Tip #4 from the Syllabus Challenge

Enhance visibility; highlight strengths.

The Syllabus Challenge provides critically reflective questions and practical ideas for inclusive teaching in action. Check out Tips 1-3 here. In this issue, we shift our focus to what reading materials we require students to read over the course term. When we choose a text or reading, we are sending cues about what is valuable, worthy of study, and considered legitimate knowledge. 

Tip #4 = Enhance visibility and highlight strengths

cover of book

A dear friend of mine once told me that in middle school and high school, even college, she assumed that Mexican Americans did not contribute anything to the advancement of the U.S. because they were never mentioned in history books. My friend is Mexican American, Chicana. For her, this invisibility of her own group in readings assigned by teachers and professors translated to believing her own social identity group had not contributed, and therefore, she did not belong in these educational settings. 

Coming from a working-class background and being first-generation, I cannot recall reading any works by people similar to me until I found my own resources long after becoming a faculty member. (e.g., Working-Class Women in the Academy edited by Tokarzcyk & Fay 1993). Most of what I recall reading that referenced social class depended on a deficit model of the poor. Textbooks blamed the poor for their struggles with housing and employment insecurity yet failed to mention powerful systemic forces contributing to these struggles.

We can make better pedagogical choices

What we choose to do with our course content and readings DOES make a difference in how students see themselves. Our choices can directly impact whether they see themselves as accepted and welcome. Our choices can impact their academic self-efficacy. 

Let’s look at some ideas:

Enhance visibility and highlight strengths

Who is represented in the readings in terms of topics covered? Considering your own privileged identities, what areas require more attention as they may be invisible to you?

Who is represented in the readings in terms of authors? Are there other readings that could be assigned (or replace some current readings) written by authors from marginalized groups?

Representation of one’s own group in a discipline could affect choice of major, sense of belonging, staying in a major, self-efficacy, &, academic success.

Do texts support deficit models that blame marginalized groups for inequality? Choose strengths-based readings that address institutional-level oppression (systemic discrimination).

okay, your turn!

How could you adjust your required reading materials based on the ideas in the Syllabus Challenge? Open the link and skip down to slide #7-8. These slides provide ideas and reflective questions for how to increase visibility of traditionally marginalized groups in the readings and authors as well as incorporate strengths-based perspectives and culturally responsive content.

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Learn more about the White Anti-Racism and Action course I created for (aspiring) white allies, including two modules on anti-racist pedagogy.
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