Infusing a Multicultural Perspective into Higher Education Curricula

Article excerpt

Abstract: The Multicultural Infusion Project at Colorado State University provides professional development experiences for faculty to assist them in making changes in content and pedagogy so courses are more inclusive of all students. The project has involved more than 120 faculty participants and has been ongoing for the past seven years. Various outcomes related to both students and faculty are reported.

The changing demographics of the United States pose a challenge to all who teach in higher education. Students will be called upon to provide support to individuals and families, create products, and develop educational programs that serve the needs of a broad spectrum of individuals with widely different backgrounds. All students must be sensitive to issues of diversity that will affect their success as professionals in a given field.

Faculty must also ensure that students with minority backgrounds feel comfortable in our classrooms by including diverse perspectives, as appropriate to course content, in all facets of the class (e.g., lectures, discussions, readings, assignments). Earlier beliefs about effective teaching-learning interactions have often failed to provide a strong pedagogical foundation from which to teach persons who have divergent learning styles.

Although the need to equip students with a multicultural perspective is immediate and urgent, most faculty members and administrators in higher education are unprepared for the task. By and large, most faculty were educated in strikingly homogeneous college environments.

The curricula they studied (and therefore use as a basis for their own teaching) often reflect this homogeneity. Thus, faculty and administrators must develop new skills and expand their knowledge bases to meet the learning needs of our student population.

While supplementing their knowledge about various aspects of diversity, faculty also need to critically analyze their own thoughts, beliefs, priorities, and values related to race, ethnicity, and other human differences. Distorted perceptions and beliefs are often so imbedded in societal norms and roles that they may sometimes become institutionalized and remain unquestioned (Griggs, 1988). Faculty who are aware of their own misperceptions and distortions can, in turn, better challenge students to examine their biases. The process aids students in developing new attitudes and behaviors to apply to their learning and social lives.

Overview of Infusion Project

Just as universities facilitate professional development opportunities with the goal of enhancing faculty's research and grant-writing skills, so should they provide professional support if curriculum transformation is to be a realistic outcome. Faculty must be provided the time and resources to explore their professional needs in this area; to integrate newly acquired knowledge, skills, and insights about themselves and others with their own professional preparation; and to make content-appropriate course revisions.

Faculty often address multicultural issues by adding a single session on diversity, by showing a movie, or by inviting a panel of individuals from various backgrounds to discuss a specific topical area. Focusing on diversity during a single class period results in students' believing that diversity is an outlier rather than recognizing it as an integral part of human existence. Instead of "spotlighting diversity" in our classrooms, the goal of infusing a course with a multicultural perspective involves weaving various concepts related to diversity into the very fabric of the course-through choice of textbook or supplementary reading, through expanded information presented during class, through case studies or examples, and through particular learning activities and assignments. To develop skills and knowledge needed to infuse a course with diversity is complicated and challenging. This article discusses a model that has been used successfully at Colorado State University in preparing faculty to accomplish this important goal. …