When Cody Miller tells his students about the love between Romeo and Juliet, he tells them to imagine them as a same-sex couple.

“We use literature as a way to teach bigger issues in society,” the 27-year-old UF English doctoral student said.

The ninth-grade teacher at P.K. Yonge Developmental School challenges his students to think about current events and social issues, and in July, he received an award that recognized his curriculum.

The Southern Poverty Law Center awarded Miller and four others the 2016 Teaching Tolerance Award for their efforts to emphasize inclusivity and diversity in the classroom. The national award is given every two years.

Miller said he wasn’t aware of any other UF students who have received the award.

A fellow teacher encouraged him to submit an application for the award last Fall. When he found out he had won, Miller said he felt like he finally reached the level of teaching that he aimed for.

He said he avoids teaching diversity “simply for diversity’s sake.”

“Part of doing the type of work I believe in makes sure there’s room for everybody in your curriculum,” he said. “Giving them a critical eye to be aware of the messages they’re getting every day, I think, is really important.”

Miller realized his passion for teaching when he began tutoring fellow students at UF, but he said his interest for social justice never faded.

He said teaching allows him to make a difference in the world.

“I do think the work of teachers is sacred,” he said.

Ester de Jong, the director of UF’s School of Teaching and Learning, taught Miller in one of her master’s classes in Fall 2011. De Jong said she remembers how he managed to get along with everyone in her class.

She said Miller’s style of teaching, which focuses on tolerance and diversity, should be the norm in the classroom.

“That reflective process we try to instill in all our students,” she said. “He always connected the things we were doing in class to the things going on in the world. It was really nice to have him in class asking the bigger questions.”

Glenn Good, the dean of the College of Education, said Miller’s work reflects on the college’s efforts to address social disparities in the classroom.

Although he doesn’t know Miller personally, Good said the award speaks volumes for the college.

“Certainly no one to my knowledge in the last five years has won this award,” he said.