How to incorporate diverse materials into your syllabus?

Incorporating texts by authors from under-represented groups can be tricky. It is vital that the syllabus makes the authors’ backgrounds salient to the students – after all, challenging the stereotype can only happen if the students are aware that the authors they read are not stereotypical.

But how conspicuous should one be about including diverse materials? It is not yet clear whether it is best to be very explicit and discuss underrepresentation issues in every class; or whether it is best to simply include authors from underrepresented groups without comment. A reasonable case can be made for each approach, and what is most effective will of course also depend on the teacher, the students, and the subject matter (to note just a few factors). Below, Katharine Jenkins (Cambridge) and Jennifer Saul (Sheffield) offer some further advice, based on research described in their forthcoming paper.

What are some potential pitfalls to avoid?

  1. Giving the impression that works by members of under-represented groups are marginal, or less important., by:
    1. Putting them in the final week
    2. Making them optional rather than required
  2. Giving the impression that members of marginalised groups only write on certain topics, by only using works about topics stereotypically associated with the author’s social group — e.g. women authors on emotion, or on feminism.
  3. Taking the works in question less seriously by:
    1. Subjecting their work to less critical scrutiny than others
    2. Subjecting their work to more critical scrutiny than others
  4. Conveying that you take the work on your syllabus by members of underrepresented groups to be sub-par, by:
    1. Saying so explicitly.
    2. Grumbling about political correctness
    3. Stating that these works are interesting only because of the group membership of their authors

What are some useful things to do?

  1. Use full names rather than initials on syllabus.
  2. Use images of all authors discussed in lectures on lecture slides. (If you only include pictures of members of underrepresented groups, this singles them out as somehow different, and indicates that their appearance is more important than the appearance of the white men.)
  3. Particularly if you have not managed to achieve the sort of demographic balance that you would like, talk about philosophy’s demographic problems and about efforts being made to improve the profession. Share some links on the topic. (Include your syllabus improvement efforts when discussing efforts being made. But don’t make it sound like people are only on the syllabus because of their identity.)
  4. Don’t ignore the problematic (racist, sexist, etc) content of readings on the course. Discuss it. Ignoring it tends to convey that this is not an important fact.
Jenkins, Katharine and Jennifer Saul (forthcoming). The Pragmatics of Inclusivity.

The Diversity Reading List aims to help you address these points:

  • In all list entries, author names are links to their profile pages, where you find and download their photos to add to your lecture slides.
  • Adding profile links to the electronic version of your syllabus will make the authors easy to look up, thus making their group membership salient.
  • Our About page offers a short bibliography of texts discussing under-representation in philosophy.
  • Our Network page will guide you to other pages where you can find more relevant materials.

If you have questions on this topic, or would like to offer your own suggestions on best practice in including diverse materials, please write us on contact@diversityreadinglist.org.