Instructors can use a variety of approaches to foster an inclusive classroom environment through the design of their courses. When interviewing students, we found that the first place a student looks to access whether or not the classroom environment will be inclusive is the syllabus. As a beginning step, adding the Lafayette College Diversity Statement to course syllabi can set the groundwork for inclusivity. More is discussed in the next section on how instructors can engage classroom discussions around principles included in diversity statements.
Ensuring that the course is financially accessible to all students is another key step to consider when designing a course syllabus. Given that students come from differing socio-economic backgrounds, it is important to assign texts that are not only affordable but will also be used at length during the semester. In this way, students gain the most out of their course materials without baring the economic burden of buying expensive texts that they do not engage with in a high degree. In one-on-one interviews and panel discussions, students have expressed that course materials can also act as a symbol to students that professors are thinking critically about the texts that they choose to assign and that they are conscious of and considerate of students’ various financial situations.
Along with being considerate of and inclusive to the various financial backgrounds of students, it is important too, to consider and include a diverse set of opinions, voices, and stories in a syllabus. It is important that syllabi are both representative of the differing opinions existing around a particular topic and representative of the voices that express those opinions. Professor Monica Salas-Landa, Anthropology and Sociology, stated in an interview that it is “a problem when all the scholars that you are studying or assigning belong to one single group.” Students expressed that it is incredibly meaningful to them when their professor highlights the voices of scholars who look like them. Representing the voices of scholars who come from marginalized groups is another symbol to students that professors are thinking critically about diversity and inclusion according to student panelists at the February 8, 2019 panel discussion What Lafayette Students Want Faculty to Know.
Another important note to consider when designing an inclusive syllabus is the context that the syllabus provides regarding the issues discussed in the course. It is important to contextualize issues to provide a better and more holistic explanation. One way to do so is by building context into the course materials. During the What Lafayette Students Want Faculty to Know panel discussion, student Fayola Fair ’19 discussed the importance of addressing the historical processes and trends that have led to the disproportionate rates of poverty between racial communities in the United States, for example. The syllabus, she argued, should provide context for students who may not be familiar with the history of the intersections of race and poverty in the United States.
The order in which scholars of various backgrounds and social identities appear on the syllabus, Fair reminded the audience, is also incredibly important. Implicitly, it is easy to confound the first few readings as the foundations of a course or a field. Therefore, by not representing the voices of scholars who identify with historically underrepresented communities, a syllabus can unintendedly confirm biases regarding who is able to and who has had made critical contributions to a field. Syllabi teach students whose work is foundational by presenting students with a set of texts have been deemed important enough or critical enough to read. Because of this, designing syllabi that are conscious and representative of the various opinions, voices, and narratives in the world is incredibly fundamental to the creation of an inclusive classroom.
The Inclusion By Design: Survey Your Syllabus and Course Design Tool created by Brantmeier et al. allows instructors to reflect upon whether their syllabus is designed for inclusion on multiple levels including the: context and design of the course, text of the syllabus and course design, and subtext of the syllabus. This worksheet can be a starting point for instructors who want to have a general idea of course attributes to examine more closely.