Documentation:Student Services Inappropriate Class Comment

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A few Advisors originally contributed scenarios to help build a session for the a 2018 UBC Advising Conference session, Making Diversity & Inclusion Work: Three Supportive Approaches to Student Advising at UBC. This session was developed and presented by staff at the Equity and Inclusion Office (EIO). The EIO then further developed the case study for this website with additional materials.

Target Learners & Contexts

This case study was created for student services professionals in higher education settings (e.g., Academic Advisors, Career Advisors, Study Abroad Advisors) for their professional development purposes. However, it could also be used in other settings (e.g., a higher education administration course, an inclusive teaching workshop for faculty and TAs) with or without modifications.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this case study activity, participants will be able to:

  1. Identify key concerns around inclusion and equity in the case scenario
  2. Develop strategies for more inclusive and equitable outcomes


Instructions for main facilitator:

Ahead of the workshop

  • Review the case study scenario(s) and adapt them to your context if necessary.
  • Review the talking points, which are suggested points for discussions. You may want to adapt the talking points (e.g., modify the language, make additional points) to your specific context.
  • Consider how you would like to facilitate the activity by thinking of the following questions:
    • Would you like to identify people who are going to facilitate small group discussions ahead of time so that you have a chance to discuss key points to be covered in the small group discussions? Or will the session participant work on their own in small groups?
    • Will someone be taking notes during small group discussions? How can these be shared back with the whole group?
    • Would you like to have students read the case studies and discussion questions ahead of time as “homework,” or do you have enough time to do that during your session?

During the workshop

  • Divide participants into groups of 4 or 5. You may want each group to include a facilitator with knowledge of the issues discussed in the scenarios, and who can help guide the conversation.
  • Give groups 10-15 minutes to discuss each scenario. You may want to give each group a large piece of paper where they can write 3-4 things that they would do in response.
  • Debrief as a large group. One by one, read the case studies before inviting each group to share what they discussed before opening it up to a discussion among the larger group.

Instructions for learners:

Read the case study that has been shared with your group. Take a moment to think about the discussion question then discuss them with your group.

Case Scenario

Ray is a student who is part of a peer-coaching group. They are concerned because an instructor in their ECON class made a disparaging remark about Africa and ‘third world’ countries draining the world economic system. It was phrased as a joke and most of the class laughed, but not Ray and another student named Ayisha. Ray explains that when Ayisha raised concerns about the comment, the instructor brushed her concern away. Ayisha waited 5 minutes and then walked out of the class. Ray stated that they were so astonished by the instructor’s joke and response that they didn’t know what to do and didn’t follow Ayisha. You tell Ray that you would be happy to meet with Ayisha and support her. Ray passes on the message but Ayisha never shows up. The next time you see Ray, you ask them about the class and Ayisha, but nothing comes of it. What could you have done differently? How can you support students through negative experiences, especially when they might not be comfortable with taking steps that are available to them, and when their attempts to self-advocate are met with resistance by people in positions of power? What if Ayisha doesn’t want “support” and is actually really tired of having to engage with this kind of incident that keeps happening in her everyday life?

Discussion Questions

  • From your lens as an Advisor, what issues does this scenario highlight?
  • As an Advisor, what is your role and responsibility?
  • As an Advisor, how should you respond at this point? What could have been done differently to support the students in this scenario? Consider these questions at both the local level (e.g., what you can do in the moment or in a short term) and a broader level (e.g., long-term, structural changes).

Talking Points (for Facilitators)

These talking points are meant to help the facilitator generate meaningful conversation with the group. There are not final or comprehensive answers!

Identifying multiplicity of issues in the scenario

There are two issues with the professor - the initial racist comment as well as his response when a student (Ayisha) raised a concern. The professor’s dismall is a form of microaggression in and of itself. Additionally, the student you are advising (Ray) is unsure about two things: (1) how to support their peer and (2) how to respond to the professor. Make sure you address both in your discussion. As an advisor, what different roles do you have to play in these two separate issues?

Building peer support skills in students (issue #1)

If you were Ray, what would you have done to support Ayisha? If you were not confident about what to do, what training or support would have helped? How can we help build skills for active bystanding in students and the staff who support/advise them? UBC’s Equity & Inclusion Office offers workshops on the topic. What might be other ways to practice these skills early on with students? How can we encourage conversations between students that will strengthen these skills? How can we help students build skills for peer-to-peer support so that students are not solely relying on staff capacity?

Thoughtfully considering the needs of marginalized students

Maybe Ayisha does not need or want additional support. How can the student be an ally to Ayisha without making assumptions about her needs? How can solidarity be developed in the classroom without necessarily focusing on Ayisha? How do we balance putting marginalized students at the centre of this work without burdening them with having to always do the work of educating and responding to their peers and professors? How can we better recognize the impact of these everyday microaggressions on students and their learning?

Responding to inappropriate comments by professors (issue #2)

What are a couple of different ways to engage with the professor that the student might try? What can you do to help prepare them for that conversation? What resources do you know exist on campus that might help students and professors? What could be done pro-actively by the university to avoid this kind of situation in the classroom?

Being attentive to cues about student identity

Note that one of the students in the scenario, Ray, uses they/them pronouns. If people in this group make the assumption that Ray is a young man or a young woman, point out at the end of the conversation that Ray is likely a non-binary student. This should not detract from the core discussion of the scenario but be a reminder that it is important to pick up on more subtle cues when working with students. It will help students feel seen and supported. If you want to learn more about supporting queer, trans and gender-nonconforming students, check out the Positive Space Campaign.


Take some time to consider how each person’s complex identities may have played a part in this scenario. In other words, think about how their individual experiences and dynamics between each other are embedded within multiple and interdependent systems of power, such as racism, sexism, heteronormativity, and Western imperialism. Students who experience multiple types of marginalization may need different forms of support, or may have different concerns or frustrations than others. Avoid assuming that you know why either student reacted the way that they did; instead make room for them to share how their lived experience has impacted them.

Sharing Permissions

Some rights reserved
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document according to the terms in Creative Commons License, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0. The full text of this license may be found here: CC by-sa 4.0

When re-using this resource, please attribute as follows: developed by International Student Development and the Equity and Inclusion Office at the University of British Columbia.

Additional Resources

  • Link to UBC resources on inclusive teaching and learning (coming soon)