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Incorporating Diversity into the Curriculum

Many universities, administrators, and faculty in colleges and universities have recognized the value of incorporating diversity into the curriculum, and the University of Pittsburgh is no exception. While there may be sound ethical and social justifications for integrating diversity into higher education, there also legitimate pedagogical grounds for doing so. Research has demonstrated the benefits of diverse educational practices. One study, for example, concluded that students taking culturally diverse coursework demonstrated positive effects in complex thinking skills, cultural awareness, and interest in social issues. (Hurtado, 2005). Some instructors also likely have as part of their broader goals the preparation of their students to apply the discipline-specific skills which they are developing within a diverse world.

DeSurra and Church (1994) have in particular analyzed the relationship of diversity in the curriculum to class climate. They argue that that it may be preferable to think of class climate in terms of a continuum, rather than as a simple binary (inclusive and productive vs. chilly and marginalizing). They suggest instead conceiving of class climate as either explicitly marginalizing (hostile and unwelcoming), implicitly marginalizing (inadvertently or unintentionally exclusive), implicitly centralizing (inadvertently or unsystematically inclusive and welcoming), or explicitly centralizing (systematically and intentionally welcoming). With respect to diversity, it may often be the case that instructors and curricula developers recognize the value of diversity, and attempt to recognize various diverse voices as they arise on an ad hoc basis. An instructor in an American classroom might, for example, validate the unique contribution foreign student based upon his or her own cultural background.

While commendable, that ad hoc approach is a different matter than designing a course or curriculum with intentional and more systematic integration of diversity. In such an “explicitly centralizing” environment, it is more likely that a greater number of students will perceive their own diverse experiences and backgrounds as relevant and welcomed in the course. They may in turn be more likely to achieve the course learning objectives. Begin by conducting an analysis of your curriculum or your syllabus. How diverse really are the themes and authors which you have included? You may wish to perform a bibliographic search not only for subjects relevant to your course which incorporate diverse themes, but also authors, film-makers, and other producers of scholarship and culture which speak from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Consult other faculty syllabi, either from your own institution or in various syllabus databases and repositories available online—are there perspectives, subjects, and voices which other experts in your field have included which you have not?

In class sessions, consider including case studies and vignettes which highlight and value of diverse perspectives and backgrounds. Also be mindful of phrases or activities which might inadvertently exclude certain students. Consider how a student from a low-economic status family might perceive a statement such as, “Think of Disneyworld…we’ve all been there, right?” or how directing students to “Remember when you were a child, growing up with your mother and father’s house?” might resonate with a student raised in a non-nuclear family. Above all, keep your learning objectives for your course in mind, and recall that the pedagogical value of incorporating diversity into your curriculum should be in the service of those objectives.


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