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How to deal with bias incidents in your classroom

Universities and instructional faculty are committed to building a safe learning environment for all students. Despite these efforts, bias incidents (bigotry, hate messages or symbols, verbal, physical, or online harassment (e.g. text, social media), coercion or intimidating language, ridicule of a person’s language, accent, or cultural background, or use of racial, ethnic, or other type of slur in a joke or comment), which can be disruptive and hurtful, do occur in and outside of our classrooms. The following strategies provide you with guidelines on how to prepare and respond to such incidents efficiently and appropriately.

Option 1: If you are not sure what to do, please ask.

Reach out to your department head, Office of the Dean of Students, or Office of Equity and Diversity at UT for guidance and assistance.

Option 2: If you feel comfortable moving forward with a response to such an incident yourself, consider following these guidelines:

Determine the severity of the incident. Review your classroom ground rules, departmental and university policies on discrimination and bias incidents. For more information, review Student Code of Conduct, Bias Protocol and Procedures at UT.

  • If you witness such an incident (e.g. discriminatory statements based on race, gender, national original, marital status, etc), you are encouraged to report the incident as a university employee. Refer to Contact to Report: Employee for more information.
  • If you cannot determine the severity of the incident, please refer to Option 1 or contact Office of Equity and Diversity
  • If the severity of the incident is mild, you may continue to Step 2.

Stay calm. When you are ready to follow up with the “perpetrating” student/s, be mindful of your emotional state and tone of voice. Some biased comments are not driven by bad intentions, but could be made due to misunderstanding or miscommunication. Therefore, it is important not to rush to a judgment. Calmly ask the individual to clarify the intentions behind their remarks. For example, instead of accusing them, it is better to ask “why did you say/do that?” or “why did this happen?” Focusing on the incident itself rather than blaming the student may help to reduce the emotional pressure on the student, thereby, developing a more positive foundation to move forward.

Be firm and educate. Repeat your classroom ground rules and university nondiscriminatory policy. Explicitly express your expectations for appropriate comments. Help the individual(s) to understand the impact of their biased comments. Inform the perpetrating student/s the potential consequences of their biased comments in violation of university policies.

Share your decision with student/s. For example, you might email students (with appropriate individuals copied): “Due to the severity of your discriminatory comments, as a mandatory reporter, I have reported this incident to the Student Conduct and Community Standards Office / Office of Equity and Diversity. You can expect to hear from a representative from their office who will explain to you what will take place.”

Additional Resources to Consider to Promote Diversity and Inclusion through Teaching and Learning Innovation

Inclusive Teaching Tool Box


Willoughby, B. (2012). Responding to hate and bias at school: A guide for administrators, counselors, and teachers. Montgomery, AL: Teaching Tolerance.