Online Etiquette


by Marisol Clark-Ibáñez Lara, Ph.D.1

Online interactions are governed by rules and social norms for interacting with others. These guidelines aim to make some of the expectations more explicit to you as a student.

Disembodied Discussions: A key distinguishing feature of an online course is that most communication occurs via the written word. Body language, voice tone, and instantaneous listener feedback of the traditional classroom are often absent. These facts need to be taken into account both when contributing messages to a discussion board and other learning spaces. Keep in mind the following points…

Adjust Your Language: Written text can easily be misinterpreted and the way we used to write about circumstances or people has changed to be more inclusive and less biased. Avoid the use of exclusionary or offensive language. If you feel particularly strongly about a point, it may be best to write it first as a draft and then to review it, before posting it, in order to remove any strong language. Consult sources such as, Social Justice Phrase Guide and Drop the “I” Word, for more guidance.

Be Direct in Your Communication: In general, avoid humor and sarcasm because they frequently depend either on facial expression, vocal tone, and familiarity with the reader. Communicate succinctly, using facts as evidence to back up opinions. 

Be Forgiving: When someone makes a mistake — whether it’s a spelling error, a seemingly silly question or an unnecessarily long answer — be kind about it. If you feel strongly about it, think twice before reacting. (Source: http://bit.ly/CoreRulesNetiquette)

Be Mindful: Recognize that you may state something that others may find offensive, and they may let you or the instructor know. Whether intended or not, what you communicate impacts people in different ways. The goal of communication is to convey messages. We are all accountable for our communication and, at times, may need to clarify what we mean; this may include issuing an apology. We treat this as a communal learning environment, and we are in community with each for the duration of this course. If you find yourself in a tough communication situation, it is best to consult with the instructor. 

The Recorder Is On: Think carefully about the content of your message before contributing it. Once sent to the group, there is no taking it back. Also, although the grammar and spelling of a message typically are not graded, your audience might not be able to decode misspelled words or poorly constructed sentences. Especially for writing more than a few sentences, it is a good practice to compose on Word so that you can correct errors before posting them.

Test for Clarity: Messages may often appear perfectly clear to you as you compose them, but turn out to be confusing to your reader. One way to test for clarity is to read your message aloud to see if it flows smoothly. If you can read it aloud to another person before posting it, even better.

Netspeak: There are conventions established for academic online writing. DO NOT TYPE IN ALL CAPS. This is regarded as shouting and is out of place in a classroom. Acronyms and emoticons (arrangements of symbols to express emotions) are popular, but excessive use of them can make your message difficult to read. Also, do not use abbreviated writing in formal writing (e.g., “b/c” instead of because). Emoticons, however, can occasionally be helpful to convey feelings in your writing, especially in online discussion spaces. 

Online Class Meetings or Office Hours: Online courses are delivered as asynchronous (class never meets at the same time) and/or synchronous (class meets at the same time). Office hours are often “live” – you and the professor (and perhaps a couple of other students) meeting together at the same time or synchronous. Consider the following recommendations to have a successful synchronous experience:

  • Before meetings, check your sound and computer/tablet/phone capabilities for the technology (teams, zoom, google hangouts). Even in the best of situations, technology for online meetings can fail us even when working well earlier in the day. Let’s encourage mutual patience and understanding.
  • Remember to enter the meeting with mute on, and please mute your microphone if not talking.
  • Using the video feature is optional; privacy of self, home, and/or learning environment is your choice. Also, you may have others in your space who may not want to be part of the meeting. Your professor also may selectively choose to use the video feature for the same reasons.
  • If you do plan to use the video, please be respectful that you are in a learning space with others: wear clothing – at least on your top half.
  • If you are in a group meeting, it’s appreciated to let the group know through the chat function that you “need to step away” from the meeting (e.g., bio break, attend to a loved one). Let at least the professor know if you are leaving the meeting.  

1Initially adapted and revised from the University of Wisconsin (http://online.uwc.edu/academics/how-online-education-works/online-etiquette) by Dr. Clark-Ibáñez on June 1, 2012. Updated August 28, 2018 and July 2, 2020. 

The Accidental Doctor with a Passion for Hiring Practices

By Luke Lara, Ed.D.

I came to my office on June 5, 2015 and found a note on my chair. It said, “Dr. J. Luke Wood is looking for you. Give him a call at…” I recognized the handwriting and went to find my colleague with the distinct print. Why would Dr. J. Luke Wood be looking for me and why did he contact my colleague? Confused, I asked my colleague, but he just shrugged his shoulders. Minutes later, I dialed the number on the post-it note. That was the beginning of a whirlwind three years of my doctoral program.

A month earlier, I had attended an Equity Summit at a local hotel in Carlsbad hosted by my college’s Student Success governance committee. The keynote speaker was Dr. J. Luke Wood of San Diego State University (SDSU). He also happened to be the Director of the SDSU Ed.D. program. He discussed his latest research on men of color in community college. I remember how this was the first time I had heard of such research and felt excited to learn more. After the presentation, a colleague introduced me to him. I expressed interest in Dr. Wood’s research. He asked me, “Have you considered getting a doctorate degree?” I replied, “You know, I applied back in 2009 and was accepted to the program, but because I had just been offered a full-time tenure track position and had a newborn son, in consultation with my partner we decided I could only do one or the other.” I continued, “At the time, getting paid was the logical choice.” To that, he retorted, “Would you apply again?” Was he calling my bluff? I felt the pressure to say yes. I jokingly replied, “Would I have to take the GRE again?” It had been 10 years since I had taken the GRE and the anxiety lingered. After what seemed several moments of thought, he surprisingly said, “No.” Our conversation ended with me saying with a smile, “Okay, then I’ll think about applying next year.”

I identify as Latino, specifically Ecuadorian, and as male. I am mixed racially, Black and white. I grew up in Minnesota, only knowing Ecuador through my childhood home on Main St. in the suburb of Columbia Heights. I spoke Spanish and learned English as an ESL student in the local public school. The local parochial school would not accept me if I did not speak English. My mother, white and college educated, and my father, middle school educated and Afro Ecuadorian, lived on welfare for most of my youth. What they lacked in material wealth, they made up for in cultural and moral richness. My parents were musicians and social justice change agents. They organized and educated the community around social justice issues. They valued the dignity and worth of every human being, and especially fought for the most marginalized. I embraced their values, and these have been challenged every day of my life. I experience life as a brown man in a society that sees me as inferior, despite my intelligence and credentials. This is my worldview.

The year 2019 marks my twentieth year working in higher education. In my first six years, I worked in private and public four-year colleges and universities, specifically with students of color and first-generation college students. In particular, I directed a federally funded program called TRIO Upward Bound Math and Science for three and a half years. We promoted STEM and higher education to high school students in San Diego and Imperial counties who were low income and would be first-generation college students. Given the borderland context, the majority of the students were Latinx. As a requirement of the federal funding, we had to track students from High school graduation through bachelor’s degree achievement. All of my students graduated from high school and the majority of them went straight to a community college. I had no clue as to what this meant at the time. I had the privilege of attending a private liberal arts college in the Midwest and graduated in four years. I attended the public K-12 system in Minnesota and only experienced a maximum of 500 students in my high school and only 1,800 students in college. When I first stepped foot on El Cajon High School’s campus nearly 18 years ago and learned there were more than 2,000 students, I could not believe it. Community colleges in San Diego county have varying sizes, but many are between 10,000 and 20,000 students. Community colleges were known as “2-year” colleges: a place where students could prepare to transfer to the 4-year college or university. Curiosity to learn more about why my students continued to be at the community college beyond two years led me to earn a master’s degree to become a counselor in California’s community colleges.

When I first entered the community college world in 2006 as an adjunct counselor, the big focus was on the basic skills initiative. I was very involved in many innovative projects to support basic skills students. I began to understand the trend I had been seeing in my TRIO data. Students, in particular, students of color, low-income students, first-generation students, were stymied in the community college through low English and/or math placement. They often started two or three levels below what was required for successful attainment of an Associate’s degree or transfer to a four-year college. Their journey became too long and full of institutional and life obstacles.

I knew I could do more as a full-time counselor to establish the necessary relationships with students and colleagues to change the system. However, several counselors warned me that it would be ten years before I was offered a full-time tenure track position. I took that as a challenge. I hustled. At one point, I worked at five different colleges and universities teaching and counseling. I looked at every possible opportunity, including the newly created doctoral program at SDSU that emphasized community college leadership. My life was converging upon itself: a newborn son, a full-time faculty position, and admission to a doctoral program. I made the right choice at the time. I now have two wonderful children that are 10 and 8 years old. I am tenured and I have held many leadership roles in my department and institution. I am grateful for the growth in those six years before the portal of the doctoral program reopened to me.

For four of those first six years of full-time employment, I led the Puente Project, a transfer success program based in culturally relevant teaching and culturally sustaining pedagogy, emphasizing the Mexican American/Chicanx experience in California. I witnessed first-hand the impact of culturally responsive curriculum on the growth and development of Mexican American/Chicanx students. For many, this was the first time they had a teacher who acknowledged their identity as a strength for learning. It was the first for many things: first time reading Latinx, Mexican American, or Chicanx authors; first time being taught by a Latinx identified professor; and, first time being validated as college worthy students. My college success course was taught in conjunction with an English course as a learning community built on the foundation of a cultural community. My Puente partner and I intentionally engaged with our students in each other’s classrooms and outside the classroom, creating a community of support and “família-like” community.

Meanwhile, I also served as department chair for two and a half years. In this capacity, I hired over 20 adjunct faculty. I also had the privilege of chairing four full-time faculty search committees, resulting in seven hires in my department. Lastly, I have served as a member on several search committees within my department and outside my department, including committees for two vice president searches, one dean, a math faculty, a computer science faculty, a department secretary, and a student support specialist. I approached each of these searches with curiosity, always seeking to hire people that could truly support and understand the student diversity at the community college. I did not have a word for it at the time, but now we refer to this as seeking “equity-mindedness” in a candidate. That is, the ability to be culturally responsive, social justice, and equity focused to support our most marginalized students in achieving equitable outcomes.

In 2015, when I saw Dr. J. Luke Wood’s presentation, I had an epiphany. As he talked about better supporting our men of color, I asked myself, “Who are we hiring to support our men of color?” What happens in the classroom begins with who we hire. Who we hire is dependent on the institution’s values, vision, policies, leadership, and agents (e.g., the people involved in the hiring process). This train of thought fueled my quick affirmative response to Dr. Wood when he called me a month later. Coincidentally, the topic of diversifying the faculty had also intrigued the state chancellor’s office in the fall of 2015, and later the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges in subsequent years. My intuition was right on.

During the first day of orientation for the doctoral program, we met all the faculty. We spent about five minutes with each one for a “speed dating” activity, where we introduced ourselves and our topic of interest. Most of the cohort were interested in studying students; student athletes and transfer; foster youth in community college; formerly incarcerated students; or Latinx students in STEM. Two people were interested in studying leadership.

As I met faculty members to explain my proposed topic, there was mostly mild to low interest. My topic did not align with studying student success directly. Fortunately, I was not dissuaded, and I found a dissertation chair that believed in me. Dr. Felisha Villarreal Herrera, a newer faculty member, had just started her third year at SDSU, but had previously been a tenured faculty member elsewhere. While her focus was on Latinx students in STEM, she and I found common ground as I developed my guiding theoretical lens, critical race theory (CRT). I was fortunate to have her as my writing instructor in my second year, where she helped and encouraged me to apply CRT to my topic. I had heard from other classmates that other program faculty frowned upon the use of CRT, so I felt very fortunate to have a mentor that understood my inquiry.

To start, after the orientation, I embraced the daunting task of reviewing previous scholarship. I started off broadly, looking at hiring practices in education, hiring discrimination, racial discrimination, cultural competency, and implicit bias. I found and applied articles from various fields including education, business, sociology, social work, psychology, history, and law. I expanded my literature review with every new article I read, exploring every branch of the tree. The branch for higher education on hiring practices was thinner than the branch for K-12. In comparison, the research on community college hiring practices was a small twig.

I adopted CRT as a guiding theoretical lens by which to analyze what I had gathered so far. It provided a framework to understand discrimination in the hiring process. While discrimination is multidimensional, I focused on racial discrimination because it has been an enormous challenge over the last thirty years to racially diversify the community college faculty. When we consider state and federal non-discriminatory laws and affirmative action, it becomes even more daunting to improve hiring outcomes. However, the more I read, the more questions arose for me. Three years went by quickly. They were accompanied by my institutional praxis and professional development throughout that period that acted like fertilizer to my growth: the twig was going to get longer, stronger.

The most rewarding part of writing the dissertation was honoring my participants by writing and sharing their lived experiences. I engaged in a phenomenological inquiry and interviewed ten community college faculty of color who actively advocate for hiring faculty of color on faculty hiring committees. The whole process was emotional for me and the participants. They shared stories of what they see as barriers in the hiring process and how they strategically disrupt those barriers. I do this work for them and all the students of color who come through our community colleges and who we hope to hire one day as faculty.

As I sat on a wood stool to be hooded by Dr. Felisha Villarreal Herrera in May 2018, I felt the weight of what I had embarked on, with my parents in the audience—roots—and my partner and children cheering me on—future. When we first started, I was told, “You will become the expert, the one and only person who will know what you know. That is what it means to be a doctor.” One year later in April 2019, I published an article based on my dissertation in the prestigious Community College Journal for Research and Practice. In this past year, I have presented at state-wide sponsored events, presented at other community colleges, and trained faculty and HR professionals. Am I an accidental doctor? Given my origin story and professional experiences, this is not so accidental but rather exactly what I need to do, when I needed to do it. I am intentionally here to change paradigms, improve hiring outcomes, and create equitable student success outcomes for our students of color.

CRT and the Tensions between Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – What Leaders Need to Know

By Luke Lara, Ed.D.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are often conflated. These are three separate concepts that are inextricably connected. Many leaders confuse these terms, treat them as one concept, or only focus on one at a time. A great leader will work on all three at the same time, understanding the nuances of how they interrelate, and engage in equity-minded practices. – June 2018

I want to further reflect on the natural tensions between these three concepts.

More colleges are beginning to explicitly value diversity, equity, and inclusion in mission statements and board policies. Many are genuinely changing procedures and practices to transform their institutions to truly reflect the diversity of their communities, create equitable outcomes, and foster inclusivity. Few know how to achieve these goals: move from written policy to social justice in action.

To better understand and acknowledge the tension and often contradicting nature of these three concepts, we need to apply a critical framework. For example, critical race theory acknowledges that race and racism are ubiquitous and are problematized even more when looking at the intersectionality of race with class, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities; it challenges the dominant ideology; and it centralizes the experiential knowledge of those who are oppressed. Applying CRT, we can then ask interrogating questions to understand the complexity of these terms. The current dominant ideology centers the white, heterosexual male. It is through this dominant ideology that diversity, equity, and inclusion are traditionally defined.

Diversity refers to representation based on myriad individual/group identities (e.g., counting the population). We should ask ourselves: As we add different people to the group, at what point is the group diverse? How many women do we need? How many people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds do we need? A common myth is that diversity is a zero-sum concept. For example, if we were to hire more African Americans, then this inevitably means we hire less of another racial group (i.e., white people – those at the center). This misconception stokes fears of “reverse discrimination” or “bias” from the dominant majority, which contradicts their own orientation of inclusion. Proponents of diversity argue, as I do, that representation needs to be responsive to historic and contemporary needs of the community that is being served. For example, if your institution is designated a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), and your Hispanic student population is 33%, then there should be at least a proportional representation in the faculty, staff, and administration of that same demographic. By the way, a white person actually asked me this question, “Does this mean the institution should not hire more white people?” No. What it means is that the institution should be gathering and evaluating data and being responsive to the rich diversity of its community. Decisions will need to be made to increase the diversity of faculty, staff, and administrators. Also, it may have been acceptable thirty years ago to hire someone who is “sensitive” to diversity, but current equity gaps and inclusion efforts require higher standards, beyond sensitivity.

Inclusion is the notion of welcoming all people. It implies that “others” are “allowed” to participate. The dominant group still controls the rules and the culture of the group or organization. However, from a CRT perspective, it means that everyone in the community has a meaningful opportunity to contribute to the decision-making and learning process. Thus, a new ideology is created through a collaborative process, uplifting formerly marginalized voices and experiences and centering them in the process. In relation to hiring, being inclusive means that the composition of the search committee not only has a meaningful representation of racial and ethnic members, but that each of these members is respected and whose contributions are validated and equally weighed alongside those of others (i.e., white members). The token person of color on the search committee is indicative of a diversity framework centered in the traditional definition of inclusion. An inclusion framework expands on diversity to truly create the conditions and culture within the search committee to allow for meaningful participation and perspective. For example, an inclusion framework allows for a diversity of perspectives to engage and challenge the dominant ideology, thus allowing a new and co-created culture.

While diversity and inclusion can be superficially achieved, it requires conscientious effort and action to achieve equity (not to be confused with equality). The PolicyLink research and action institute define equity as, “Just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.” Equity work is about removing barriers. It is about possessing equity-minded competencies such as being culturally competent, implementing race conscious principles, analyzing disaggregated data, approaching equity systemically, and taking responsibility as an institutional agent to remove barriers. In this respect, equity-mindedness is a characteristic that can be learned; a skill that can be assessed. Equity work leads to results that transform students, institutional agents, and institutional structures. If we are looking to change inequities, we need to apply an equity framework to address historic and contemporary issues for our diverse student populations. This work is both individual (e.g., practices) and institutional (e.g., policies, procedures). This work can be practiced by anyone, regardless of racial or ethnic background. Someone asked me, “So, when it comes to hiring, does this mean that we don’t need to worry about diversity? No. Although the concepts of diversity and equity are seemingly different and contradictory, they in fact interact. For example, while the race of an applicant should not be the determining factor of whether they should be hired, a search committee that seeks equity-mindedness will more likely hire a candidate that is not in the dominant majority (i.e., white) based on equity-minded competencies.

In education we are very concerned with the performance of minoritized student groups. We tend to frame education through a liberal lens, where everyone is treated equally, and everyone has the same opportunities. Yet, the reality is that minoritized students are not experiencing the same outcomes. In another example, if we look at the racial diversity of faculty in higher education, we see that despite the commitment of colleges and universities to diversify their faculty, there is little success of the past several decades to significantly increase racial representation. In both cases, we frame the problem around diversity. That is, we blame the outcomes on the minoritized students and faculty. Dr. Estela Mara Bensimon makes the case to reclaim the racial justice meaning of equity, because this will allow us to reframe these racial issues through a racial action-oriented and systemic approach. She states that race is missing in equity conversations and definitions because leaders take an “ALL! Students matter” approach and avoid discussing race, even when the data clearly show a racial opportunity gap in outcomes.

While it is all the “buzz” to say “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” think twice before you string these three words together. I have noticed that some college leaders have created the acronym DEI to further conflate these concepts, which ignores their tension, and simplifies their significance. We tend to create acronyms in higher education, which is detrimental in this case, if leaders do not fully comprehend these terms. Understand and acknowledge the tensions between these terms. The three concepts can coexist and help you achieve your goals, but there are too many misunderstandings around these concepts to effectively advance your mission. Clearly communicate the complex nature and relationship of these three concepts to your constituents. Utilize a critical framework to interrogate these concepts. Help everyone understand the differences between these concepts and how these three concepts will strengthen your capacity to serve your community.

First blog post

Welcome to Lara Consulting, where you’ll perspectives on US higher education from the community college and the four-year university. Topics will include faculty hiring, undocumented students, cultural competency, and social justice. Feel free to contact us if you have questions about any of these topics. Our associates have a combined history of 38 years of experience working in higher education. – Lara Consulting