Institutions in the Western Land Grant cluster held a symposium in Fall 2019 on teaching and learning, to prioritize areas for future inquiry and action. One of the prioritized areas was general education reform, including incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across the general education curriculum. Over the course of 2020, the Western Land-grant cluster explored the current state of general education, identified opportunities for improvement, and shared examples that illustrate progress.
DEI competencies are important skills to help students navigate increasingly diverse campuses and society. As one member stated, DEI courses “…provide opportunities to expand self-awareness, examine perspectives, and engage in dialogue in order to analyze personal and social responsibility, domestic or global systems, and contemporary contexts.”
Some institutions are revisiting their historically white Euro-American pedagogy to increase the representation of other cultures’ histories. Some are also examining their own role in systemic racism and identifying ways to incorporate anti-racism into their campuses or coursework. Many students are looking to their institutions to take the lead in anti-racism education.
Despite challenges imposed by conservative legislatures in a growing number of states, institutions and systems are finding ways to push forward with providing curricula that promote representation and inclusiveness, to help prepare students for a diverse workforce and global society.
Institutions in the cluster shared various models for how they have incorporated DEI into the general education curriculum, including two broad categories: 1) Making DEI an additional requirement, or 2) “Writing [DEI] in” across the curriculum. Several institutions require diversity-designated courses that appear in various disciplines.
Below are specific examples of how individual institutions have incorporated DEI into general education requirements.
- One institution has two general education categories related to diversity: (1) Cultural Diversity and (2) Global Perspectives, each requiring 3 credits. Cultural Diversity “focuses on the social, personal, and interpersonal effects of variety and differences among cultures.” Global Perspectives “focuses on analysis of worldwide issues illustrating the interdependence of the world and its people.”
- Another institution added a new DEI general education category as of 2020. Courses in this category “engage students in the study of cultural identities, explore the interactions among these identities, and reflect upon patterns of interaction related to the larger contexts in which they take place.” In addition, diversity student learning outcomes in other general education categories ensure that course content meets DEI objectives in at least five courses in the required common curriculum. This institution hired an equity educator into their Teaching and Learning Institute to support faculty development in inclusive pedagogy. A diverse group of faculty and staff develop course templates using common learning outcomes.
- An institution requires one American Diversity course and one international course, “…to prepare students to understand, communicate and collaborate with those from diverse communities.” The American Diversity courses “…seek to increase awareness of contemporary and historical issues surrounding the social and cultural diversity in the U.S.” The institution’s diversity definition includes not only race and ethnicity but also ability, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.
- At another institution, each program is required to include DEI as a cross-curricular skill. The undergraduate cross-curricular skill requirements are reflected in student learning outcomes for the program and must be assessed as outlined in policy.
- Students at California State Universities are now required to take one of four ethnic studies classes: African American, Latina/o, Native American, or Asian American. Governor Gavin Newsom passed this state bill in 2021.
In addition to general education coursework, institutions are incorporating DEI into individual courses more informally. At one campus, faculty incorporate discussions about race into courses including History, American Studies, Dance, Music and Theatre. Another institution is exploring the feasibility of incorporating assignments related to Black Lives Matter (BLM) into its coursework.
A state governing board recently provided guidelines for general education at its university systems, which were previously set at the university level. The individual institutions maintain flexibility in designating individual courses but now follow this state-level framework, which includes objectives around civics and democracy and requires content such as United States social history, international diversity, and cultures. This new framework shifts the role of institutions to emphasize the preparation of engaged citizens and readiness for improved level of discourse. Individual institutions may interpret the new components as DEI, although it is not stated in those terms by the governing board. Each university appointed a faculty-led committee to develop and adapt courses and curricula to fit within the new framework, for approval by the board. This shift constituted a major overhaul that took two years for the first university to test and implement.
Two institutions shared that they are currently working to expand DEI offerings.
- One institution has held discussions with students and faculty for the past five years. Currently the Director of the Core Board and the University and Inclusion Officer are determining how to expand DEI offerings in each program beyond the single required designated course.
- At another institution, a Faculty Senate task force is currently exploring the feasibility of adding a DEI requirement into the general education curriculum. This institution is currently searching for a newly created Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion position.
Extracurricular DEI initiatives
In addition to diversity requirements in coursework as cited above, institutions have ongoing initiatives related to DEI. One institution recently launched a Race, Bias, and Equity Initiative. As a part of that initiative, students are engaging in a cross-campus common readings focused on issues of race.
Several challenges prevent institutions from moving forward with these approaches:
- One challenge to creating new requirements is ensuring sufficient seats and teaching support to accommodate every student.
- There are also barriers to changing requirements at the institution level within a system, as institutions must ensure transferability across campuses.
- Members also want to ensure that DEI content is not simply added symbolically but delivers substantive knowledge and skill to students. Some have encountered resistance to making DEI content-specific and find it is added too broadly.
- Members also pointed out that faculty will need inclusive pedagogy training in many cases to develop the skills to lead difficult conversations, as many faculty are experts in their disciplines but not necessarily in cultural curriculum: “We can't change the curriculum without changing the faculty.”
One potential solution offered is to have faculty lead this work rather than a diversity committee dictating changes to faculty; rather, faculty can take the lead in suggesting what DEI content would look like in their discipline, for example, how DEI is relevant to engineering or architecture. It is also important to present this change not as adding on to existing faculty responsibilities, but as highlighting DEI concepts in existing materials.
Western Land Grant Cluster Members
- Colorado State University
- Langston University
- Montana State University
- New Mexico State University
- North Dakota State University
- Oklahoma State University
- South Dakota State University
- University of Arizona
- University of Idaho
- University of Nevada-Reno
- Utah State University
- University of Wyoming