Reviewing Curriculum for Diversity & Inclusion

April 07, 2016

Provost Katie Conboy

A message from the President's Office with Provost and Senior Vice President Katie Conboy

This week, we want to share information with you about how we will approach the review of the curriculum at Simmons to ensure that it includes the contributions of people of color. This topic speaks to one of the Ten Demands put forward by an organized group of undergraduate students: the “Students of Color Inclusion Council” (SOCIC). In this “Thoughts From The President” message, we will share our thoughts about how we can respond to the specific curricular concerns that have been raised and how they fit into a larger project of ensuring that our curricular offerings are as inclusive as possible.

The curriculum is the explicit responsibility of the faculty and it evolves over time to respond to changes in any field. Over the last several decades, many disciplines have recognized that the contributions of women and minorities were underrepresented in what had become a “canon”—primarily of Western and male thought and experience. During this time, curricula have gradually become more diverse, more global, and more inclusive. We know that we want continually to review, revise, and infuse the curriculum across the college with content that represents and highlights the contributions of all people. This process will take time.

Curriculum Review & Revisions

A college-wide practice of curriculum review and revision is multi-step and has been undertaken at the school and program level. Initially, under the direction of each dean, school curriculum committees are developing audit processes that will allow for the identification of courses that are already strong in their inclusion of this content (as evidenced in course texts, articles, exercises, and assignments); those that are deficient; and those where this content is less relevant. The goal is to ensure that across all degree programs (though not necessarily in each course), multicultural and diversity content is readily and identifiably present. Student participation will include the addition of a student representative on each school curriculum committee. At Simmons, the faculty wishes to learn together, to listen to students, to develop resources and practices, and to revise the curriculum as needed.

In addition to implementing a college-wide process of systematic course review and revision inside the schools, we have launched this semester, under the direction of Professor Catherine Paden, an intensive reworking of The Simmons Course. This first-year course was identified as one of particular concern to undergraduate students, particularly with respect to addressing topics relating to diversity and inclusion. Professor Paden, who directs the undergraduate PLAN program, has already involved students in this process and has held a variety of sessions to gather student feedback. As a result of the dialogue with students and faculty, The Simmons Course will be substantially revised for next year, while retaining critical elements designed to support students' transition to College.

Student course evaluation forms may also provide useful data about the successful inclusion of diversity content, but the course evaluations need to be reviewed to ensure that they ask relevant questions about course content and classroom experience. The Deans and the faculty are examining the forms in order to improve the questions. Inside the schools, open feedback sessions with students and faculty may also provide forums for direct dialogue about places where curriculum revision or enhancement is needed at the program level.

Emphasizing Diversity & Inclusion

The Deans and the faculty have been inspired to review the curriculum from many different angles. We know that the students will be enriched and the faculty will be renewed by this work, which we hope will be shared widely. Indeed, research shows that when the entire curriculum emphasizes issues of diversity and inclusion, faculty members are more likely to seek ways of making their own courses more deeply reflect diversity.

As Thomas F. Nelson Laird wrote in 2014 in the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) publication Diversity and Democracy:

Including diversity in a course is strongly connected to other indicators of effective educational practices. Faculty members who include diversity in their courses are much more likely to encourage peer interactions across difference, emphasize deep approaches to learning, use active classroom practices, interact with their students, and promote learning outcomes like intellectual and practical skills or personal and social responsibility.

Curriculum reviews that help us to develop even more high-impact practices will ultimately benefit everyone.