TEACHING AT PITT: Ways to bring a dynamic understanding of gender into your class


Whether our curriculum explicitly explores the subject of diversity or not, diversity is ever-present in our classrooms. As instructors, we want to create spaces of learning that welcome engagement from all of our students, because when students feel recognized in the classroom and are able to cultivate connections between course content and their own experiences, they are more likely to develop into self-directed learners (Ambrose et. al, 2010).

This Women’s History Month, as you continue your journey to make your classroom a more inclusive and equitable learning space, the Teaching Center has some tips for implementing a dynamic understanding of gender into your classroom, specifically for those who are not teaching a course explicitly about gender.

You may already be familiar with the importance of certain practices like using gender-inclusive language and learning students’ names and pronouns. These are important foundational strategies for gender inclusivity, but it’s also necessary to move past transactional information about your students and consider additional ways dynamic understandings of gender can transform your classroom.

Incorporate diverse examples, case studies, representations, etc., into your course. Be aware of demographic patterns of representation and aim to diversify when possible. If your course’s textbook discusses, for instance, best management and supervisory practices but only shows images of white men in the workplace, you might consider where else in your course you could integrate a more diverse range of representation.

Consider framing and integration when adding content. When integrating work by and about women and gender minorities in your course, be aware of and avoid approaches that tokenize marginalized or minoritized perspectives. While, for instance, adding a unit on transgender healthcare to your syllabus may be well-intentioned, without deliberate integration, students might walk away from the unit with a monolithic impression of transgender healthcare as “other” from “traditional” topics presented on the syllabus.

When integrating new content, critically examine your framing of that content. Are a few authors used to represent the views or scholarship of an entire community? Do students have a chance to “engage with the (scholarship) on its own terms,” as opposed to reiterating hierarchical power relations presenting some topics and thinkers as more valid than others? Consider intentionally building opportunities into your course for students to meaningfully explore the connections, intersections, and exchanges between topics and thinkers.

Reveal and disrupt gender bias in the hidden curriculum. We can think of the hidden curriculum as norms, values or procedures that are embedded in higher educational experiences. While, as the name implies, these expectations and values are not explicit, instructors can nonetheless reinforce the hidden curriculum through policies, course design or interactions with students. Students may infer who has authority in your field through the identities of the writers you include in your syllabus, for instance.

Plan to be as transparent as possible about privileges and barriers that influence the construction of your course and discipline. Additionally, be mindful of your own patterns for facilitating conversation, recognizing contributions or guiding activities in the classroom that can reinforce gender bias: Which students are you most likely to call on for answers? Whose contributions are praised and whose ideas are pursued?

Keep it intersectional and reiterative. Remember, each of us embodies multiple intersecting identities and experiences, and uncritical efforts to be inclusive of diversity can result in reifying hegemonic power structures. As you design your course, seek feedback from colleagues and consultants at the Teaching Center to explore ways your course can engage with intersections of identity and social structures.

Consider surveying students throughout the semester and asking about their own connections to and investments in course content — you might even create an assignment where students make course content recommendations and connect their suggestions to course objectives. Of course, regardless of efforts and intentions, we can never fully integrate all aspects of diversity into our courses, but we can stay open to reflecting and adapting to meet the needs of our students and our society.

If you’d like to discuss ways to be more gender-inclusive in your classroom, the University Center for Teaching and Learning is here to work with you. Contact the Teaching Center at teaching@pitt.edu to schedule a consultation.

Josie Rush is a teaching consultant at the University Center for Teaching and Learning.


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M. & Lovett, M.C. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.