Teaching with diversity

A checklist of equality issues for those new to teaching at Oxford

The contents of this page are adapted from material used in the University's orientation course for those new to teaching at Oxford. On the course, participants consider and discuss the following indicative prompts – discussion starters – to provoke further consideration of equality matters when teaching.

General issues or questions for consideration

As a new college tutor or lecturer who may have responsibility for leading class discussions, you may need to lay down basic rules for what is acceptable student and group behaviour. You are responsible for trying to ensure an environment free from harassment of any kind.

  • Do you regularly review your practices, or make it your business to observe peers’ or other colleagues’ teaching activities, by way of checking that your own processes are in order?
  • In what ways do you encourage a learning environment that is free from prejudice, discrimination and harassment?
  • Do you know what guidelines your college provides for dealing with claims of harassment?
  • How will you deal with a situation where topics of study have been, and continue to be, dominated by one or the other sex or where there are low rates of participation by ethnic minority students?
  • What efforts do you make, or need to make, in the use of inclusive language and visual images in your teaching, and teaching materials?
  • What standards will you expect students to adopt for inclusive language in their own work, and how will they be expected to know this?

In general, should any colleagues or students use inappropriate language with respect to those who are disabled or hold religious beliefs, or use language which is sexist, homophobic or ageist:

  • What strategies do you have to hand?
  • What sense do you have of the adequacy or otherwise of these strategies?
  • What opportunities do you know of or can you foster to enable peer discussion and sharing of such strategies?

Activity: teaching 'X's and 'O's

Consider one or more incidents from the list below relevant to your teaching. Where possible, discuss them with one or more colleagues.

This is an opportunity to try to understand what it is to be different – to experience being an ‘O’ in a world of ‘X’s. Think about your response both as if you are an ‘X’ and an ‘O’ in each situation, as appropriate.

  1. An ‘O’ is late with tutorial work. They present an excuse that specifically relates to their ‘O’-ness. How do you deal with it?
  2. During a class discussion an ‘X’ student makes a joke about ‘O’s. Everyone laughs including the ‘O’s  - what do you do?
  3. During a class an ‘O’ makes a lengthy, impassioned, political statement about ‘O’-ness that does not seem relevant to the discussion. What do you do?
  4. You notice in your lectures a group of ‘O’s who always sit together and whisper to each other all through the lecture. What do you do?
  5. An ‘O’ comes to you to complain that another lecturer is discriminating against them and giving them less attention than ‘X’s. What do you do?
  6. A group of ‘X’s come to you complaining that lots of time is being spent in labs dealing with problems ‘O’s are having with the course. The ‘X’s feel they are being slowed up. What do you do?
  7. During a lecture you get questions from ‘O’s that demonstrate a lack of understanding of key points. You sense that ‘X’s are getting bored. What do you do?
  8. You have noticed that in your lectures that ‘O’s never raise questions while ‘X’s regularly do. What do you do?


In situation 1, ‘O’ might be an overseas student or a student with a disability. There may be explicit college, institutional and legal expectations, guidelines or requirements that you may or may not yet be familiar with. You may have given the student some support already or you may have realised the disadvantage this student was under. Your response will vary accordingly.

Situation 2 may involve sexist or racist comments. It may be that you have been able to anticipate such difficulties and have set ground rules, perhaps explicitly making clear that such comments will not be tolerated in your first teaching session. You might then feel able to challenge the behaviour straight out. If such behaviour is unexpected and not associated with your subject matter you may need a different strategy.

The scenario in situation 5 is a professional issue, and what you do will depend very much on your professional relationship with, or responsibility for, both the colleague and student involved. Act thoughtfully. Assure yourself that you can defend your action(s) and that you have appropriate evidence.

There are no simple answers to such situations and the best response will always vary according to the situation and context. Your response will depend on how developed your experience of equal opportunities practice is and will help highlight areas where further discussions or information may assist.