In May 2018, Instructional Design & Technology collaborated with the Gender Studies department to create a workshop about designing welcoming and inclusive course syllabi.
Why is this important?
Research shows that students are more successful in courses where they feel a sense a rapport with a professor: specifically, when they believe the professor respects students, and find the professor is approachable and accessible (Komarraji, Musulkin, & Bhattacharya, 2010). When students recognize these qualities in their professor, their sense of confidence and self-efficacy increases–as does their success.
It’s possible to start building that rapport on the first day of class, setting the tone beginning with the course syllabus. Oftentimes, syllabi are lined with copied and pasted policies, a list of rules that students are expected to abide by.
But do syllabi have to sound like this? What if our syllabi fostered a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility to the class–a blueprint of how the class can work together to succeed, instead of a list of commands to avoid failing?
So how can we make our syllabi send a message of inclusivity?
Here are some resources to help you give your syllabus a reboot.
Use collaborative “we” language.
Check out Dr. Cate Denial’s blog post reflecting on how she revised her syllabus language to foster a collaborative classroom. You can find her final revised syllabus here.
Welcome students of all identities and abilities into your classroom.
Gender inclusivity. Add a personalized statement to your syllabus (view a sample) letting students know that you will use preferred names/pronouns. Avoid using “he/she” in your syllabus and instead use a singular “they.” On the first day of class, pass around a student sign-in with a column for their preferred pronouns and introduce yourself using yours.
At Rutgers–Camden, it also might be useful to direct students to the following resources:
- RU name change form: http://socialjustice.rutgers.edu/trans-ru/on-campus-preferred-name-change/
- Rutgers-Camden Office of Diversity and Inclusion: http://inclusion.camden.rutgers.edu/
Including students of all abilities. The Rutgers Office of Disability Services offers a standard statement to place on your syllabus for students with disabilities. It might be helpful to add a personal opening to this statement, such as the bold text in this example from Yale, to signal to students that you’re putting the statement into your syllabus because you really believe it, and not only just because you feel like you’re required to.
Basic needs security. Over one third of university students experience issues with food insecurity and housing while completing their degrees. Many universities are now offering assistance to students, but students may not be aware of this assistance. Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor at Temple University, offers a suggested syllabus statement for basic needs security, highlighted in green in this post.
At Rutgers–Camden, it may be useful to include the following resources on your syllabus for students to consult:
- The Dean of Students office at http://deanofstudents.camden.rutgers.edu or email@example.com ; this office can often help students with emergency assistance
- The Rutgers–Camden Food pantry at firstname.lastname@example.org
Include trigger/content warnings when possible.
Trigger warnings are verbal or written notices that let students know that upcoming content may cause emotional stress (think content related to violence, sexual assault, or other sensitive matters). Depending on the nature of the course, it may be difficult to include specific trigger warnings. It’s also difficult to try and predict what content will cause emotional reactions for different students! A blanket statement in the syllabus may be helpful in these situations.
The University of Michigan offers an informative resource that explains the rationale behind trigger warnings and offers multiple ways of implementing trigger warnings in your classroom.
How can IDT help?
While these resources provide a starting point, they aren’t exhaustive suggestions, and syllabus tweaks won’t look the same for every course. Camden Instructional Design & Technology would be happy to help you brainstorm to give your syllabus a revamp or fresh start.
Komarraju, M., Musulkin, S., & Bhattacharya, G. (2010). Role of Student–Faculty Interactions in Developing College Students’ Academic Self-Concept, Motivation, and Achievement. Journal of College Student Development, 51(3), 332-342. doi:10.1353/csd.0.0137