Advice & News

November 15, 2022

Class Changes to Help Your Diversity Statement

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This is the third article in a series of articles on diversity in education, each focused on a different form. In the other articles, I looked at structural diversity in regard to recruiting and retaining students and faculty and at interaction diversity, specifically focused on representation. You might have no control over the diversity of the students in your class, and probably have limited ability to improve diversity through the hiring process. But most of you have the ability to choose at least some of the materials, or at least examples, used in class. This is your opportunity to increase one form of diversity, which can have a significant positive impact on students' self-efficacy. When students see themselves represented in materials, they are likely to be more engaged in learning. Thus, this article focuses on curricular diversity.

While you might think that your "course has nothing to do with diversity," it is still important to add diverse representation in your materials. If for no other reason, you will need to do this since universities are beginning to require DEI statements as part of tenure and promotion. In this article, I will review resources to help you bring more diversity to your classroom and thus provide more content for your diversity statement and a better chance at getting promotion and tenure.

You can have an impact on the growing diversity of students in your classes simply by ensuring greater diversity of who is being represented in your course materials. For example, I teach entrepreneurship, where white males are over-represented in materials and in the classroom. But the majority of students at the university were female, and they were actively recruiting more students of color. Thus, to ensure that all students could see examples with whom they could identify, it was necessary to diversify the images, examples, authors, speakers, etc. I used. This resulted in more diverse students taking the class and believing that entrepreneurship was something they could do, rather than just being an interesting elective.


The most common material used in any class is the textbook. While the bulk of most textbooks is, well, text, pictures are often the first (and unfortunately sometimes the only) thing students see. Thus, they have a significant impact on student learning.

The lack of diversity in textbooks is a known problem across all disciplines. For example, Maria Kampen notes that teaching materials in the humanities and social sciences are "limited to Western, white, male and middle-class narratives." As an example from the sciences, the American Chemical Society (ACS) critiques chemistry textbooks saying that "bias and lack of diversity in textbook images can harm students." In their review of textbooks, they found that white male scientists were over-represented. And in at least one case, the single picture of a black male was associated not with being a chemist, but as an athlete in a section about sports-related chemicals. They also point out that in one study, female students performed better on tests when lessons included pictures of women compared to lessons that only included pictures of men.

Open Education Resources (OER)

Using open education resources (OER) is one way to improve diversity and inclusion by supplementing or replacing traditional textbooks. OER materials are free to use and a great way to be more inclusive in general, since it means students of all income levels can afford to get the text. After I switched to OER materials, students told me that it was the first time they were able to get the text for a class. Most of the time they had to borrow from someone in order to make copies, or they just did without.

Open Stax is one example of a publisher of free open-source textbooks. In a recent blog post, they describe steps they are taking to ensure that their textbooks are more diverse and inclusive, which can also serve as a guide for reviewing textbooks. That includes:

  • working with assorted people and organizations to first identify what it is they don't know so they can fix it
  • using a DEI framework for writing and peer review that is "designed to account for areas where diversity and representation challenges commonly arise, such as in terminology, image selection, historical figures, references, and more."
  • using an errata tool to allow people to submit corrections
  • regularly reviewing and reevaluating older texts
General Guides and Resources

Below I provide a wide range of links to guides and resources from universities, governmental organizations, non-profit organizations, and other sources.

  • Drexel University provides a good overview of the importance of diversity in the class and how to manage it.
  • We Are Teachers lists nine areas of your teaching to evaluate for diversity and inclusion
  • This toolkit from the University of Toronto explains why representation matters and shares strategies that "can help you include representation in your teaching."
  • Oregon State provides tips for evaluating textbooks, including "what to do when the textbook is not ideal."
  • American Field Service (AFS) has an extensive list of activities, resources, and other considerations for the classroom.
  • Unbounded has an example for diversity in teaching math.
Additional Resources

A lack of resources can be the greatest challenge to implementing diversity and inclusion. Here are some additional places to seek out resources to help you bring more diverse representation to your classroom.

On your campus you can seek help and resources from: the DEI office; the library; any teaching/learning centers; and colleagues researching topics of diversity. You can also look to your local community for organizations doing relevant work, which could result in projects and/or guest speakers. And there may be numerous national and international organizations in your field, with some that specialize in improving diversity in the classroom. A few examples include:

Note that the above is just a sample of the resources available. Please add others not listed here in the comments section.

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