SPH Launches School-wide Review of Syllabi to Advance DEIJ.
SPH Launches School-wide Review of Syllabi to Advance DEIJ
The review, led by Yvette Cozier, associate dean for DEIJ, guides faculty in critically evaluating their own syllabi through a diversity and equity lens to identify strengths and opportunities for growth.
As a leader in public health education, the School of Public Health is committed to teaching students in a way that is authentic, inclusive, and reflective of current events and changes in the health of the global population. To ensure this commitment and advance ongoing efforts to translate diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) into the classroom environment, SPH has launched a school-wide review of all syllabi.
Launched over the summer, the initiative is part of the School’s 10-point plan to embed principles of DEIJ into all aspects of work at SPH. It asks faculty to critically evaluate their own syllabi to identify both strengths and opportunities for growth to improve and update course offerings and ensure all teaching at SPH aligns with the School’s overall goals towards advancing DEIJ.
“As educators, we often think about competencies and the best ways to get information across, but we do not always think about how to make the classroom more accessible and representative of all students,” says Yvette Cozier, associate dean for DEIJ, who is leading the review. “Our faculty are already regularly engaging in reviewing their syllabi every semester or so, and this initiative helps us to reframe and expand our approach to create a practice and a mindfulness around evaluating our work with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
To help guide faculty in the review process, Cozier and members of the DEIJ and Education Committees have adapted a syllabus assessment tool from colleagues at Rutgers University School of Public Health. The tool offers faculty the opportunity to reflect on their course structure and content, evaluating the following dimensions of DEIJ and their presence in course syllabi, the classroom environment, and/or teaching methods: inclusion of perspectives, accessibility, critical engagement, diverse pedagogical teaching techniques, respect for student needs, respect for student identity, attention to language, and facilitating discussion of different perspectives.
The assessment tool also provides faculty with a range of examples of how diversity can show up in classroom content and materials, from simply including a DEIJ statement within the course syllabus to bringing in guest speakers who represent various backgrounds, views, and perspectives and incorporating readings from diverse authors and researchers.
Cozier hopes that the assessment encourages faculty to push themselves out of their comfort zones and “call out the possible racisms, sexisms, and other -isms that may unconsciously be embedded in conversations in the classroom.” She also hopes that faculty are able to use the review process to expand their own approach to teaching to better align with student expectations and ensure that they are demonstrating the broad nature of the field, rather than a narrowly defined version of it.
“If we want to engage our students and prepare them to tackle 21st century public health problems, we need to provide them with 21st century examples and solutions,” she says. “As a field, public health is moving forward, and it is our responsibility to ensure our students can identify with this work.”
To assist faculty in using the syllabus assessment tool, the DEIJ Committee has hosted several workshops, with the aim of building a supportive community of both SPH leadership and faculty members around this work. The committee plans to offer more workshops throughout the remainder of the fall and upcoming spring semesters.
Carol Dolan, clinical associate professor of community health sciences, says that participating in the workshops and conducting her own syllabi review has been a great opportunity for self-reflection, building awareness of past missteps, and meaningful engagement with colleagues.
“One of the biggest insights for me so far is that this process is only the beginning. We can always do better,” she says. “We are all called upon to do this work as we prepare our graduates for their public health professions, and I am grateful to be in an environment where we can learn together and support one another in putting DEIJ principles into practice.”
For Matthew Motta, assistant professor of health law, policy & management, the syllabi review and workshops have been a key source of support as he steps into his new faculty role at SPH and begins to develop new courses.
“While I truly enjoy writing new syllabi and designing new courses, I recognize that I have blind spots,” he says. “The workshops have allowed me to get external feedback on the degree to which my new courses are meeting not only university standards and regulations, but also my own expectations. This has also helped me to perform more rigorous self-assessments of my own work to determine how I might continue to improve my courses in future semesters.”
Once completed, the Office of DEIJ will review all syllabi assessments, and the findings will be used to inform future resources, trainings, and tools to continue to support instructors in this work.
As SPH continues to lead in public health innovation and education, Cozier highlights that the syllabus review is the first step in an ongoing process to recognize and call out the mechanisms that drive health disparities, starting in the classroom.
“We can no longer be unclear. The success of being in a public health classroom is bringing the whole class along with you, making sure students are able to see themselves in this discipline, and driving them to do more,” she says. “This is about the SPH community walking the talk.”
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