(Re)designing for Equity & Inclusion

We would like to invite you to (re)design your course to promote equity and inclusion, so that all students feel welcome and empowered to learn. We have divided our advice for (re)designing your course into three stages: rethinking your course goals, reimagining your course content, and cultivating equitable and inclusive pedagogy. For each stage, we identify strategies that scholars and other faculty have found useful. While we don’t intend these suggestions to be prescriptive we hope they will guide you as you imagine what an anti-racist, equitable, and inclusive pedagogy will look like in your course. Remember that becoming an anti-racist educator and designing inclusive pedagogy is an ongoing process, not a concrete goal. As you reflect on what we outline here, consider how your perspectives on diversity have evolved, where you would like to continue this work, and how it might inform and shape your teaching. 

Rethinking Your Course Goals

Designing an equitable and inclusive classroom begins with rethinking your course goals. You can start by asking how your existing goals might encourage gender or income equity, disability, or anti-racist pedagogies. What role might your classroom fill to foster meaningful change on campus and in society at large? For example: 

  • Anne Fox suggests that, regardless of the disciplinary field, “the classroom represents a space of performance, in which we might historicize disability, represent disability culture, interrogate traditional narratives of disability, and invigorate our own canons, whatever they may be” (“How to Crip the Undergraduate Classroom,” 39). 
  • As Karen Teel strives to create anti-racist classrooms, she offers a similar vision for her classroom: “In my courses, I aspire to create spaces in which students can recognize their roles in social issues, issues that do not conveniently park themselves outside the academy but often arise precisely within classrooms and educational institutions more broadly. I hope my students begin to see themselves as actors, if not as activists, who are involved daily in situations in which justice issues are operative and salient” (“Getting out of the Left Lane,” 4). 

There is no correct method to how you can revise your course goals, but thinking about where inclusion might fit into your existing vision for the course can make inclusion and equity key topics of discussion throughout the semester and part of the organizing framework for the course. Inclusive pedagogy is more than just a set of “best practices.” Focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion in your course goals communicates the centrality of these values to your students and creates a powerful opportunity for you and your students to collaboratively and individually reflect on these issues.   

Further Action Steps:

  1. Reflect on the existing goals for your course. What are the key learning goals you hope your students will achieve over the course of the semester?
  2. Reflect on yourself and your students as you develop these goals. What are your experiences and what learning might be helpful for you to do in order to bring these issues to your classroom? What sorts of goals or learning might best help your students to develop deeper understandings about equity and inclusion?
  3. How might equity and inclusion play a substantive role in (re)shaping these goals? Might these be topics of conversation to enrich your classroom discussions? Or do you hope to offer a framework that performs and enact principles of anti-racism or equity and equal access to learning? 
  4. Redraft or rearticulate the goals of your course and for your students with questions of equity and access in mind. Think about where and how to make these goals explicit to your students (on the syllabus? On the first day of class? In discussions associated with particular course content?).
Reimagining Your Course Content

We encourage you to diversify your readings and materials in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, political viewpoint, and nationality. As you incorporate diverse texts and resources try to fully integrate these subjects and materials into the curriculum, rather than tokenizing or isolating them to a single day or week (Kishimoto; Shamus Khan on Teaching the Canon). 

As she describes her process of reimagining her course according to disability studies, Fox offers a model of the kinds of questions you might ask as you think about equity and inclusion in your courses. Her lens of disability studies can readily apply to other marginalized voices: 

  • “Who is not being heard historically, artistically, or theoretically, from a disability studies perspective?” (39). 
  • “Where [can] I locate the presence of disability into that which I [am] already teaching?” (39).
  • “How does disability shape [the discipline’s] knowledge and creation, rather than being that which production takes place ‘in spite of?’” (40). 

Revising your course content may involve shifting the structure of the course altogether to include the problem of racism or disability as a key theme of the course or as a school of thought to be studied amongst other theories or ideas. For instance, Fox has moved from a “survey” to an “issue-based approach” that reflects emerging questions in her field as they concern disability and literature (41). 

Further Action Steps:

  1. Question the role and presence of underrepresented voices in your field. How have lesser-heard voices shaped or been restricted from shaping knowledge? How might the content of your course reflect this influence, presence, or absence? How might you challenge your students to think about this content from the perspective of marginalized groups?
  2. Consider context. As you diversify your readings, think about how you might introduce your students to the ways in which political, economic, and historical contexts shape knowledge in your field.
  3. Provide hopeful models of protest for students alongside substantive critiques. Even as you include materials that critique the status quo, it can be helpful and motivating to introduce models of hope that show how people have confronted systemic racism or exclusion (Kishimoto).
Cultivating Equitable, Inclusive Classrooms

Consider how you can engage students actively in questions of racial justice and equity. Think beyond offering your student key take-aways or a prescription for equity in your field in favor of challenging your students to collaboratively engage equity and inclusion issues. Rather than prescribing the answers or outcomes to complex, irresolvable problems, Teel proposes, following scholar Audrey Thompson, that “we train students to think creatively and collaboratively about justice issues,” in particular through performing anti-racism in our classrooms (15). In addition, studies show that active engagement and peer learning especially help to foster disadvantaged and marginalized students’ learning (see, for instance, Active learning narrows achievement gaps for underrepresented students in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math (2020), Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics (2014), and Peer-Led Team Learning Helps Minority Students Succeed (2016)).

Remember that equity is a process and not an outcome. As Kishimoto writes, “Anti-racist pedagogy focuses on the process of learning, not necessarily making students reach a uniform and prescribed outcome” (546). Instructors need offer no easy or pat answers: when students are challenged or uncomfortable, Kishimoto affirms that “it is the process of working through these moments that are important (Wagner 2005) rather than achieving the same expected outcome for all students” (547). Try to create a safe but not necessarily comfortable classroom environment for your students. 

Reflect on your own academic experience and how this may influence your assumptions about the students in your class. While you might come to the classroom with preconceived expectations for your students, reflecting on how these assumptions may shape your interactions with them will help you to welcome and meet them where they are. In addition, sharing stories with your students about your own struggles with understanding new concepts, making unexpected connections, or solving particular problems may go a long way toward normalizing failure for your high achieving students.  

Instead of “preaching” diverse content, consider how you and your students can “perform” inclusion (Teel, 17). One way to do this is by making your students co-agents in their learning. Rather than claiming the status of an expert, try to help students to encounter and think through problems of exclusion, racism, and sexism for themselves. Help your students to reflect on how your disciplines (from humanities to STEM fields) have been influenced by institutional norms and social expectations that are explicitly or implicitly biased or racist. Such “self-reflexivity” of both instructor and students is key to acknowledging how “the oppressed may also be oppressing others” even in subject areas that are critical of injustice (Kishimoto, 546).

Build activities and assessments that offer opportunities for students to reflect on their own experiences, expectations, and social and cultural roles as people who may have experienced, and possibly also contributed to, oppression and inequity. In the world of pedagogical design we call activities and assignments that help students to focus on the process of their own learning metacognition. These activities give students authority and agency over the intellectual pursuit and guide them away from a “banking model” of education (described by Paul Freire) to think critically about how, when, and why to use new knowledge. Not only do these activities and assignments facilitate student agency, they are also a way to invite them to reconsider their evolving understandings of racism, inclusivity, and equity.

Further Action Steps:

  1. Prioritize small group work. Collaborative work, from partner assignments to larger group discussions, encourages peer learning. 
    1. You might consider “flipping” your classroom so that students consume course content (lectures, readings, etc.) outside of class time and use class-time to process, critique, and apply course material. 
  2. Get comfortable with the messiness of equity. Design assignments that help your students to tackle messy questions and issues of inequity and exclusion rather than define an outcome. Experiment with interactive, collaborative assignments alongside more conventional exams, reading responses, and papers. 
    1. Examples include blogs, discussion boards, draft workshops, socially engaged community projects, digital humanities work, mapping, case study analysis, or “exam wrappers.”
  3. Make equity explicit. Because many of these principles overlap with active learning overall, remind your students of your specific goal of anti-racist, equitable, and inclusive pedagogy (Kishimoto, 546). Acknowledge upfront that the issues may elicit strong emotions in your students inviting them to be part of a “collaborative learning project” (Unsettling the Academy, 263-264)
  4. Leave room for metacognition. As part of active learning assignments and activities, invite students to reflect on their learning in addition to demonstrating their mastery of course content, for instance, in a self-reflection statement accompanying final projects..