Diversification tips

Below is a brief guide on how to diversify your curriculum based on our experience of running the psychology curriculum diversification project at Leeds Beckett University from September 2016 to July 2018. We also outline arguments you can make to diversify your curriculum including how the QAA accreditation guidance supports this.

It is not exhaustive and in particular we wish to underscore the importance that 1) curriculum diversification is treated as a continual process and 2) one that is part of a wider challenge to racism in HE and elsewhere more broadly.

Identify the problem

  • All evidence points to this problem existing on curriculums in the West. For sources see this page.
    • In psychology there are analyses of the editors, authors and samples of the research we teach that are overwhelmingly White and Western. If you teach or have studied your curriculum you will have an idea that this is a problem yourself.
    • BME students attest to the whiteness of the curriculum.
    • There is an attainment gap within UK education system between White students and Black (but perhaps all BME) students. This national attainment gap may, in part at least, be caused by an undiverse curriculum and can be used to galvanize your university for change.
  • Nonetheless if you need specific evidence of a curriculum problem at your institution/department etc. you can do a number of things:
    • Content analyse your curriculum either quantitatively in terms of the author demographics of your reading lists or more ideally, qualitatively, in terms of the content and the learning outcomes and whether this pertains to the global population/ deals with the way race, racism and white privilege relate to learning outcomes of your course
    • Talk to your students (e.g., through interview, focus groups, surveys): what do BME students feel about the curriculum? Do white students have a good knowledge about their subject as it pertains to the global population? Are there identifiable knowledge gaps? Do BME students feel represented in the curriculum etc. Find out. In recognition of our BME students’ time and expertise on this matter, and to help our recruitment, we prioritised the funding we got (£5,000 over 2 years) to give each participant a £20 voucher.
    • Analyses how the attainment gap operates at your institution. Your instituition should have data on attainment between key demographics of students including ethnicity. This can be used to galvanize your university for change. Your institution should have date on how this plays out wiht thier own students.

Access existing resources

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. These already exist.

  • Once the problem has been highlighted you may wish to access resources from your institution (e.g., via the Teaching and Learning Centre) to innovate your curriculum. Our Institution had £2,500 set up to innovate the curriculum and awarded us this for two years running. This helped us immensely in providing participant incentives, refreshments for dissemination events, payment for research assistance, payment for books for psychology staff only etc. It also provided us recognition
  • Your institution may be primed for change. Some universities are aspiring to achieve Race Equality Charter marks. Others may have ‘global outlook’ as specific student attributes they wish staff to encourage in students. These can be used to justify curriculum diversification.
  • Does your university have a Race Equality or general Equality committee? Does your university have experts on racism, curriculum diversification already? If so work with these experts. We were lucky enough to be supported by Professor Kevin Hylton and others from the Staff Race Equality forum , our instituition’s Equality and Diversity network and our Centre for Learning and Teaching throughout both years. Not only did this provide us much needed expertise but also support in knowing we had wider insititutional support.
  • More broadly, this project came directly from the wider movement – the ‘Why Is My Curriculum White’ including a very brilliant and helpful facebook group of the same name (contact Adam Elliott-Cooper to be added) as well.

Take action

Identification of the problem isn’t enough. Action is needed.

  • Hold dissemination events with your department’s staff on the findings of your project. Guide workshops in which staff can consider and contribute their ideas for curriculum diversification (or the work they’ve already done on this).
  • Signpost to existing materials (these already exist). We built this website largely to signpost to already existing bme and anti-racist psychological work. A brilliant paper from leisure studies (co-authored by Kevin Hylton) has argued identified W E Dubois’s The Philadelphia Negro as an existing text that can methodologically and conceptually benefit the field of Leisure studies as canonical text. Are there similar (overlooked) resources from your discipline? Can you highlight them?
  • Construct new materials that can be used to diversify the curriculum. Lecturers are busy and have many competing barriers and constraints on them. Share them if you can. If your module has slots for electives, can you design a module on racism in relation to your discipline and teach it. If not, can you see obvious gaps where the influence of whiteness, race and racism should be included? Can you fill it?
  • Part of the problem with undiverse curriculum is the lack of BME lecturers and academics in UK HE. In the short term, encouraging your department to ringfence existing funds for guest lecturers who are able to deliver content pertaining to the global population may be a small way to undo this. Longer term, it is important to advocate along with your union and institution’s equality committees for the hiring of academics disproportionately under represented in HE.
  • Encourage your department already undertaking any curriculum innovation (e.g., through reaccreditation to governing bodies) to make curriculum diversification an explicit feature of this (e.g., encourage lecturers to make ‘how this pertains to the global population’ a specific module learning outcomes of their modules).
  • Lead by example. Curriculums have wide remits, beyond pertaining to the global population. Indeed white and westernness are not the only biases a curriculum has. Notably androcentricism is a feature of the psychology curriculum. But also it will have epistemiological biases, inaccessibility to some students etc. An innovative curriculum designer will have to consider all of this.
  • This will be a work in progress. Share your progress with others including here bmepsychology.com

Arguments to support curriculum diversification you can make

  • Many psychology course outcomes already recognize the need to pertain to people across the globe. A common required graduate attribute is “global perspectives” and in some outcomes it mentions the “global context of the human experience”.
  • Universities are also increasingly recognizing the need for curriculum diversification for this via the Race Equality Charter in which curriculum diversification is a specific goal as do other bodies including the National Union of Students and various institutions (via #WhyIsMyCurriculumWhite)
  • This bias has been documented in psychology quantitatively empirically e.g., (Arnett, 2008; Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan, 2010; Veillard, 2017) and more in depth e.g., (Guthrie, 2003; Owusu-Bempah & Howitt, 2000). For example, in Arnett’s work he counted the psychology samples used in popular psychology journals and found they tend to only use 5% of the global population (his paper is titled “The neglected 95% why American psychology needs to become less American” Arnett, 2008).

Evidence that suggests the QAA guidance (that informs the BPS accreditaiton) supports curriculum diversification 

We argue The QAA guidance is in support of curriculum diversification for a number of reasons.

  1. Firstly, because it is flexible and guidance only, it specifies that we are able to go beyond this: “[it is] not intended to represent a national curriculum in a subject or to prescribe set approaches to teaching, learning or assessment. Instead, they allow for flexibility and innovation in programme design within a framework agreed by the subject community” (pg. 2) and also: “The following list of core areas reflects the current scope of Psychology. For each of the core areas, a list of examples is provided. These examples are not intended to be either prescriptive or exhaustive and it is recognised that their role in degree programmes varies from provider to provider and over time” (pg. 8).
  2. Secondly as the QAA recognizes taking an equality and diversity focus: “The Quality Code embeds consideration of equality and diversity matters throughout. Promoting equality involves treating everyone with equal dignity and worth, while also raising aspirations and supporting achievement for people with diverse requirements, entitlements and backgrounds. An inclusive environment for learning anticipates the varied requirements of learners, and aims to ensure that all students have equal access to educational opportunities” (pg. 3). We believe without curriculum diversification we aren’t creating a fully equal environment in the classroom. Obviously not all students we teach will have a Globally Northern heritage or be from the Global North themselves despite our focus on the Global North. In addition, our focus group data with 25 BAME Leeds Beckett University psychology (and social science) students indicated that they felt that the curriculum was not relevant to them and that they felt unable to work with people from cultures outside of the Global South due to a lack of knowledge and understanding (Gillborn et al., forthcoming).
  3. Thirdly, the QAA has itself an international focus: “5 Although this Subject Benchmark Statement is a UK reference point for academic standards in Psychology, it recognises the importance of international standards and initiatives in this area” (pg. 6). Other institutions outside of the Global North will be teaching a more globally relevant psychology (for example, a feminist, decolonial psychology hub in South Africa has recently been launched; University of Cape Town, 2018).
  4. Fourthly, QAA list the wider environment and culture in which people operate in as essential in understanding human behaviour. This must include environments outside of the Global North. [Psychology should] “aim to produce a scientific understanding of the mind, brain, behaviour and experience, and how they interact with the complex environments in which they exist and how they interact with the complex environments in which they exist” (pg. 7). Further the QAA makes a similar acknowledgement for the specific areas of psychology including: developmental psychology which may include “cultural development” (pg. 8), individual differences which may include “diversity” (pg. 8) and social psychology which may also include “culture” (pg. 8).
  5. Fifth, Curriculum diversification and a critical awareness of the limits of contemporary and historical psychology that only focuses on the Global North is an important skill that meets this QAA recommendation. “A particular strength of training in Psychology is the acquisition of critical thinking skills” (pg. 7).