Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Inclusive Teaching > Diversity and Social Identities at DePaul

Diversity, Social Identities, and a Welcoming Environment

​​​​​​​​Finding ways to engage students often begins with learning more about them. Where are they from? What is important to them? How have they been shaped by the world around them? What ideas and conceptions about the subject matter are they bringing with them on the first day of your course?

This guide contains the following sections and resources: 

  1. Diverse Social Identities
  2. Creating a Welcoming Learning Community
  3. Names and Pronouns in a Welcoming Learning Community
  4. Social Privilege and Social Identities
  5. References

DePaul students are diverse.

Compared to students at the average public or private non-profit university, DePaul students are more diverse. At DePaul

You can find more in-depth student and other institutional data from Institutional Research and Market Analytics.

DePaul students have diverse social identities. 

Social identity refers to one’s sense of self based on their feeling of belonging to a social group. Social groups can take many forms, including race, sex, sexual orientation, gender, class, nationality, and religion; often, these groups (and identities) intersect. 

In-Group Favoritism and Othering

In laboratory studies, social psychologists have reliably found that people tend to favor their own groups and discriminate against out-groups, even when those groups are arbitrarily assigned and no social interaction takes place (Taifel et al. 1979). The tendency for in-groups to assign out-groups negative characteristics is a way for in-group members to increase their self-image. 

The term “othering” describes this tendency is more discrete terms: “[It is] a set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and persistent inequality across any of the full range of human differences based on group identities” (Powell and Menendian, 2016). Othering can lead to bias or prejudice, and in its most extreme forms, even violence and genocide.

Sense of Belonging and Student Success

When it comes to our students, a sense of belonging refers to their “perceived social support on campus, a feeling or sensation of connectedness, and the experience of mattering or feeling cared about, accepted, respected, valued by, and important to the campus community or others on campus such as faculty, staff, and peers” (Strayhorn 2018). Belonging has been found to be a critical dimension of student success in college, possibly even more so for students who have not been traditionally represented in higher education, and has been shown to predict satisfaction with university life (Bye et al. 2019; Walton et al. 2015). 

Students who report feeling the greatest sense of belonging tend to:

  • Be involved in student organizations 
  • Report positive interactions with diverse peers
  • Attain a degree of academic achievement

Creating a Welcoming Learning Community

A welcoming learning community is one where all students feel like they belong and matter.

Zumbran et al. (2014) found that students who reported greater feelings of belonging, “tended to rate their instructors as prepared, professional, and respectful … [and] more enthusiastic, passionate, and caring in the classroom.” Students who also believed they would do well in the course tended to report a greater sense of belonging, as well as those who reported feeling accepted by peers.

These are some things you can do create a welcoming learning community:
  • Develop specific, measurable learning outcomes and leverage materials, activities, and assessments to support your students’ achievement of those outcomes.
  • On the first day or week give an overview of your course and its structure
  • Aim for consistency in how you organize your course.
  • Highlight your background and expertise in the subject.
  • Provide weekly roadmaps, frequent updates, and other timely communication to your students.
  • Be explicit about your timeframe for responding to students by email and giving feedback and grades.
  • Learn and use your students’ names and pronouns, and encourage your students to do the same. 
  • Have students communicate with one another using icebreakers.
  • Establish ground rules that you can refer back to when conversations get heated.
  • Share your enthusiasm: It can be contagious. Zhang (2014) found instructor enthusiasm is positively correlated with increases in students’ “behavioral, cognitive, and emotional engagement, intrinsic goal orientation, and academic self-efficacy.”
  • Goddard et al. (2000) found that student success is positively correlated with the degree to which educators at schools believe they are able to successfully teach their students. Instructors who believe they are effective will continue investing in ways to improve their craft.

Names and Pronouns in a Welcoming Learning Community

Pronouns are an important part of speech, because it is how we refer to one another without using names. Pronouns are also a key marker of gender identity. Using the name and pronouns a student has asked you to use is an essential part of creating a welcoming, inclusive learning space.

Students’ pronouns are listed in your class roster in Campus Connect. You can also ask for names and pronouns in a course survey that you distribute in the beginning of the quarter or even before the quarter starts. If you are unsure which pronouns someone uses, ask. 

For example, if you are unsure of a students’ pronouns, you might reach out to a student privately by email and say, “I’d like to ensure I’m using the correct pronouns with my students. Would you mind sharing your pronouns with me? Mine are ___.”

Many instructors also add their pronouns to their syllabus, email signature, and display names in tools like Zoom. 

View more tips on creating a LGBTQA+ Inclusive Classroom from the University of Arizona. 

Social Privilege and Social Identities

Social privilege refers to the various advantages or benefits received by account of belonging to social group(s), which can be defined across race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. 

W.E.B. Du Bois is considered by many academics to have been the first scholar to explore the dimensions of social privilege—and white privilege in particular (Olson 2004). According to Du Bois (1935/2007), low-wage white workers benefited from an additional “psychological wage” of being able to access places, services and resources that were restricted to whites only (pp. 573-74). On the other hand, Blacks had to contend with a phenomenon Du Bois termed, “double consciousness… a sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others” (1897).

Writing some eight decades later, Peggy McIntosh identified 26 instances of white privilege she experienced as a white woman on a daily basis, including statements such as, “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time, and “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed” (1989). 

Since then, researchers have identified how higher education can reinforce the same systemic patterns that reproduce white privilege. Among the many findings Carnevale and Strohl (2013) uncovered, they found, “White students are increasingly concentrated today, relative to population share, in the nation’s 468 most well-funded, selective four-year colleges and universities while African-American and Hispanic students are more and more concentrated in the 3,250 least well-funded, open-access, two- and four-year colleges.”

The University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science and the Arts maintains a website dedicated to inclusive teaching that includes a variety of excellent resources on privilege. Of particular note are the following resources: 


Allen, W. R. (1992). “The color of success: African-American college student outcomes at predominantly White and historically Black public colleges and universities.” Harvard Educational Review, 62, 26–44.

Bye, L., Muller, F., & Oprescu, F. (2019). The impact of social captial on student wellbeing and university life satisfaction: a semester-long repeated measures study. Higher Education Research and Development, 39(5), 898-912. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2019.1705253​

Carneval, A.P. and Strohl, J. (2013). “Separate & Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Racial Privilege.” Georgetown Public Policy Institute: Center on Education and the Workforce.

Du Bois, W. E. B. (1897). The Strivings of the Negro People”, The Atlantic Monthly, August: 194–197.

Du Bois, W. E. B. (2007). Black reconstruction in America : an essay toward a history of the part which Black folk played in the attempt to reconstruct democracy in America, 1860-1880. New York: Oxford University Press. (Original work published 1935)

Goddard, R. D., Hoy, W. K., & Hoy, A. W. (2000). Collective teacher efficacy: Its meaning, measure, and impact on student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 37(2), 479-507.

McIntosh, P. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” (1989). Peace and Freedom Magazine. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. July/August, pp. 10-12, Philadelphia, PA

Olson, Joel. The Abolition of White Democracy. Minneapolis, Min: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. Print.

Powell, John A., and Stephen Menendian. "The problem of othering: Towards inclusiveness and belonging." Othering & Belonging 1 (2016): 14-39.

Strayhorn, T. L. (2018). College students' sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students. Routledge.

Tajfel, H., Turner, J. C., Austin, W. G., & Worchel, S. (1979). An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Conflict. Organizational Identity: A Reader, 56(65), 9780203505984-16.

Walton, G.M., & Cohen, G. L. (2007). A question of belonging: Race, social fit, and academic achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(1), 82-96. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.92.1.82​​

Zhang, Q. (2014) Assessing the Effects of Instructor Enthusiasm on Classroom Engagement, Learning Goal Orientation, and Academic Self-Efficacy, Communication Teacher, 28:1, 44-56, DOI: 10.1080/17404622.2013.839047

Zumbrunn, S., McKim, C., Buhs, E. et al. Support, belonging, motivation, and engagement in the college classroom: a mixed method study. Instr Sci 42, 661–684 (2014). https://doi-org.ezproxy.depaul.edu/10.1007/s11251-014-931​0-0