Anti Racist & Equitable Teaching


In this section you will find resources and guidance on designing courses, supporting student work, creating a syllabus and facilitating an inclusive learning environment.

CalArts has set Equity, Inclusion, Access and Diversity as institutional priorities. As a community we have a clear sense that effective teaching involves a constant reevaluation of one’s frames of context and experience. We ask our students to be willing to make work in a place of engaged vulnerability, to question their assumptions and to challenge their understanding of histories. We do so by offering them a collaborative and supportive environment to have the necessary conversations around the work at hand and its role in the world. 

We aim to engage in the work of interrogating our own teaching and curriculum with the same level of open reflection and engagement. It is our assertion that anti-racist, equitable and inclusive teaching is simply good teaching; we frame all aspects of our pedagogical support and practice in Faculty Affairs with that lens.


The CalArts Library has created a resource guide in collaboration with the Office of Faculty Affairs. This Inclusion + Anti-Racism Resource Guide is designed to provide a range of information, both general and specific, on topics related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.  The Guide also serves as a collection of resources to help address issues, questions, and concerns regarding cultural intelligence and social justice, both of which are central to ongoing dialogues and demonstrable work within the CalArts community.  

LibGuides: Inclusion + Anti-Racism Resource Guide


CalArts has the explicit aim to create classrooms and learning environments where all of our students feel they can best learn, create and exist. 

Many of the ways that students feel disadvantaged or marginalized within a classroom come before dialogue or classroom dynamics even emerge; they come from how a course is set up by the instructor. 

In selecting course materials, preparing the syllabus, and planning the class activities, faculty play an enormous role in setting the tone of the course, including who feels included and who does not.

This work is complex and ongoing.

Implicit Bias Training

Once a semester the Faculty Affairs Office, in cooperation with the Institute Diversity Officer, sponsors sessions on Implicit Bias. We encourage all faculty to periodically engage with this training. For more information about these trainings feel free to contact the Director of Faculty Affairs:

Facilitating Classroom Conversations 

Much of CalArt’s teaching is based in complex and nuanced critical conversations about process, art and their intersection with the actuality of the world. In order to set the best context for those conversations, it is necessary to create a classroom that allows for them to occur.

Make sure to set ground rules for your classroom and make sure your expectations are clearly expressed in your syllabus and understood by the students. It is important that faculty adhere to these and model these expectations.

Some faculty find it useful to create a classroom contract, to collaboratively set expectations with the students; this allows them to engage with the classroom as a critical space. 

In this model one would discuss the syllabus and expectations with the students, to make sure they are clear and hear input from the students. 

Examples of Classroom Contracts and steps towards creating them are outlined here:

In particular, it is important to have the class establish and agree on ground rules for discussion.  Clarifying expectations about class discussions early on can prevent contentious situations later.  Discussion ground rules might include:

  • Always use a respectful tone.

  • No interrupting or yelling.

  • No name-calling or other character attacks.

  • Ask questions when you do not understand; do not assume you know what others are thinking.

  • Try to see the issue from the other person’s perspective before stating your opinion.

  • Maintain confidentiality (what is said in the classroom stays in the classroom.)

  • For an extensive discussion of how to establish ground rules for classroom conversation, take a look at  Start Talking:  A Handbook for Engaging Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education: Start Talking 

Handling Difficult Conversations

There are three basic ways that we hear faculty talk about difficult dialogues: in-class dialogues that were planned but did not go particularly well; in-class “hot moments” that were not anticipated and that the faculty member did not feel equipped to handle; and difficult dialogues that happen during office hours or outside of class.

In all three instances, faculty are challenged to use skills they may not have learned at any point in their disciplinary training. That lack of skill can cause them great angst, and in the most extreme situations, lead them to avoid addressing important issues directly. This is not to anyone’s advantage, and many learning opportunities can be lost. We have put together some resources to help support faculty efforts to engage with students in productive and meaningful dialogue.

Principles for Constructive Engagement adapted from Sensoy & DiAngelo (2014)

1. Strive for intellectual humility. All knowledge is partial; therefore, we must all constantly ask questions and reflect. None of us know everything about anything.

2. Everyone has opinions. Opinions are not the same as informed knowledge.

3. Look beyond personal anecdotal evidence and look at broader societal patterns.

4. Notice your own defensive reactions, and attempt to use these reactions as entry points for gaining deeper self-knowledge.

5.Recognize how your social positionality (e.g., race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, religious preferences, etc.) informs your reactions to those you work with and learn from.

Additional Resources:

Encouraging Civil Behavior in Large Classes

Navigating Difficult Moments | Derek Bok Center, Harvard University

The Human Dimension


Critique and discussion of student work is one of the most rewarding and challenging parts of arts education. We are including some resources and tools to refer to in developing your own approach.

You can always reach out to your program director, Dean, or the Director of Faculty Affairs if you want to dialogue about how to design effective critique settings or need help navigating a difficult dynamic.

Critique Models and Writings:

The Critique Handbook: A practical manual for participation in the practice of the critique, The Critique Handbook is an invaluable resource for both faculty and students. Presenting hundreds of examples drawn from every genre of artmaking, noted artists Kendall Buster and Paula Crawford address the complexity of what actually occurs in critiques. Their book provides models for more informed and effective ways of conducting and taking part in critiques. Their observations, which can be applied to beginning through advanced studio courses, bring to light the underlying social and power dynamics of critiques and offer illuminating advice on how to make critiques more cogent and how students can benefit more fully from them.

Equitable Critique

The experience of students from underrepresented identities (including students of color, indigenous students, non binary students, international students) have often expressed that critique can be an isolating and particularly difficult classroom environment. 

This video: The Room of Silence on Vimeo - Eloise Sherrid was made by art students from RISD to describe their experience in critique. This article On Reconstructing Critique. How Critique can Reinscribe Trauma or… | by Lauren Williams | Antiracist Classroom discusses the difficulties and isolation that the experience of critique can cause.

Critique is one of the classroom settings where examining one’s own positionality and cultural contexts is most necessary.

Disclosure of Identity:

How you identify in terms of your gender, race, class, sexuality, religion, and dis/ability, among all aspects of your identity, is your choice whether to disclose (e.g. should it come up in classroom conversation about experiences and perspectives) and should be self-identified, not presumed or imposed.  Avoid calling on a student to speak on behalf of an identity group. 


A significant part of considering yourself an antiracist teacher is being willing to intervene and respond when microaggressions or overt  instances of harassment occur in your class.

Microaggressions are brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to individuals based on their marginalized group membership. These messages have lasting, negative psychological impact on the target person and group. 

How Faculty Can Avoid Committing Microaggressions 

• Reflect on your own attitudes, stereotypes, and expectations. 

• Confront your own hesitancies. 

• Do not expect students to be experts on any experiences beyond their own and do not make them speak for the experience of an entire group of people. 

• Assume that the groups that you are talking about always are in some way represented in the classroom. 

• In those cases when students do have the courage to contact you and point out that they were offended by a remark that you made or an action that you undertook, listen to them. 

Be willing to acknowledge and apologize for mistakes.

How to Address Student-Perpetrated Microaggressions in the Classroom 

• Establish standards of responsibility and behavior for working collectively with others. 

• Challenge the discriminatory attitudes and behavior, rather than the person. 

• Teach students that impact is more important than intent. 

• Stop unintentional microinsults and ask students to rephrase or rethink comments. 

• Provide accurate information to challenge stereotypes and biases in the moment whenever possible.

If you have a situation involving discriminatory behavior or need advice about a classroom or student interaction contact:


One way to create an inclusive environment is in how you introduce yourself to your class on the first day. If you feel comfortable doing so, let the students know how they should address you: your name and your pronoun. ("My name is Gillian, and I go by she/her." "My name is Jamie, and my pronoun is they/them.") By setting this precedent yourself and then opening the floor for your students to introduce themselves, you make strides toward setting a tone for the space that is open and receptive.

Preferred Names and Pronouns

One of the most common microaggressions students can face are instances of being misgendered. To misgender someone is to refer to (someone, especially a transgender person) using a word, especially a pronoun or form of address, that does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify.

If you accidentally misgender someone, acknowledge your mistake and move on.

CalArts tools include the Student Identity Project which allows students, faculty and staff  to use a chosen name and pronouns in the school records; the transition to self service has allowed those pronouns to be easily seen on your roster. 

Another strategy for learning your students' preferred name and pronoun on the first day of class is to pass out notecards on which each student can write their preferred name and pronoun. This allows the students to disclose this information to you in a discrete manner without "outing" themselves to the class.

Creating an inclusive classroom for Non Binary and Gender queer students is not simply about the first day of class; it is important to be aware that some students will transition and announce changes to their identity throughout the school year. Be open to accepting those changes without comment or question.

Be aware of privacy. Students that are non binary or Trans may have disclosed information about their identity to you one on one that they may not be comfortable or feel safe acknowledging in a classroom setting. Make sure you understand how they want to be addressed publicly and do not share information about their identity in class or within the larger community without their explicit permission.

Some additional resources and readings about pronouns and gender: 

Strategies for teaching English Language Learners

English Language Learning (ELL) at CalArts supports the development of multilingual speakers at the intermediate English proficiency level and above. The ELL curriculum is designed specifically for students in the arts and, like métier coursework, treats language learning as a process of creative development.

Written Materials

If you are planning to communicate with your students primarily through written materials such as sending assignment instructions and/or lecture notes via email, please be aware of your assumptions about syntax and meaning. Please be aware of avoiding jargon or colloquialisms that may not be easily understood by students not from your cultural background or for whom English is not their first language.

 An important debate about language and the art world emerged a few years ago with the essay "International Art English," which sought to analyze the origins of jargony, verbose art speak. The artist-writer Hito Steyerl responded with International Disco Latin - Journal #45 May 2013 a call to arms for international artists to invent a new language of their own. It might make you think differently about the values of English-language conformity.

It is important to ensure that linguistically-diverse students have full access to the content of your materials, delivery, and activities in all virtual formats you choose to use.

This document created at MICA provides a short and accessible overview of general considerations for classroom teaching for linguistically-diverse students. 

Here is a dialogue with Allison Yasukawa about Art, design, and language as action: Q+A with Associate Professor Allison Yasukawa | CCA.

Learner’s Dictionaries

If you are defining key terms for any written material, consider consulting a learner’s dictionary. Learner’s dictionaries are designed specifically for linguistically-diverse students. Here is more information about them. Below are links to three recommended learner’s dictionaries:

Assignment Instructions

For assignment instructions, consider checking the difficulty level of your language using Rewordify. You can copy and paste your assignment instructions in the text area, and Rewordify will offer alternative word choices. It is not recommended to use the Rewordify rewritten text as is; rather, it can be useful to help you to identify specific words/sections of your directions that you might want to modify or rewrite to increase clarity.

Lecture Notes

If you plan to share your lecture notes with your students, consider reviewing your notes for abbreviations. For example, if you have terms like “in gen” that appear repeatedly in your notes as an abbreviation for “in general,” you may want to provide a key of these abbreviations.

If your lecture notes are handwritten and scanned rather than typed, consider the legibility of your handwriting. Keep in mind that linguistically-diverse students may find it difficult to read cursive handwriting.

Constructing a Syllabus

Your syllabus can be a powerful tool in creating an inclusive learning environment. It conveys your priorities as an instructor and sets the tone and your expectations for the course.

Creating a syllabus that is clear about the course expectations and assignments help students feel empowered within the course and in their interactions with you as an instructor.

The course syllabus is, in most cases, the first contact that students will have with both you and the course. The syllabus sets the tone for the course. As you create a syllabus, then, the question you ought to keep at the center of the process is: What am I saying to my students?

Some instructors find it empowering to open their syllabus to the class for dialogue and collective development. 

A link to the CalArts syllabus template can be found here.


It is often said CalArts does not “have grades”. That is not true, we do grade non traditionally and our grades are balanced with mentor reports and one on one feedback from faculty. However, students take grading seriously and, for some, it is important to their visa, scholarship status or future academic plans.

Our official grading policy is here:

It is important that your syllabus is clear how students are being evaluated, what assignments and expectations you have and what criteria are used in your assessment of the work.

Some faculty find it equitable to work with students to create a grading contract. A grading contract can be useful to engage students in developing the expectations of the work of the class.  Some models of contracts can also work to decouple evaluation and grading, in order to focus on process in the classroom.  Grading Contracts 101

However you work it is necessary that assignments, expectations and process of evaluation are made clear to students in the syllabus and are affirmed throughout the course. Having clear expectations supports equity in the classroom.

How to Work to Diversify Your Course Content and Curriculum

Essential to it is to examine your own position and privilege. Designing an equitable teaching practice means being open to examining and re-examining your own position and privilege within the classroom, the community and the world at large. Creating a critical classroom practice is foundational to opening students to a critical engagement with materials and processes.

One resource to reference is here: How Does Your Positionality Bias Your Epistemology?

The work of diversifying involves a contemplation of who is teaching, what is being taught, and the mode and structure within which it is taught.

The Office of Faculty Affairs hosts regular sessions supporting Anti Racist teaching and supporting work to diversify curriculums, courses and syllabi. Contact the Director of Faculty Affairs at for more information.

This article Modeling Inclusive Pedagogy: Five Approaches gives a broad overview of approaches; this webinar also goes through some of the basics Five Approaches to Diversifying your Syllabus.mp4.

You can access a reading list around Inclusive Teaching Support here: LibGuides: Inclusion + Anti-Racism Resource Guide: General + All-Métier

Some Effective Practices When Designing An Inclusive Course Syllabus

  1. Define the instructor’s role and responsibility to students;

  2. Provide a clear statement of intended course goals (learning outcomes);

  3. Establish standards and procedures for evaluation;

  4. Acquaint students with course logistics; and

  5. Establish a pattern of communication between instructor and students.

  6. Make your goals and objectives explicit.

  7. Vary the ways students can demonstrate their learning.

  8. Make sure classroom expectation (attendance, participation, lateness) is clear, equitable and serves the goals of the course and not assumptions of control

  9. Set the tone for your classroom, make sure your philosophy behind teaching the course is articulated.

  10. Include ways to indicate that you welcome a diverse population of students. Consider including a diversity and equity and/or a statement of anti-racist teaching statement. Some examples of this language: Diversity Language for Syllabus

  11. Work to diversify your syllabus and teaching. 

  12. Include multiple perspectives on each topic in the course.

  13. Build into the course calendar times when you will ask for feedback on the course. .

  14. Ensure your syllabus and course materials are accessible.

  15. Include the following resources for students:

  • Chose Name/Student Identity Project

  • Writing Center

  • Academic Advising

  • Library

  • Disability Services

  • Discrimination email

  • Care form

  • Counseling

Rigor and Compassion

In recent decades, discussions of student led learning and the questioning of traditional educational models have led to assertions that shifts in education focused on addressing student complaints and experiences on campuses diminishes f academic rigor and faculty’s academic freedom in the classroom (most famously in this Atlantic article in 2015: How Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health on Campus.)

Here, What If Trigger Warnings Actually Encourage Difficult Discourse?, Krisin Poling counters that argument, position that being aware and sensitive to student concerns allows for a deeper dialogue: “it is both appropriate and pedagogically useful for the classroom to be treated as a privileged space, where special protections enable intense and challenging dialogues to occur.”

Understanding By Design

When designing or redesigning your course, consider using a backward design model (see Understanding by Design, Wiggins and McTighe, 2005 This asks you to design or redesign your course intentionally, beginning with what you want your students to be able to think and do by the end of the course.

For more information on Understanding by Design: go to the Hub.