By ANN WHITCHER GENTZKE
Published December 12, 2023
With only a few weeks left in the semester, the busy professor has a great deal of technical material to cover in their undergraduate seminar in the natural sciences. Add to that a tenure dossier that needs their steadfast attention, plus a research grant proposal that could advance their career or harm it, if ill-prepared or late.
Indeed, they know how important it is to convey equity, diversity, justice and inclusion (EDJI) principles in their classroom — they believe in these concepts passionately. But how to develop EDJI content when their academic schedule is already so demanding?
To address the concerns of this hypothetical instructor — and real ones like them across campus — 14 faculty fellows from a wide array of disciplines are learning how to promote an inclusive learning environment while developing the resources needed to achieve this goal.
In a program administered by the Office of Curriculum, Assessment and Teaching Transformation (CATT), the EDJI Faculty Fellows Program helps faculty members become ambassadors for inclusive pedagogy within their decanal units. Throughout this academic year, fellows will support their colleagues as they review syllabi for inclusive and anti-racist language, incorporate EDJI content into courses, and develop inclusive teaching practices. They may provide this support through individual consultations, workshops, or retreats for their disciplinary colleagues.
“The EDJI fellows program is one of many initiatives UB supports to provide faculty with professional development opportunities that positively impact our students’ learning and academic experiences,” says Graham Hammill, vice provost for academic affairs and dean of the Graduate School. “Ensuring our faculty are equipped to create equitable and inclusive learning environments is foundational to our university’s goals and values.”
The fellowship program follows the President’s Advisory Council on Race’s recommendations to develop “workshops, training and resources to support inclusive pedagogy and curriculum among instructional faculty at all levels.” As a result, the EDJI fellowship roster includes clinical faculty as well as assistant, associate and full professors, says Carol Van Zile-Tamsen, CATT director and associate vice provost. Fellows were nominated by their deans; some had experience in developing EDJI programming, while others had a keen interest but had not yet undergone any kind of formal training. The program began this past summer and continues through the 2023-24 academic year.
Part of the initiative is to incorporate “the right kind of tone and language in your syllabus so that everyone feels included,” says Van Zile-Tamsen. “When you’re in the classroom with students, how can you respond to students in a way that’s respectful and encourages everyone in the class to respect each other? And when you’re presenting materials to the class, making sure that they’re inclusive and avoid stereotypes.”
Such a stance means adopting EDJI principles in a deeply felt, personal manner, says fellow Elizabeth Bartelt, clinical assistant professor of community health and health behavior. “You have embodied reactions to hearing of injustices; you understand the depth of what racism, sexism, transphobia, heteronormativity, classism, ableism, neuroableism, fatphobia mean to real live humans. The challenge is in getting people to actually understand, and not just think they understand these issues.”
For fellow Jennifer Surtees, professor of biochemistry and associate dean for undergraduate education and STEM outreach in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, “the EDJI training has been powerful in a couple of ways — first in getting me to think about the many ways in which we may be leaving some of our students behind. … It emphatically does not mean making things easy or lowering our expectations of any students. Rather, it involves reflection on what skills and information our students should be developing in each course or program and ensuring that we make it possible for all students to achieve those goals.”
Because each discipline is different, Van Zile-Tamsen says, EDJI tools should be correspondingly tailored to the faculty member’s academic field. Already, fellows are engaged in twice-a-month “community of practice sessions in which they share ideas, address barriers to EDJI instruction and start to build a network of advocates of equity, diversity, justice and inclusion.”
Fellow Mary Ann Rogers, clinical associate professor and assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in the School of Management, says the program promotes synergistic conversations. “UB is a big place and it’s sometimes hard to know what goes on in different corners of the campus until a program like this helps us all be enlightened,” she says. “I am now thinking along — and working with — a university-wide team of colleagues dedicated to making sure that the campus environment continuously becomes more inclusive. It’s a truly wonderful synergy. We are all rowing in the same direction.”
Even so, the demands of teaching in a university can make it difficult to create a consistently inclusive culture. “There are numerous challenges we face when enacting EDJI principles in teaching, especially at the university level,” says fellow Luke Ziarek, associate professor of computer science and engineering. “First is the shear variance in class structures, teaching methodologies and sizes of courses. What works well in one setting may be infeasible to enact in another. Second, there are practical challenges and logistics challenges. Revisions to courses and course materials take time. They take even longer when done with appropriate assessment to measure the impact of those changes.”
Ziarek says the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has gone a step further by holding a recent open house that featured submissions from faculty, students and staff on inclusive pedagogy. “We specifically solicited student responses to the ideas presented at the open house. It was very thought-provoking hearing from students about their experiences and which ideas would be most impactful to them. … We are currently working on making a public repository of the ideas presented at the open house to share with the UB community.”
Initial steps to encourage inclusiveness may seem limited in scope, but are no less meaningful in conveying EDJI principles, says Rogers. “We can rather organically incorporate case studies and readings that reflect contributions in business from people of different ethnicities, cultures and genders. … There are even ways to make our purely quantitative courses more inclusive, too, by diversifying a dataset, perhaps. … Also, my colleagues are encouraged to take a good, hard look at their slide decks and eliminate any images that might be construed as hackneyed depictions or stereotypes regarding what business leaders look like. This may seem like a small thing, but it matters greatly to the students who are viewing what is on the classroom screen.”
And, too, Rogers says, faculty shouldn’t avoid the difficult conversations or personal unease when it comes to fostering EDJI. Faculty, she says, may be wary of “unintentionally making a mistake or losing control of discussions that could potentially escalate or become uncivil. This is understandable and underscores the importance of EDJI scholars supporting and working with faculty who are grappling with this type of discomfort.”
“I think this program is critical to changing culture,” Bartelt concludes. “If more faculty are educated on EDJI, actively engaged in working toward EDJI, and practicing EDJI in the classroom and outside it, our university will become a safer place for the students who need us to be the most thoughtful.”
The EDJI Faculty Fellows Program will continue in 2024-25 with a new class of fellows. Faculty interested in learning more about the program can visit the Curriculum, Assessment and Teaching Transformation website.