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Known groups

A page within CATL Instructor's Guide to Inclusive Excellence


Given the context of inequality in the United States, research consistently flags particular groups as at risk. National research focuses on two primary issues of inequality in higher education: equity gaps and campus climate.

Summary of research

Equity gaps are structural disparities that affect historically marginalized groups (e.g., people of color, women, people with disabilities, working-class and poor people).  Universities have identified gaps in retention rates, graduation rates, grade point averages, DFW rates in general (students earning a D, an F, or Withdrawing from a course), DFW rates in gateway courses (courses critical to success in a major, sometimes colloquially called "weed out" courses), and others. The literature originally called these disparities "achievement gaps," until research demonstrated that students were not actually underprepared and therefore underachieving. 

The initial research focused on students of color, but equity gaps focused on common administrative measures like admissions, retention, and graduation rates have also been identified for students who are the first generation in college, low-income, women, or veterans.  Women and especially women of color remain underrepresented in many disciplines. 

The Equity Scorecard project encouraged institutions to disaggregate data (e.g., examining African Americans, Latinos/as, American Indians, and Asian Americans separately). In 2005-2007, UW System participated in the Equity Scorecard processUWL was one of the pilot campuses.  Current practice is to disaggregate equity gaps by both race and gender. UWL follows this practice whenever possible.

The key finding from this research has been that the gaps are largely the outcome of higher education practices that present barriers to students' ability to perform at their actual abilities or tend to underserve particular groups. The systematic problem, then, tends to be equitable practice, rather than achievement.

UWL has studied various aspects of equity and identified gaps based in race and in race + gender (our information systems do limit our ability to develop data on other groups).  UWL's Institutional Research produces common data comparisons such as retention and graduation rates (see IR's Fact Book for more). IR annually reports such data to UW System; see the searchable and sortable UW System Accountability Dashboard for more and to see how UWL compares to other UW campuses.  Institutional Research also produces a wider range of equity gaps measures; contact IR for more information.

Campus climate studies investigate and compare how students experience their institution.  National studies consistently indicate that students of color, women students, LGBT students, and students with disabilities are more likely to experience higher education as unwelcoming than do other students,

UWL has also conducted four campus climate studies (2004, 2008, 2013, and 2018). They have consistently found that our students of color and our LGBT students are more likely to feel and to experience unwelcoming behavior and even overt hostility on our campus.  For a direct understanding from students of color, see the film "Inclusive Negligence" here.



Murphy Library is a great starting point for learning about the history of particular groups. Murphy's video collection is an excellent resource.  Katherine Fish has also built an Equity Library Guide specifically for the Equity Liaison initiative that anyone can use!

Keep current on contemporary issues in the news.  Students of color in particular are likely to be aware and often affected by incidents of violence in the national news. 

UWL's Campus Climate office organizes and hosts many learning opportunities, some of which have been recorded for you to peruse at your own pace.  on the left menu, look under Educational Outreach.  You can also request a training by clicking on the box at the top of each page on the Campus Climate site.

Many offices that serve particular groups of students also provide information or training for instructors. 

  1. Students with disabilities: see Faculty and Staff Resources at the ACCESS Center's website. Go here to learn more about Universal Design.
  2. Hmong American students:  Online module: Introduction to Hmong Americans  Takes about 30 minutes. Pronunciation guide:; see also the helpful links at the bottom of the page.
  3. Students who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment: Resources for students seeking a confidential reporter:  Learn more: UW-L's Violence Prevention Program
  4. LGBTQ (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer) Students:  UWL's Pride Center includes many useful resources for instructors, including Terminology, How to Be an Ally, a list of their books, dvds, and other resources, and Community resources
    1. Gender-inclusive pronouns (for more on terminology, click here):  most instructors view themselves as their students' allies in learning.  To that end, as our Pride Center recommends, "never make assumptions about one's sexual orientation or gender identity/PGP [personal gender pronouns] by the way they present themselves.  It is important to get to know the person and know how they identify." Many students today prefer gender-inclusive pronouns. Some students may be questioning and not ready to be public.  In response, instructors can ask students at the beginning of a course how they prefer to identify.  See "Build rapport" below for one way to ask that is private. 
    2. Use of the singular "they" in writing:Think about your own professional view of the use of “they” as a singular gender-inclusive term and be explicit in your expectations.  We recommend that you encourage students to footnote their first use of a gender-inclusive term that you as the instructor might otherwise circle as a grammatical error and explain in the footnote how they will use it throughout the paper and why.  Suggest this in your syllabus or your assignment guidelines, or both.  You benefit from not needing to flag an intentional decision as an error.  Students benefit from practice in thinking about audience by drafting the content of the note themselves - a skill they can use in the future for introducing inclusive language beyond their university experience. The same principle would apply for other gender-inclusive terms that are not grammatically challenging but may be non-normative.
    3. Especially for working with students or colleagues who identify as trans or as gender non-conforming, consider enrolling in this free online course from the University of Minnesota and organizing a campus discussion group:

Learn and Support:

UWL's Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) divisions and our student organizations host many events on campus that present opportunities both to learn and to support.  You can add the D&I calendar to Outlook Calendar (it will show in "Other Calendars" in the menu on the left if you using Calendar in a web browser; you can click to show it, and click again to hide it) as follows:

  • go to the UWL Events Calendar and select the D&I calendar from the menu on the left (by the way, you can add the CATL calendar of events using this same process)
  • click Subscribe to Event Feed at the bottom left, then copy the Event Feed link from the dialogue box
  • open your Calendar in Outlook online and click Add Calendar at the top and select From internet.  Paste the link you just copied into the first box, and give the calendar a name (e.g. UWL D&I). Click Save at the top.
  • The calendar will now appear in your calendar list in the menu on the left in Outlook Calendar online. You can click on it to show it, and click again to hide it.

Build rapport: 

  • Get to know your students as individuals, without assuming you know what barriers to success they might be facing.  In the spirit of getting to know a class, many instructors invite, but do not require, students to answer a series of "get-to-know-you" questions on, say, an index card at the beginning of the term. Common questions include things like majors/minors, career plans, hometown, leisure activities, issues that matter to that student, preferences on gender pronouns, and a generic "things you would like me to know that could affect your success in my course."  Offer suggestions for this last item, such as: I think I might have a learning disability, I'm a parent of 2, I work x number of hours per week, I am the primary caretaker for an elder, I am questioning my sexual orientation or gender identity.  Explain that while you cannot fix every problem, you can't help at all if you don't know. UWL has many resources that students may not know about - this gives you the opportunity to make sure your students do know, to open a later conversation (e.g., if a student is absent for more than one day), and to respect their privacy while they decide what to share with their classmates. 


  • Brown-Glaude, W., ed. (2009). Doing Diversity in Higher Education:  Faculty Leaders Share Challenges and Strategies. New Brunswick, NJ:  Rutgers University Press. (link goes to the ebook in Murphy Library.
  • Niemi, N. (2017). Degrees of Difference : Women, Men, and the Value of Higher Education. New York:  Routledge. 
  • Goodman, D. (2011). Promoting Diversity and Social Justice:  Educating People from Privileged Groups. 2nd ed. New York:  Routledge.  
  • Torres, Vasti, Howard-Hamilton, Mary F., & Cooper, Diane L. (2003). Identity Development of Diverse Populations: Implications for Teaching and Administration in Higher Education. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report. Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. San Franisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hoskins, D. (2017). Inequality in Higher Education: Known groups. In Instructor's Guide to Inclusive Excellence. University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from