An Equity Centered Syllabus Journey

ASCCC Area B Representative

The following article is not an official statement of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. The article is intended to engender discussion and consideration by local colleges.

In 2014, Dr. Estela Bensimon and Dr. Veronica Neal presented a session on becoming equity minded that discussed how to develop a course syllabus, course curriculum, and the teaching and learning that takes place in the classroom with a focus on equity. Through the Syllabus Review Protocol, faculty were taught to reflect on how practices, class policies, and approaches addressed equity and equity mindedness.

Some questions suggested for faculty to consider under the Syllabus Review Protocol are as follows:

  1. What would students care most about when they read the syllabus?
  2. How effectively are course expectations communicated?
  3. How do I think critically about why equity does not exist?
  4. Why do discrimination and racism exist?
  5. How would I respond to the lived experiences of students of color and reflect them in the curriculum?

After reflecting on these questions, faculty can analyze their syllabi using the following three strategies:

  • Make observations on the course, capturing what they see and do not see in the syllabus that potentially can facilitate or hinder the success of students.
  • Drawing from observations, describe how students might read and interpret what is included or perhaps not included.
  • Based on the observations and interpretations, determine the constructive changes to be made.

The process of syllabus revision can begin through reflection on the course description, course goals, and expectations. Faculty may look over the content to determine whether information is clear regarding how they ask students to be responsible for their own success in the class through active and respectful engagement. They may then proceed to review how well they articulate information and resources to achieve course goals and expectations, asking questions such as whether the syllabus utilizes language that conveys a commitment to help students succeed, whether the syllabus incorporates content that fosters equity, diversity, and inclusivity, and whether the assignments take into consideration the student story and experiences and promote critical thinking. The syllabus should be designed to provide opportunities for students to share cultural knowledge, engage students in the discussion of real-world problems from diverse perspectives, and involve students through collaborative work. It should also clearly outline a mechanism for receiving meaningful feedback on student performance and classroom engagement.

I was an attendee at Bensimon and Neal’s presentation and later applied the information they offered in the development of the syllabus for my CD 12 course, Child Family and Community Interrelationships. The following examples illustrate some of the changes made to the CD 12 syllabus.

1. A Course Driving Question was added: “How does our cultural schema promote respectful and reciprocal relationships that support and empower families? How do these relationships nurture young children’s development and learning?”

2. The Fostering Inclusivity and Empowerment statement was designed to convey values and guiding principles: “The values that guide this course are those similar to the concept of ‘Familias (Family).’ In CD 12, we value

  • Mutual respect
  • Shared responsibility (between student and instructor, student to student, all of us and our communities that we represent)
  • Opportunities to share meaningful experiences (your knowledge, motivation, effort and my efforts to support your learning)
  • Effective communication
  • Supportive relationships that are comfortable, honest, committed and fun

3. The course was designed with cultural humility as a framework: “The framework for our course is cultural humility, a lifelong process to increase our self-awareness of our own biases and perceptions and engage in a life-long self-reflection process about how to put these aside and learn from the children and families we serve (Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998). Through this course, students have the opportunity to learn from others, understand where they are, and embrace learning about each other with a reflective lens. The course addresses real-world problems faced by our surrounding communities, and the challenges of inequities along the lines of race, gender, class and other. The framework aligns and integrates well with the bio-ecological model, a model that is part of the Child Development and Education conceptual framework.”

4. The course methodology and method for evaluating students was re-shaped: “The course will provide you with opportunities to share your cultural knowledge. Didactics will be through lecture, engaging in discussions of real-world situations experienced by diverse children and families, individual and group activities, collaborative work and project-based learning, role-play and media audio/visual aids.

“Student’s progress will be evaluated through both oral and/or written reports, reading assignments, collaborative work and project- based learning, critical thinking discussions on the ecologies that impact your development, the development of the child, the family and community. You will be receiving feedback on your performance in class in an ongoing basis through formal and informal interactions (one-on-one meetings, email, phone).” Revisions of this type can help a syllabus to convey a very important message: Learning is a shared responsibility.

Center for Urban Education. (2014) Syllabus Review Protocol. USC Rossier: School of Education, CA. Tervalon, M. and Murray-Garcia, J. Cultural Humility Vs. Cultural Competence. Retrieved from…