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This brief guide, written by Dr Mrinalini Greedharry from the School of Management, helps explain what diversifying means in the context of the contemporary university, and offers some practical considerations for how to begin diversifying our teaching and learning environment.
Why diversifying matters to our staff and students
Students across the UK have organized to tell us the current curriculum is a real barrier to their educational success. We want to create learning environments where they can see that people like them are authoritative producers of knowledge.
Colleagues from marginalized constituencies across the UK have written about the difficulties they face in the university when their research is undervalued, under-cited or dismissed. We want to create teaching cultures where the research all of us do is valued.
What is diversity in a curriculum?
Diversity could mean including more content about marginalized people in your curriculum and it could mean including more content by marginalized scholars in your reading lists. The object is not to simply fulfil quotas or follow rules, but to foster a learning environment where knowers and knowledges that have been excluded from the academy are reincorporated. Generally speaking, this means knowledge produced by people marginalized as a result of their class, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, race, or ability.
What if my module is a special case?
It is common for those who teach content that relies heavily on numbers to assume that their syllabuses cannot be diversified. However, even if content cannot be diversified, the authors included on a reading list certainly can be.
What if the most cited (‘best’) research in my field is all by white scholars, or all male scholars? The idea that diversity occurs at the expense of quality is frankly a red herring when we consider how scholarly networks, journal rankings, and the linguistic advantage of native English speakers create the conditions for whose work is most widely cited. The most cited work is not the best work. Moreover, students need to learn how to seek out and use all kinds of research to be genuinely critical thinkers, not just the work that is easiest to find.
How can we diversify in practice?
There is no one way to diversifying reading lists because the specific solutions lie in the relationship between the material you teach and the students in your classroom.
Take the easiest step first. It takes time to diversify reading lists thoroughly, and you will have to revisit this task as more research is published. Consider whether you can begin by doing any of the following:
- Can you include more readings by marginalized scholars?
- If so, can you also ensure that reading work by marginalized scholars is not always optional (or inadvertently signalled as inferior)?
- If so, can you also ensure that readings by marginalized scholars are not only included when the topic is about that marginalized group?
- If not, can you include readings about the lack of representativeness in your field? Can you discuss this lack with your students in lectures and seminars?
- Can you review the examples you use in your slides to ensure that marginalized people are represented as something more than simply objects of study? Consider for e.g. the large population of international students studying management and business degrees. Do they see work by international scholars in their syllabus, or are businesses in their country just an opportunity or ‘problem’ for Western scholarship to solve?
- Can you rearrange your syllabus so topics that include marginalized people and/or scholars are not left until the end of the module, as if they are an afterthought? For example, teaching content chronologically often means marginalized people only appear at the end of the chronology (e.g. progress = women taking their place in contemporary workplace). Teaching material thematically can often allow marginalized people and scholars to appear earlier and throughout the course content (e.g. theories of labour have by definition excluded much of the unwaged and reproductive labour women most commonly do).
What further action can we take?
Diversifying reading lists is only a first step in developing a learning environment where marginalized students and staff see themselves reflected. Other possible steps include:
- Rethink how forms of assessment, campus spaces, and extra-curricular activities could be designed to improve diversity. For example, you might ask students to develop a diverse reading list on a particular topic as an assignment.
- Learn from what colleagues across the university are already doing (see, for example, work on diversifying in the Department of Interprofessional Health Studies and decolonizing in the Department of English Literature and Creative Writing at Swansea)
- Develop forums for discussing these kinds of issues directly with students (see, for example, UCL’s ‘Liberating the Curriculum’ initiative )
- Review progress at intervals to reflect on what is going well and where there are areas for continued development. Every time you write a module review, it is an opportunity to reflect on how the process of diversifying your reading list is working.