Creating an Inclusive Syllabus

Below is a summary of a recent article on equity, diversity and inclusion considerations in creating a syllabus:

There are multiple ways for instructors to implement their commitment to inclusive teaching. One of these was discussed by Fuentes, Zelaya, and Madsen (2020) in their recent article on Rethinking the Course Syllabus: Considerations for Promoting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The authors contended that the course syllabus sets the tone for the course environment; it is instrumental in the attempt to integrate equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) into a course. Hence, faculty “need to consider pedagogical approaches that are attentive to equity and inclusion and make these efforts evident in the syllabus” (p. 3).

To that end, Fuentes et al. offered eight considerations for promoting EDI in the course syllabus:

  1. Engage in reflexivity: consider how one’s own sociocultural backgrounds may influence one’s approach to EDI.
  2. Adopt a diversity– centered approach: consider the relevance of cultural factors and infuse this consideration in every aspect of the course, including topics, readings, lectures, activities, and assignments.
  3. Highlight diversity in the course description and acknowledge intersectionality: make sure the course description indicates that diversity will be included and commit “not to recreate systemic oppression within the classroom” (p.6).
  4. Develop diversity– centered learning objectives: either adopt a culture-centered approach, which involves infusion of EDI into all learning objectives, or add a specific learning objective focusing on EDI.
  5. Include a diversity statement: develop, adapt, or adopt a statement that includes (a) a commitment to respect for diversity, (b) a list of relevant dimensions of diversity, (c) a commitment to valuing diverse perspectives, and (d) expectations regarding classroom behavior. (The articles provides citations for model diversity statements.)
  6. Decolonize the syllabus: acknowledge and counter the traditional power structure in academics by (a) focusing on readings by authors from marginalized and historically underrepresented groups, (b) acknowledging different holidays and privileges of holidays celebrated, (c) explaining and emphasizing the importance of office hours in order to mentor first-generation college students, (d) re-examining policies regarding grading, class participation, and attendance to assure equity, (e) rethinking assignments and tests to take into account the diversity of learning abilities and incorporating alternative approaches (e.g., active learning), (f) including territorial acknowledgement.
  7. Foster a family-friendly syllabus: develop a policy that promotes the diversity of needs and equitable treatment.
  8. Establish ground rules for communication: promote civil discourse by working with students to develop classroom communication guidelines.

The authors contended that when faculty include EDI considerations in syllabi, it will “raise their cultural consciousness, help students from marginalized backgrounds feel welcomed, and assist students with more privilege to increase their own awareness and intercultural competence” (p. 9).