Incorporating material that addresses diversity issues in classes has positive effects on a number of learning outcomes. The success of efforts to make curricula more diverse depends to a large degree on faculty willingness to incorporate these materials because control of the curriculum remains in faculty hands—both collectively, in terms of course and program approval processes, and individually, in terms of daily decisions about what to teach.

Unfortunately, many faculty still do not include diversity-related materials in their courses. One study of faculty at Research I institutions (cited in the article referenced below) found that the majority of faculty endorsed diversity, seeing it as helping students achieve the goals of a college education, but the majority of this group also reported making no changes in their classroom practices.

It would be helpful to know why faculty aren’t changing what they teach, which was the purpose of the study referenced below. These researchers studied faculty at one, predominantly white, public university located in the Midwest—a university that “has struggled with creating an environment that welcomes and appreciates diversity” (p. 152). The study’s dependent variable was determined by a yes or no response to this question: “In the past year, have you incorporated content designed to promote sensitivity toward diversity issues in your courses?” (p. 155). Sixty-nine percent of the sample said yes; 31 percent responded no.

Some demographic and professional characteristics of those faculty who did and did not make changes in course content were predictable. Faculty of color, both males and females, as well as other marginalized groups such as gays, were more likely than white faculty of both genders to include diversity-related content. More surprising, faculty in education were less likely to include diversity content than faculty from the arts and sciences, business, and fine arts, and faculty from engineering were more likely to teach diversity than faculty in these other fields. Tenure status and time at the institution did not reliably predict who made curricular changes.

Also interesting was the fact that in this study faculty decisions about diversity content were more significantly influenced by climate for diversity in their department than the broader institutional environment. Of the six variables that measured faculty perceptions of their department’s commitment to diversity, four reached statistical significance and a fifth was close. Of the nine institutional variables considered, only one predicted faculty’s likelihood of making diversity-related curricular changes.

As for beliefs that predict which faculty will and will not incorporate diversity, one of the three variables tested was significant. On average, if faculty were more likely to agree that “affirmative action leads to hiring of less qualified faculty and staff” (p. 161), then those faculty were less likely to incorporate diversity-related content in course materials. It turned out that for these faculty, some experiences, such as participation in activities (such as workshops) that aimed to increase faculty sensitivity toward diversity, did powerfully predict those who reported making changes. Based on this finding, the researchers recommend that administrators consider inducements like release time and stipends to encourage more faculty to participate in these kinds of events.

These findings should encourage academic leaders to examine the reasons that do and do not motivate faculty to include diversity-related content in the courses they teach. This study raises those persistent questions about what content and how much of it is needed to advance the learning goals of our disciplines and of the larger college experience.

Reference: Mayhew, M. J. and Grunwald, H. E. (2006). Factors contributing to faculty incorporation of diversity-related course content. Journal of Higher Education, 77(1), 148–168.

Reprinted from “What Encourages Faculty to Include Diversity Materials in Their Courses?” in Academic Leader 22.8(2006)6 © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.