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.  

Address microaggressions in your course

Just as instructors need to disrupt and address microaggressions in the physical classroom (PDF), it is equally vital in virtual spaces. The additional sense of anonymity created by online environments can make microaggressions even more likely. 

Before considering communication strategies for responding in the moment, it is essential to reflect upon ways to mitigate microaggressions’ impact. These effective practices explained in Souza’s (2020) Responding to microaggressions in online learning environments. This article summarizes a few strategies (e.g. co-creating group agreements, “calling students in” rather than calling them out) you can use to design your course as a safe learning space.

Responding to Racial Bias and Microaggressions in the Online Environment (Harris & Wood, 2020). This webinar focuses on strategies faculty can use to address issues of bias and microaggressions in order to meet the needs of historically underrepresented and under-served students in the online environment.

Use the NAME Steps (McInroy et al., 2019) 

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. Rather than losing time or diverting from the class’s stated focus, the discussion often deepens class engagement and content learning. 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. As the educator, you may choose to proactively introduce the problem of microaggressions and the NAME Steps at the start of the term, or you may want to hold it in mind for yourself as general guidance to stay oriented in a challenging moment.

  • Notice: Recognize that a microaggression has happened in class. As soon as you can, take the opportunity to name what you are noticing in class. Whether in the moment or later.
  • Acknowledge: Acknowledge [your] responsibility to help the group to name and address microaggressions when they come up, regardless of who commits them.
  • Make space: Provide students an opportunity to reflect on their feelings about what happened, and attempt to understand it.
  • Engage the group: Engage the class in a discussion about how to move forward as a group.

For more information

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 anyway (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; review your examples to ensure they are relevant and relatable to students from a range of backgrounds and cultures; review images (since you may need to add alt-tags to make them accessible anyway) 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 to 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.

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

How the current situation is impacting our students

Discrimination and harassment

Unfortunately, an additional layer of anxiety is the racist and xenophobic undertones in much of the discussion around the current situation, COVID-19 (see ISU’s COVID-19 Response site). Anti-Asian discrimination and harassment have spiked, and the fear and uncertainty now seem to be turning to those speaking any foreign language.

  • Be aware that your Asian and international students and colleagues likely experiencing higher levels of anxiety.
  • Consider checking in individually with students and be vigilant for comments from other students that perpetuate biases.
  • Contact the Office of Equal Opportunity with any questions or concerns about discrimination or harassment.

Review additional information, from the Diversity and Inclusion’s COVID-19 Resources page.

Be aware of variation in students’ capacity to manage remote learning

If this is a quick shift to online teaching, there may be significant differences in your students’ access to technology/internet (see discussion in Be Accessible section) and cultural environments that present different challenges. For example, first-gen students may have to negotiate with families who are not familiar with the college (let alone remote learning). Or students, who are parents themselves, that may be trying to complete their studies while now looking after children whose own schools may have been closed. All of this points to the need to Be Accessible and to Be Flexible; please see those sections for specific suggestions.

Affirm the emotions that students may be experiencing

In the face of tragedy and mourning, in the city of Ames or the wider world, students are generally very grateful when instructors say something to acknowledge the event and recognize 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.

We are gathering more detailed and specific examples of ways to address students in times of distress. If you would like to share messages in support of students during the grieving of our country in light of our current moment of racial injustice, we invite your messages via email at We hope to offer examples demonstrating how some Iowa State faculty addressed their students in the wake of racist incidents and illustrate language of concern for students during a variety of difficult circumstances. 

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

Share well-being resources

It’s also helpful to let your students know about resources that exist to help them during a stressful time. In particular, remind students that Iowa State University is committed to proactively facilitating the well-being of all students. 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:

  • Student Wellness call 515-294-1099 or via website (;
  • Thielen Student Health Center call 515-294-5801 (24/7 Medical Advice) or via website (;
  • Student Counseling Services call 515-294-5056 or via website (;
  • Recreation Services call 515-294-4980 or via website (
  • Students dealing with heightened feelings of sadness or hopelessness, thoughts of harm or suicide, or increased anxiety may contact the ISU Crisis Text Line (Text ISU to 741-741) or contact the ISU Police Department 515-294-4428.

If you have a concern regarding a student’s well-being or behavior

The Dean of Students Office is here to help! You can call to speak to a Student Assistance staff member at 515-294-1020, send an email to, or you can refer a student via our “refer a student” link at the top of the Office of Student Assistance page


  • 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 and the Responding to Global, National, and Penn-Based Tragedies from University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Teaching and Learning retrieved (June 30, 2020) from