Find information on spaces, staff, and services.
As the course instructor or teaching assistant, you have power over the learning in your classroom. A component of that power is what course materials and resources you decide to incorporate. It’s important for instructors to develop a consciousness about this power and intentionally think about representation when developing curricula.
Isabel Wilkerson, author of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, at the 2021 UW-Madison MLK event suggested that it’s all of our responsibilities as educators to teach students the long history of race in our country. Just as teaching aspects of writing or critical thinking are all of our responsibilities across campus, teaching history and how it manifests today is part of what we must do across all disciplinary contexts, as well. One way we can do that is by being intentional with whose perspectives we include in course readings, case studies, media, data, etc.
Learners in the classroom come from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, and life experiences. We know that honoring and connecting with those attributes aid students in deeper learning, both individually and from each other. Specifically, including racial diversity in class materials can:
Let’s consider this infographic:
While an improvement from the 2015 analysis, consider how often students from different racial groups have the opportunity to see their peers represented in reading materials throughout the entirety of their educational careers. In many cases, college readings in syllabi might not be all that different from this children’s literature analysis. In order to have our students feel like they belong, they need to see instructors making conscious efforts to include them. Incorporating readings by BIPOC authors, case studies where underrepresented groups are indeed represented, inclusive models, etc. can be ways to promote visibility and be an ally to students who are feeling invisible or not represented in your classroom.
As the racial make-up of the US population diversifies and the globalization of our economy becomes more and more important, all of our students must learn to have empathy for others. The Association of American Colleges & Universities has articulated that Intercultural Knowledge and Competence is a key Essential Learning Outcome for students to master in order for them to be successful throughout their lives. UW-Madison has adopted these outcomes in curating our educational outcomes for students during (and after!) their educational careers.
Exposure to diverse course materials via texts, datasets, etc. can help shape knowledge and then empathy for all people in order to meet their lifelong learning needs and be successful citizens outside of the classroom as well.
“It’s kind of odd that we don’t have a problem giving students of color books written by dead white men, but we get a little queasy when we give white students literature written by African American authors, Latinx authors, transgender authors, Asian American authors…People teach what they’re comfortable with, so the choices become this narrow realm of what you liked and what you’re familiar with.”Pamela Mason Faculty Director Language & Literacy, Harvard University
Within every discipline, there are blindspots of representation in both research and publishing. There has long been and continues to be national conversation about the pervasive problem of research and publishing centering on whiteness. In order to usher students to become proactive global citizens, we must try to uncover and promote these underrepresented areas so that new knowledge produced today and well into the future is more inclusive and beneficial for all.
Seeking out a diversity of voices in your course materials can help deepen both your own learning in the discipline and in turn your students’ by either affirming or broadening their life experiences. Leaving out a diversity of perspectives in your course material can be harmful to students both in the present, who don’t see themselves represented in your content, as well as in the future if your students carry these blindspots into their post-academic career professional lives. Reflect on one of these societal issues and how exposure to diverse voices and perspectives could be beneficial if we give our future problem-solvers a more equitable mindset:
To be an ally for racial and social justice as an educator, continual professional development will be needed to learn and unlearn how to do so. By pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and seeking out resources that give visibility to diverse populations or are authored by underrepresented people, you can grow your disciplinary knowledge and expand your toolkit of resources for teaching.
Here are just a couple pedagogical approaches to racially inclusive education that you may want to take a deeper look at as you develop curriculum:
Representation in our course materials matters for all students’ learning. Here are several inclusive teaching considerations when using a social justice mindset in both your instruction and syllabi:
To align with the iterative nature of learning on this topic, below is a reflective question to consider how this content applies to your current or future practice.
Think about the course materials you include in your teaching today.