Notes on Inclusivity and Mental Health
This post is a transcript of a presentation on inclusivity and mental health for student instructors in the upcoming summer semester. Transcribed/lightly edited for readability by Peyrin.
Here’s a useful Best Practices document that contains a lot of information from this transcript in a more organized way.
- Why are they important? Because gender is a social construct based on stereotypes and it’s not obvious how people refer to themselves based on their appearances. Also, it makes people more comfortable and creates a more inclusive environment.
- Make sure to refer to people by their preferred names. The names on official rosters are not necessarily what people want to be referred to.
- Also, people appreciate being asked about how their name should be pronounced.
- Pronouns are a basic part of the English language. How someone presents in public is not necessarily correlated with their gender. Use the language people ask us to use out of respect.
- Neopronouns: non-traditional pronouns (e.g. ze/zir, but not they/them). Look into https://www.mypronouns.org if you want to learn more.
- I know not everyone is used to neopronouns and thinking about this stuff, so a good way to get used to this in practice is to try avoiding gendering strangers you see.
- If you’re cisgender (identify with your gender assigned at birth), a good way to be an ally is to use pronouns when identifying yourself, so you make the space more inclusive for gender non conforming (GNC) people.
- If you misgender someone, don’t stretch out the moment. Interject a small apology but don’t make a big deal out of it and don’t require the person you misgendered to help you move past it. Mistakes are understandable, so the best you can do is try not to make the mistake again.
- If someone on staff is using incorrect pronouns or assuming genders, set a standard in staff that we’re going to respect pronouns. A great way to do this is to default they/them pronouns for all students. If someone isn’t respecting pronouns, reach out in a way that isn’t emotionally draining. Being able to interact with people respectfully is part of our jobs, so don’t be afraid to correct students if they’re not using respectful language (e.g. respecting people’s pronouns).
- Avoid using violent, racially charged, or non-inclusive language. For resources, look into https://diversity.berkeley.edu and this doc. Avoid terms like “crazy” or “spirit animal” or “slave/master” and ensure that these aren’t terms you use in your course. Use the main branch on Github instead of master!
- Show students it’s okay to be wrong - working through bugs live is valuable for students. Classes at Berkeley are incredibly difficult, so it’s completely fine if material is difficult to understand. It’s important to make your course safe for people of all different backgrounds.
- How do we have conversations about difficult topics? For example, people might not be treating their project partner respectfully, or staff members might not be using language they should be using. In general, try to call in someone and provide information in a way that still makes them feel safe in the environment. If you’re not comfortable with those conversations, look into the ombuds office at Berkeley.
- As staff, if you’re struggling with uncomfortable situations in the workplace, look into counseling services provided by central campus.
- Here’s a handbook on how to answer questions about mental health that you might experience from students/staff.
- I recommend explicitly mentioning mental health in your class (examples: syllabus, first lecture, etc.). The suicide hotline is helpful to include in course material. It might bring up the topic to people who aren’t thinking of it, but for students who really need our support, bringing up the topic in an accessible way is valuable to connect those students to resources.
- The DSP (Disabled’ Students Program) office exists, but it’s currently not fully-staffed. This is impacting students this spring and maybe over the summer too. I recommend having meetings with students currently registering for DSP, and students who aren’t registered with DSP but would still benefit from accommodations. There is a real stigma associated with registering with DSP, so a lot of people who need accommodations are afraid to register.
- The DSP office is important and we should refer students there, but we should still be able to support students in need regardless of DSP status.
- We aren’t mental health experts - no one here has the proper training and we aren’t therapists - so we should listen to students, but our most important role is to refer students to the resources they need (instead of providing those resources ourselves). It’s not part of our job, and we don’t have the training to do that effectively, and providing therapy ourselves is emotionally draining.
- For this semester, make sure to reach out to students and ensure they’re being properly accommodated, because the DSP office is not currently able to support everyone in need.
- Hopefully things improve, but there will always be situations where someone doesn’t have a DSP accommodation letter but clearly should have one. There will also always be situations where students are in the gray area of having a legally-protected accommodation and are waiting on DSP. Make sure you’re referring people to DSP so they start the registration process, but also make sure you’re giving students what they need in your course. That does require a bit of instructor discretion, but this can be solved by reaching out to the student. One common example is students who break their wrists: DSP covers that, but it takes time. It should be fairly obvious that some adjustments are needed (e.g. exam format, assignment extensions). You’re able to give these accommodations even if you’re not legally obligated to.
- If you’re being fair about giving extensions and accommodations to students who need them, it should be okay to help students who need DSP accommodations, even if they’re not registered.
- As soon as the student gets a letter about DSP intake, you can have a good-faith meeting with the student about accommodations in your class
- The DSP office is a good start, but it’s only the bare minimum for accessibility. We are always permitted to grant more to students as long as we do it in a fair and reasonable way.
- The DSP office is important and should be leveraged for providing documentation (we aren’t allowed morally or legally to ask for that documentation directly from students), but we have a right and responsibility to provide students with accommodations when they need them.
- Midterms for spring are coming up, and people who applied for DSP in November might still not have appointments. I suggest working with these people this semester to make sure their accommodations are handled. Very few people lie about this kind of thing, so it’s much better to help people who need rather than deny someone in need in the name of cheating prevention.
- If someone mentions self-harm, refer them to someone who can help (for Berkeley: Tang center). In-person, we recommend warm handoffs - walking students to Tang physically helps. Online, we can schedule meetings with CAPS for the students. It’s our responsibility to refer students who are threatening self-harm to trained professionals.
- When in doubt, support a CARE report - this goes to people who know about all the resources on campus. Often they send you resources, and in more severe cases, they will contact the student directly to make sure the student knows what resources they need
- Discuss with co-instructors: What’s the spirit of your course? What norms are you going to set? What are you going to explicitly tell staff about language, community, standards? Explicitly laying that out in the very first staff meeting is important.
- Bias busters is a good resource - ask us about this if you’re interested! (Maybe we’ll do a post on this someday.)
- This is an ongoing conversation - learning and growth about this is a good thing.
- Reading list/syllabus suggestions