intervention, self-care, sleep hygiene, suicide prevention, mental health, etc.

Remind students that Iowa State University is committed to proactively facilitating the well-being of all students. Please share the following throughout your course and include in your syllabus:

We welcome and encourage students to contact the following on-campus services for assistance regarding their physical, intellectual, occupational, spiritual, environmental, financial, social, and/or emotional needs:

Unsure of how to help?

If you are ever unsure of the best way to help students or aware of a student exhibiting behaviors that are negatively impacting their academic performance, contact:

And as a reminder, always keep safety in mind. If you feel that you or other students are in any danger, call ISU Police at 911 or 515-294-4428.


  • Byers, D., McInroy, L., Craig, S., Slates, S., & Kattari, S. (2019). Naming and Addressing Homophobic and Transphobic Microaggressions in Social Work Classrooms. Journal of Social Work Education.
  • McInroy, L. B., Byers, D. S., Kattari, S. K., & CSWE Council on Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression. (2019). The NAME Steps: How to name and address anti- LGBTQIA2S+ microaggressions in social work classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education. Retrieved (August 13, 2020) from
  • Souza, T. (2020, June 1). Responding to microaggressions in online learning environments during a pandemic. Faculty Focus. Retrieved on June 25, 2020, from

Be Identity-Conscious, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Be Identity-Conscious, is a derivative of Be Identity-Conscious developed by San Diego State University Diversity and Innovation (retrieved on May 14, 2020) from In addition, Be Identity-Concious is influenced by the Responding to Global, National, and Penn-Based Tragedies from University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Teaching and Learning retrieved (June 30, 2020) from