Reexamining the Curriculum to Be More Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive
Most elementary school teachers in America are white, middle-class, monolingual women. But many of these women teach in classrooms and communities that are far more diverse.
Turnover in these positions is often high.
Widener education professors believe a main reason for these issues is a lack of cultural responsiveness and understanding.
So several years ago, the Center for Education started the Community-Engaged Teacher Education (CETE) program, in which students are placed at neighboring Stetser Elementary School in Chester and are partnered with a community mentor, with the goal of developing cultural proficiency and culturally relevant pedagogy.
But Widener education majors don’t enter CETE until senior year, and faculty realized that’s too late. That understanding led to a systematic reevaluation of the undergraduate education curriculum.
Led by professors Katia Ciampa, Nadine McHenry, and Dana Reisboard, the education faculty, in effect, turned the spotlight on themselves and their own teaching practices, and the impact these practices were having on preparing the next generation of teachers.
“We are aware that we’re not doing what we need to do as teacher-educators. Nothing will change in schools until teacher preparation changes,” said McHenry.
Added Reisboard: “We need to be interrupters.”
From their evaluation, they recognized that, as educators, they needed to be re-educated. So, they kicked off a year-long professional development program that drew on the expertise of faculty from across campus – including from social work, sociology, and psychology – to address racism, white fragility, schools as places of inequality, and more. Using their training, the education faculty are now analyzing undergraduate syllabi, identifying problem areas, and making adjustments.
The work underway within the Center for Education is just one example of the curricular assessments and changes happening across Widener’s three campuses. The goal is to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) within teaching practices and delivery, classroom environments, and student preparation and success.
This work is directly aligned with the university’s strategy of being an institution that is agile and responsive to changing times, needs, demographics, and approaches.
The College of Arts & Sciences (A&S) is re-energizing the African and African American Studies (AFAS) minor, an interdisciplinary program now co-coordinated by Jennifer Padilla Wyse, assistant professor of sociology, and Richard Cooper, clinical assistant professor of social work.
Open to students of all majors and backgrounds, the curriculum enables students to explore the history and cultures of people of African descent, as well as critically examine theories of race and how race intersects with gender, class, and sexuality in a variety of historical and contemporary settings.
It’s about having an education that prepares you to be thoughtful and self-aware, participate effectively on diverse teams, and operate in a global world. — David Leaman, A&S dean
Across Widener’s campuses, diversity and inclusion permeate the curriculum to varying degrees. At Delaware Law and Commonwealth Law, for instance, diversity and systemic racism are addressed in Constitutional Law and Property Law courses (in the context of redlining).
On Main Campus, Sandy Campbell, physical therapy clinical associate professor, addresses the intersection of race, social determinants of health, and the health care market in a course she teaches.
“She points these things out so we can advocate for better practices and be culturally competent physical therapists,” said physical therapy doctoral student Elliot Mason.
French professor and longtime diversity advocate Stephanie Schechner believes Widener’s approach to DE&I has moved away from the formulaic tactic of years past to become more infused university wide.
Schechner sits on the A&S technology and instructional resources committee where conversations surrounding economic equity are occurring. Schechner has proposed assessing what technology a student possesses when they’re admitted to ensure they have the tools they need to succeed.
We need everyone’s brain power on DE&I. If everyone contributes to the culture, we can make huge strides as an institution. — Stephanie Schechner, professor of French
The Invisible Minority
Technology is helping make Widener more accessible to students with disabilities. The university has been implementing new software platforms and tools to assist students with sensory issues, learning disabilities, and other diagnoses that can impact college life.
“Our Information Technology Services department is accessibility-minded,” said Rebecca Ross, director of student accessibility services. “Anytime we can implement technology, we can increase the independence of the person.”
Ross’s office works closely with faculty and staff to find flexible options and accommodate individual student needs.
Ross, and others, are also committed to serving students who have invisible disabilities, including mental health issues.
“One of the largest minorities on campus are students with disabilities, and you’d never know it,” said Ross.