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Sec IX – Diversity in Curriculum

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Section IX. Diversity in Curriculum

The difficult dialogues of diversity in higher education are the pivotal points in addressing the national and global challenges our students face in the 21st century.
We need to engage these dialogues in the classroom at all levels of education.

Johnnella Butler,
Associate Dean and Associate Vice Provost, Graduate School

Approaches to Diversity in the Curriculum

Diversity in the curriculum at public, research I universities encompasses several interrelated concerns: ensuring that graduates have requisite diversity knowledge and competencies; supporting undergraduate and graduate curricula in fields of study focusing on diversity; sequencing the study of diversity within curricula and programs; providing faculty development in effective pedagogical techniques for teaching in diverse classrooms; and ensuring student satisfaction with opportunities for study. Universities normally ensure that their graduates have necessary knowledge and competencies related to diversity through diversity requirements (Fitzgerald and Lauter, 2003). In 1995, the UW Faculty Senate, responding to defeat of a student-sponsored diversity requirement, passed a resolution encouraging all departments to create more courses that teach students to think critically about diversity.

The University has embraced curriculum transformation as the alternative approach to ensuring that graduates of University programs have knowledge and competencies related to diversity. The University is the only one of its peer institutions that maintains a full-time staff position to work on incorporating the study of diversity into the curriculum and to provide annual funding for a faculty seminar to create new courses focusing on diversity, including the study of power, privilege, and discrimination.

Institutional Level Programs
Several units give the University a strong base of expertise and support for integrating diversity into course content and addressing teaching and learning issues at all levels of the curriculum.

The Center for Multicultural Education
The Center for Multicultural Education (CME), in the College of Education, is an internationally recognized Center that provides professional development for teachers and faculty members interested in curriculum transformation. Faculty members associated with the Center have national and international reputations in diversity in curriculum instruction, assessment, and educational policy. CME also figures prominently in diversity research.

Center for Curriculum Transformation
Working with an advisory group of faculty members from all three campuses of the University, the Center for Curriculum Transformation assists individual faculty members and academic units in developing courses and curricula that include the study of race, gender, ethnicity, nation and nationhood, class, disability, sexuality, religion and their intersections. The Center sponsors annual seminars to support development of new diversity courses and curricula.

The Center for Instructional Development and Research
The Center for Instructional Development and Research (CIDR) works with faculty members and graduate students on teaching and learning topics related to diversity in the classroom. CIDR’s web page,, includes many resources, teaching strategies and classroom approaches that enable classroom instructors to work effectively with diverse students.

Intergroup Dialogue, Education and Action Training and Resource Institute
The Intergroup Dialogue, Education and Action Training and Resource Institute conducts ongoing curriculum development, research, and evaluation on the intergroup dialogue method of engaging students across differences. Institute staff collaborates with the Office of Undergraduate Education and the College of Arts and Sciences to integrate this dialogic approach into sections of large enrollment undergraduate courses.

Academic Program Review, The Graduate School
The Graduate School’s Academic Program Review consists of an assessment of proposed and continuing educational programs with the goal of identifying strengths and challenges for long-range planning. The assessment process is one of peer review with review teams individually assembled from UW faculty and from the faculty of other leading research-intensive universities. In 2001, the document, “Self-Study Guidelines for Review of Existing Degree Programs,” was revised to include requirements for in-depth information on diversity. Guidelines now include: requests for information on underrepresented faculty, staff and students; teaching loads and other responsibilities; outreach and recruitment; curriculum innovation; and academic culture or climate.

University Lectures and Symposia
The Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program and the Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities offer many lectures, symposia and book talks by distinguished scholars where members from the University community and community members attend and engage in dialogue of critical contemporary topics based on the lectures. Guest scholars also conduct practical pedagogy workshops and contribute to innovation in the curriculum. Recent speakers have included Lani Guinier, Mari Matsuda, Cornel West, Rayna Green, and Luis Alberto Urrea. The Disability Studies Group brought Lennard Davis and Rosemarie Garland-Thompson, and the GBLT Committee of the University Diversity Council sponsors a lecture series highlighting research by University faculty members.

Areas of Curriculum

University of Washington, Seattle, Liberal Arts Curriculum
Currently, national efforts to bring diversity into undergraduate curriculum include focusing on power, privilege and social justice; expansion of categories of diversity to include race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, nationality, religion and sexual orientation; approaches that are comparative and cross-cultural; and growth in approaches that educate for social responsibility (Schmitz, Butler, Guy-Sheftall and Rosenfelt, 2003; Humphreys and Schneider, 1997). Many scholars at the University of Washington have been in the forefront of expanding curricular options to focus as well transnational perspectives and intersectional analysis that includes class along with other categories of difference.*

The College of Arts and Sciences houses many of the disciplines central in preparing students for understanding how race, gender, class, disability, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and sexuality shape individual identities, social relations, and institutional structures of the United States and beyond. Reports from American Ethnic Studies, American Indian Studies, Women Studies, Law, Societies and Justice, and the Jackson School, in particular, illustrate how faculty members in Arts and Sciences contribute new knowledge about diversity through their research and teaching. It is noteworthy that these programs each have courses that look beyond the central lens of the discipline to include a study of intersections of race, gender, class, nationality, disability, and sexual orientation. Women Studies has placed intersectional analysis at the core of its work and requires that majors take a course on racial/ethnic diversity among women. All of these departments have many scholars whose work is on the cutting edge of diversity studies nationally.

The College also housed the Center for Curriculum Transformation between 1995 and 2003. An external evaluator’s report of the impact of the Center for Curriculum Transformation, cited in the Arts and Sciences report, noted that “Whereas courses that prioritized analyses of race, gender, sexuality were not as commonly offered two decades ago, current University of Washington students have more opportunities to critically engage with these issues in a wide variety of courses offered through numerous departments and programs on campus.”

Anthropology, Communication, English, Geography, Law, Societies and Justice, Political Science, Sociology, History, and other departments that have participated extensively in curriculum transformation and hired faculty with expertise in diversity indicate substantial changes in their curricula over the past decade. Their reports provide insight into how to integrate the study of diversity across the curriculum, with increasing depth of analysis and breadth of topics and methodologies. Others, such as the School of Art, Classics, Comparative Literature, Dance, Drama, English, Philosophy, Psychology, and Linguistics, also show expansion of the scope of their areas to include study of diversity through new hires and new interdisciplinary collaborations. For example, Classics notes that the civilizations of Greece and Rome were “multicultural” and the study of multiculturalism can inform teaching and research in the discipline. Comparative Literature has moved from a European focus to a global focus. French and Italian has added an emphasis on African and Caribbean Francophone literatures. Philosophy has expanded its curriculum with courses on critical race theory, disability studies, and gender. There is a notable collaboration between Physics and Women Studies to offer a course on issues for ethnic minorities and women in science.

University of Washington, Seattle, Graduate and Professional Curricula
Graduate programs in the liberal arts have also expanded their offerings. For example, the Department of History has added scholars who specialize in African history, American slavery, African-American intellectual history, Asian-American history, Latin American history, Middle Eastern history, along with leading scholars of the African-American experience in the 20th Century West, and the history of the Philippines. They have developed new graduate fields of study in African-American History, Asian-American History, the Indigenous Peoples of North America, History of the Philippines, Comparative Gender, and Comparative Colonialisms.

Several interdisciplinary degree programs housed in the Graduate School have also begun to address diversity in the curriculum. History, cultural attitudes, and socioeconomic perspectives are incorporated into a core course in Global Trade, Transportation and Logistics Studies. The Program in Near and Middle East Studies provides an important venue for study and discussion of the diversity of Middle Eastern and Muslim societies. Many capstone research and service projects in the Program on the Environment focus on questions of environmental justice.

The College of Education, the Information School, the Evans School of Public Affairs, and the School of Social Work all recognize in their mission statements the importance of including diversity in the preparation of their students. The College of Education reports that many faculty members are “powerfully motivated by moral concerns for social justice and equity” to build the study of diversity into their teaching. Curriculum and Instruction, Educational Policy and Leadership Studies, Educational Psychology, and Special Education all include many courses focusing on or infused with diversity studies. Curriculum and Instruction offers masters and doctoral degree work in Multicultural Education.

All three educational programs in the School of Social Work are centered on “promoting social and economic justice.” The School intends its graduates to be committed to ethical and culturally competent work; to this end, the faculty has articulated a comprehensive set of multicultural learning objectives for the BASW, MSW and PhD.

Both the Evans School of Public Affairs and the Information School have begun curriculum transformation initiatives. Partnering with the graduate student association, the Evans School, with a grant from the Ford Foundation, has undertaken development of diversity case studies and learning objectives for integration in all core courses and providing funding for faculty development in pedagogical practices for diverse classrooms. The Information School has begun a comprehensive curriculum transformation initiative to identify diversity learning objectives for each degree program and infuse this new content into all courses.

Reports from the health professions stress the importance of “cultural competence” for their graduates. Graduate students in the School of Pharmacy have produced several award-winning projects on communication and culturally appropriate pharmacist interventions. A graduate of the University of Washington School of Pharmacy should “demonstrate the ability to place health care and professional issues within appropriate historical, cultural, social, economic, scientific, political, and philosophical frameworks, and demonstrate sensitivity and tolerance within a culturally diverse society.” In the first quarter, occupational therapy students in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine are introduced to diversity as it applies to occupational therapy philosophy and intervention, and diversity is integrated throughout the eight courses in occupational theory and practice.

The student-led interdisciplinary group, Students in the Community (SITC), brings students together from the Schools of Information, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health, and Social Work at the University of Washington to “provide quality community-orientated health services and social service referrals [and increase] awareness of social, cultural, and economic issues of underserved populations to the University of Washington health care community.”

The School of Nursing’s curriculum integrates the learning outcome of recognizing power and privilege in health systems. Nursing curricula have included cross-cultural content since 1974, including a number of courses focusing on diversity. The School of Medicine’s Office of Multicultural Affairs’ Indian Health Pathway provides courses, clerkships, and certification to medical students who wish to practice in Native American and Alaska Native clinical settings.

Curricula in Engineering, Forest Resources, Ocean and Fishery Sciences, while focusing on theoretical and applied aspects of science, each attend to some aspects of diversity content infusion as well as professional development of faculty members to teach effectively in diverse classrooms and supervise diverse work teams. For example, the Center for Teaching and Learning in Engineering assists faculty members in teaching in diverse classrooms, and the Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technologies (DO-IT) program provides resources on disability in the classroom. Forest Resources has redesigned its undergraduate curriculum to make “societal diversity in resource use explicit,” and the College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences includes the study of cultural aspects of the marine environment in its curriculum, with specific attention to tribal fishing and Pacific Islander cultures.

University of Washington, Bothell
The University of Washington Bothell’s mission statement demonstrates its commitment to “build an inclusive and supportive community of learning and incorporate multicultural content and diverse perspectives on ethnic and racial groups, gender, sexual orientations, social class and special needs” through curriculum and pedagogy. An example is the expansion of courses in Race and Ethnicity Studies, continued curricular development in gender studies, and the reconfiguring of courses to include diversity issues.

University of Washington, Tacoma
The University of Washington Tacoma reports that it supports a rich and diverse curriculum as a centerpiece of UWT. Many department teach courses where diversity is infused into the curriculum, even when it is not the focus of the course; for example, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, Urban Studies, Nursing, Social Work and Education “share a focus on the importance and impact of various aspects of diversity, whether examining the cultural products of diverse populations in the United States and internationally or the impact of poverty upon health care, education, and the delivery of social services.”

Examples of Good Practices

  • Encouraging all students to study diversity. The Office of Undergraduate Education, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Office of the Vice President and Vice Provost for Diversity have collaborated on the booklet, “The Learning We Need Now: What Every UW Student Needs to Know about Diversity.” Given to every incoming freshmen and transfer student, the booklet includes a comprehensive look at the extensive knowledge base related to all aspects of diversity in different disciplines, affecting different groups, and to career aspirations, civic engagement and social justice. Furthermore, advisors in OUE have urged students to enroll in a course on diversity during their first year on campus. The departments of Communication, Geography, Philosophy, Political Science, and Sociology, among others, have integrated the study of diversity throughout their curricula. The Department of Psychosocial and Community Health has developed a checklist of curricular diversity issues for integration into its curriculum.
  • Requiring the study of diversity in undergraduate majors and in professional degrees. The School of Art requires all majors to take 5-10 credits in non-Western art history, and Social Work requires students pursuing an undergraduate degree to complete coursework in intergroup dialogue. All clinical students in Psychology must take one of the department’s diversity courses.
  • Expanding diversity curriculum options. The College of Arts and Sciences has developed a Diversity Minor designed to strengthen students’ understanding of how race, class, gender, disability, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, religion, and age interact to define identities and social relations. A proposal for an undergraduate Disability Studies Minor is currently under review. This minor will provide an opportunity for students to develop a strong interdisciplinary foundation in the social, legal, and political framing of disability.
  • Involving students in curriculum development initiatives. Students in the Community and Environmental Planning Program in 2003 participated in a seminar and developed new diversity learning objectives, bibliographies, and teaching resources for faculty members to use in incorporating the study of diversity into all core courses. The Evans School faculty and students have formed a Partnership for Cultural Diversity for evaluation of the curriculum and climate.
  • Identifying discipline-specific diversity learning objectives. Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at UW Bothell and UW Tacoma, and the School of Social Work and Department of Geography at UW Seattle, have identified diversity as central to their disciplines and have defined comprehensive learning objectives for their degree programs.
  • Including social change and social and economic justice as explicit learning outcomes of the major. The Human Rights Minor at UW Bothell and American Ethnic Studies, Law, Societies, and Justice, Geography, Social Work, and Women Studies at UW Seattle all foreground the potential for social change and social justice as elements of their disciplines and promote student engagement in these areas as learning goals for students. Women Studies requires an internship to assist students to establish connections between intellectual coursework and feminist practices of citizenship. The Study Abroad programs of the Comparative History of Ideas Department offer both innovative and challenging diversity offerings.
  • Improving classroom teaching. The Center for Instructional Development and Research (CIDR) works with faculty and graduate students on teaching and learning topics related to diversity in the classroom and features effective diversity resources on its web site.

Challenges and Recommendations

  • Revisiting the issue of an undergraduate diversity requirement at UW. The diversity requirement remains a concern to many students and faculty members. A study by the Office of Admissions of undergraduate students who graduated in 2003 revealed that only 40% of direct entry students had taken a diversity course. The University needs to ensure that students in all degree programs graduate with the requisite knowledge and competencies related to diversity.
  • Supporting efforts to incorporate diversity throughout the curriculum. While many programs have made progress, others have yet to define fully learning objectives for diversity, develop new curricula, or find effective means to assess results of their efforts. The Center for Curriculum Transformation can identify and address programmatic and curricular gaps at the undergraduate and graduate levels in all aspects of diversity studies.
  • Ensuring an inclusive approach to diversity in curricula. Absent from the University curriculum is comprehensive attention to Disability Studies or Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer Studies, although a few courses do exist in each area. Topics related to class and age are also underrepresented in courses on diversity.
  • Developing assessment tools to evaluate how diversity informs curricula. Assessment tools are needed to identify programmatic and curricular gaps across the wide definition of diversity and to establish meaningful measures of progress in incorporating diversity into the UW curriculum.
  • Conducting periodic reviews of curricular diversity. The Academic Program Review process can provide a framework for more fully addressing issues of diversity in all aspects of these reviews.

* See faculty development seminars and resources at

Next: Section X. Diversity and Research