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Diversifying the Curriculum

​Research suggests that students benefit from seeing their identities represented in course content. As Christine Hockings (2010) describes, “What knowledge is included in the curriculum, who selects it and why are important questions when it comes to designing inclusive curricula…‘what counts as legitimate knowledge is the result of complex power struggles among identifiable class, race, gender and religious groups’” (23). Geneva Gay, in “Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice” (2018), emphasizes the importance of culturally and ethnically diverse course content, arguing that to empower diverse students, curriculum content “must be accessible to students and connected to their lives and experiences outside of school.”  

The choices you make in curating course content can also help to signal role models and authority figures in the discipline. Jenine K. Harris et al. (2020) explore the gender gap in academic publishing and suggest that the issue starts earlier, as part of a “syllabi gender gap.”  Students are also more engaged when they can see how the course relates to their own experiences (Olsen, 2021; Stephens et al., 2018).  

Finally, Chimamanda Adichie (2009) warns us of the danger of singular representations, and urges “Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”  

Reflect on Your Course Content 

 Susan Ambrose et al. (2010) explain that the most inclusive classrooms have “explicitly centralizing climates.” In explicitly centralizing climates, “marginalized perspectives are not only validated when students spontaneously bring them up, but they are intentionally and overtly integrated in the content. The climate here is characterized by obvious and planned attempts to include a variety of perspectives.” 

Reflect on the canon in your discipline and your course content: 

  • What scholars make up the cannon? What are their social identities? 
  • How has the cannon evolved over time? 
  • What perspectives am I prioritizing? What perspectives are missing? 
  • How can diversity change or enrich the subject matter I am already researching or teaching? 

Your responses to those questions may help you to identify how you can use your own curriculum and course materials to fill in gaps and represent a more diverse set of perspectives and people. 

Resources for Diversifying the Curriculum 

The following resources can be used to help diversify your curriculum: ​

  • Columbia University indicates that selecting course content that recognizes diversity and acknowledges barriers to inclusion is essential to an inclusive classroom. See their guide to selecting course content with this principle in mind. 
  • In “Chapter 3: Context and Content” of Promoting Inclusive Classroom Dynamics in Higher Education (2021), Kathryn C. Olsen points to additional research to support a variety of inclusive course design approaches and lists strategies for creating and curating inclusive content.
  • Stockton University has a set of instructor resources, sorted by academic discipline, for diversifying curriculum. 
  • In “Revolutionizing my Syllabus: The Process,” Bryn Mawr Professor Chanelle Wilson shares her own syllabus revision and decolonization process.
  • Lori Wysong, from the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest at Villanova University, explores,​ "What Would It Mean to Decolonize the Curriculum." Wysong tracks the history of the term decolonization and curates information from an event series dedicated to exploring the possibility of decolonizing the curriculum. 
  • How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching provides guidance on a variety of teaching issues. In “Chapter 6: Why Do Student Development and Course Climate Matter for Student Learning?” Ambrose et al. (2010) provide more research to support inclusive course content and provide concrete strategies for fostering an inclusive course climate. 


Adichie, C. (2009). The danger of a single story. TED talk. 

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M. Lovett, M.C. and M. K. Norman. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons

Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for Teaching. Second Edition. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Diament, S.M., Howat, A.J., and Lacombe M.J. (2018). Gender Representation in the American Politics Canon: An Analysis of Core Graduate Syllabi. PS, Political Science & Politics. Cambridge University Press.

Hardt H., Kim, H.J., Smith, A.E., P. Meister. (2019). The Gender Readings Gap in Political Science Graduate Training. The Journal of Politics. The University of Chicago Press Chicago, IL.

Hockings, C. (2010). Inclusive Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: A Synthesis of Research. York: Higher Education Academy. 

Olsen, K. (2021). Promoting Inclusive Classroom Dynamics in Higher Education. Stylus Publishing.

Stephens, N.M., Brannon, T.N., Markus, H.R., & J.E. Nelson. (2015). Feeling at home in college: Fortifying school-relevant selves to reduce social class disparities in higher education. Social issues and policy review. 9(1), 1-24.